Pakistan: Minority report
by Irfan Husain. Dawn.com Newspaper, April 20, 2012.
A few months ago, somebody emailed me a chilling audio clip of a conversation between a journalist and a Pakistani Taliban.
When the interviewer reminded the terrorist that he was a Muslim too, and recited the kalima to prove it, he was told bluntly that the Taliban did not view anybody who did not subscribe to their extreme vision as believers.
When the Taliban was reminded that the founder of Pakistan was a peaceful, tolerant man, he replied that Jinnah had ‘Ali’ in his name, and so must be a Shia. “We do not accept the Shia as Muslims,” he insisted.
From considering the Shia to be non-Muslims, it seems there is only a short step to declaring them wajib-ul-qatal, or deserving of death, preferably by violent means.
Indeed, this extreme view has been around for three decades in Pakistan. The emergence of the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan in the 1980s and later the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) saw the beginnings of sectarian bloodshed.
Of course, Shia-Sunni strife is nothing new in Muslim history. From virtually the earliest period of Islam, conflicting claims over the Caliphate have led to the bitter divide that persists to this day. Many of the current conflicts within the Islamic world have their roots in this ancient schism.
The ongoing slaughter of Hazara Shias in Pakistan is yet another reminder of the inhuman nature of extremism. While individual Shias have been targeted for years, the recent mass killings of ethnic Hazaras is probably happening because they can be so easily identified. According to a Hazara website, 700 of the community have been killed in recent years without a single terrorist being brought to justice.
An article ‘Who kills Hazaras in Pakistan and why’ on the webzine Outlookafghanistan.net states:
“Since the declaration of religious extremists as ‘strategic assets’ by the ruling elites of Pakistan, the religious militant groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and the Taliban have been given free hands to do anything they like.”
The cold-blooded massacres of Shias in Kohistan and Chilas seem to indicate that either the local law-enforcement agencies were asleep or complicit. Gilgit’s lockdown and the evacuation of foreign tourists showed the world yet again what an anarchic and violent place Pakistan has become.
In a recent army-led operation, several of the alleged extremist killers have been arrested, and Shia and Sunni mosques in Gilgit sealed to forestall further tension. But the real test will come when these terrorists are brought to trial: thus far, the record of our judiciary in sentencing such criminals has not been very reassuring.
More often than not, they have been released on bail, or let off on grounds of insufficient evidence. Judges have been reluctant to grasp that witnesses are too scared to come forward. Repeated postponement of hearings also deters people from giving evidence.
Apart from the LJ and the SSP’s anti-Shia violence, the Jundullah is a latecomer to Pakistan’s sectarian slaughter.
Understandably, hundreds of Hazaras have fled, many to Australia. They are only the latest wave of persecuted Pakistanis seeking sanctuary in safer places. Those Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis who could have already left the country Jinnah saw as one where they would have equal rights.
Steadily, the space for anybody not hewing to the mainstream school of Islam is shrinking. Indeed, the Taliban spokesman I quoted earlier was clear that all those who did not actively oppose the state were non-Muslim and therefore wajib-ul-qatal. This is the inexorable logic of the takfiri philosophy that underpins the global jihad: anybody can be dubbed a non-Muslim and thus a target.
Sadly, the response to all this violence among the Pakistani ruling elites remains muted. There is little of the anger directed towards the Americans for the drone attacks that have killed far fewer innocent people than sectarian terror has. And yet, the media, the political class, and civil society seem oddly disconnected with the fate of our unfortunate minorities.
Those Pakistanis who are worried about where their country is headed would do well to check out Minorities Concerns of Pakistan, a web-based newsletter that voices the fears and woes of Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis. Each time I do, I feel ashamed of what we are doing to our fellow citizens.
But Pakistan is not alone in this sectarian madness. Across large swathes of the Islamic world, non-Muslims are being targeted with increasing frequency and ferocity. More than half of Iraq’s Christian population of around 1.4 million has fled in the face of extremist violence.
The ancient Egyptian Coptic community are regularly targeted by the country’s Salafi fundamentalists. Nigeria has witnessed a wave of church bombings from the Boko Haram anti-education Islamist movement.
And yet Muslims demand ever-increasing freedom to pray and spread their faith in the West. Whenever permission to build yet another mosque is denied, authorities are blamed of Islamophobia. Any real or imagined slur against symbols of Islam results in demonstrations across the Islamic world. Yet there is silence in the West over the treatment of minorities in Muslim countries.
The recent edition of Minorities Concerns of Pakistan carried a moving article about the difficulties Christians face every day in dealing with Muslims. Apparently, they are forever being asked to convert to Islam, and made conscious they are living in Pakistan on sufferance. If Muslims in the West were subjected to this kind of rudeness, there would be protest demonstrations that would include western liberals.
But we in Pakistan have become so hardened to the plight of Shias and non-Muslims that we take their daily suffering for granted. However, we should remember that for the Taliban, we are all wajib-ul-qatal.
The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.
irfan.husain < a t> gmail.com