By Syed Kamran Hashmi
August 23, 2013
The promotion, protection, and sometimes provocation of religious sentiments to ensure international funding and geopolitical hegemony seems like a state policy in Pakistan
He was helping his two-year-old son brush his teeth when someone rang the doorbell. It was a little late at night for someone to drop by his home without an appointment. Slightly concerned but certainly not worried, he walked towards the main entrance not knowing at all that every step he took in that direction was bringing him closer to his killer. He was unaware that in a few moments he was going to be killed by two bullets fired from a short range, one entering into his neck and the other one piercing his chest wall. He could not imagine that in a few moments his body would be drenched in his own blood that he would be shaking in pain helplessly in the presence of his family and that his son’s image would be fluttering in front of his eyes as he closed them for the last time. He did not anticipate that his two-year-old was going to be an orphan soon, and his wife would become a widow. He did not know that his loss would become the greatest tragedy, a wound never to heal for the rest of his parents’ lives. Completely blind to his future (or lack thereof), he reached out and opened the door, two bullets were shot by a coldblooded murderer and he fell down on the ground never to stand up again.
He was not a criminal or a terrorist. He was an ordinary man like all of us, maybe in his 40s, a teacher of physics at a local university, completely disinterested in politics and at an arm’s length from violence. But in Pakistan all this was not enough for him to be safe. He had to belong to the majority sect to be first considered a human being and then be protected from any violence against the minorities. As he did not share the same faith with most people, he knew, for a long time, he was vulnerable. He knew that he had been hiding a dark secret about himself throughout his life, a secret that had to be guarded ferociously and could only be revealed to no one other than his family members. He was an Ahmedi, a ‘nonbeliever,’ a ‘traitor’ and a ‘heretic’ who is justified to be killed anytime and anyplace — including his place of worship — in our society.
Years have passed by but there is still no clue of his killer who would probably never be brought to justice now, a clear signal to the killer to kill more members of the community. His son, who has all grown up, is as unsafe in Pakistan as his father was. In the last few years, he has witnessed an increasing number of people — innocent and peaceful — of his faith being targeted on a regular basis for their beliefs. Nonetheless, no one in the power corridors cares about the victims, and literally, no one is interested in catching their killers. Some fear that if they went after the perpetrators, they would lose their votes and others are scared they would infuriate their support base.
A few believe extreme religious sentiments are part and parcel of our national pride, while many think it is in fact a misguided ‘blessing’ that can be channelised in case of emergency against all the ‘anti-Islamic forces’ from Russia to the United States of America. Then there are groups who are in the business of religion to secure foreign funding, while a few organisations keep the emotions simmering to use it as a bargaining chip for personal benefits. Some gangs sell their faith in the name of the Prophet (PBUH) to grab a piece of land, while some other parties trade it in the name of God to acquire an important portfolio in the government. Moreover, many criminals use it as a blackmailing tool to extort money from the unprotected and peaceful businessmen who belong to the minorities.
At best we can say that there is ambivalence at the state level regarding the utility of religious fundamentalism. Otherwise, and to be perfectly honest, the promotion, protection, and sometimes provocation of religious sentiments to ensure international funding and geopolitical hegemony seems like a state policy in Pakistan.
Then there is paranoia at the level of political parties who are concerned that the support of minorities could be perceived as un-Islamic act. They cannot afford to lose an emotional rhetoric to the rival group. For some, even when they want to, there is the fear of standing up against the tyranny of hardliners, as they know it would endanger the lives of their whole families. In short, it is a perfect recipe for disaster that we are witnessing today all over the country.
Compared to Pakistan, in modern societies where there is peace and prosperity, the majority population, instead of persecuting them is, as a matter of fact, actively looking out for the rights and freedom of religious minorities, which, in my opinion, is the reason for these nations to be just and be able to establish the rule of law effectively. If the overwhelming number of people condones violence in the name of religion like in our country, it will be, even for the westerners with all their resources, an impossible target to achieve. Both individually and collectively, the common people, the majority, need to step up and embrace everyone who does not worship the same God as they do, welcome everybody who does not believe in the same scripture as they do, support every individual who does not pray like them, follows the same rules or interprets the Divine injunctions similarly. Or, we will ourselves become the target of such a crime one day.
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist.