A climate of hate
June 21, 2010 § 2 Comments
By now we are all well aware of the marginalization of Pakistan’s religious minorities, as well as the level of violence that is directed against them. Black Friday may have been a particularly shocking display of hatred and venality, but it’s far from the only one. Not only have there been massacres of religious minorities before – the murder of Christians in Gojra by setting their houses on fire in July 2009 comes to mind – but communities have also been attacked while at prayer, such as the many incidents of attacks on Shia mosques.
The institutional support for such vile attacks is clear: it rests on the extensive legal discrimination that exists in Pakistan’s Constitution and in its other legislation, most notably the Blasphemy laws and the anti-Ahmadi laws. But perhaps an even more powerful source of support is the social and cultural stigmatization of non-Sunnis and non-Muslims in Pakistan.
The climate of hate that exists in Pakistan today demonizes anyone who does not fit a very, very narrow definition of Pakistani – which essentially has come to mean a devout Wahabi Sunni Muslim. Anyone outside that extremely narrow identity is immediately considered suspect, an alien of sorts, and that includes Ahmadis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, and the rest. And increasingly, there is a hateful ideology and rhetoric that is being directed towards non-Wahabi Sunnis. This hateful rhetoric exists in both public and in personal and intimate spheres, and although some might imagine that such ideas are exclusive to poorer and less formally educated people, in fact one can hear ugly bigoted sentiments being expressed in the most lavish of drawing rooms and by people with Harvard degrees.
This climate of hate begins with silence – silence about the discrimination faced by minorities, silence about the violence directed at them, and silence about the decreasing possibility of a life of dignity and satisfaction for religious minorities in Pakistan. C.M. Naim has an excellent piece in which he details how attacks on Ahmadis are covered in the Urdu-language press as compared to the English-language press. According to Naim, Urdu papers rarely reported on anti-Ahmadi attacks, and when they did, they failed to mention the religious identity of the victims and therefore to identify the attack as one motivated by hate and bigotry. It needs to be mentioned that Urdu newspapers have a much wider and broader readership than English-language newspapers.
The media has certainly played its role in fostering this climate of hate. The most notable example of this hate is the show Aalim Online, whose host Amir Liaquat Hussain exhorted his viewers in 2008 to kill Ahmadis as an act of piety (wajab-ul-qatl). This show aired on September 7, 2008, and on September 8, within hours of the show’s airing, an Ahmadi businessman had been shot dead by a gang of assailants who were never apprehended. (The lack of any criminal investigations and apprehending of perpetrators is a common pattern in violence against religious minorities.)
But perhaps most disturbing are the repeated statements by political leaders and those in government office that justify violence against Ahmadis and others. For example, Sanaullah Khan, a leader of the PML-N and a current minister in the Punjab provincial government, has repeatedly made statements that justify violence against Ahmadis. He also campaigned for a by-election and appeared prominently with the leaders of Sipah-e-Sahaba-Pakistan (SSP), a notorious, violent, and Sunni supremacist organization (and one that has incidentally been banned by the government).
Another chilling example of official sanction of anti-Ahmadi violence is the placement of anti-Ahmadi banners in Lahore that had the official seal of the Punjab government on them. Within the last few days, anti-Christian banners have also appeared in Lahore.
The response from the fundamentalist parties to the Ahmadi massacre on Black Friday has been not only to refuse to condemn the attack but in fact to blame the Ahmadi community for the attacks! A meeting of 13 fundamentalist organizations in Lahore on June 9 declared that Ahmadis were part of a conspiracy to try and overturn anti-Ahmadi laws and had orchestrated the attacks on the mosques themselves! And last Friday (June 18), Dawn notes that the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami provided a fresh example of hate speech:
The latest example is that of the Jamaat-i-Islami chief, Syed Munawwar Hasan, who during a sermon in Lahore on Friday threatened a fresh movement against the Ahmadi community if it “did not accept their minority status” and the government kept silent about “their blasphemous and unconstitutional activities”.
Throughout this, those in political office have displayed a singular lack of sympathy and concern for the victims. Not a single political leader has visited the victims or offered them monetary compensation (as is commonplace for victims of terrorism). The Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, has thus far refused to visit the Ahmadi mosques, despite living just down the road from them. Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the PML-N, did make a statement declaring that Ahmadis were “our brothers” but even this milquetoast statement was met with outrage from the fundamentalists. In this atmosphere, we have to be grateful to the women legislators who forced the issue and were able to pass a motion condemning the attacks in the National Assembly. If it were not for Sherry Rehman (PPP), supported by Bushra Rehman (ANP), Khushbakht Shujaat (MQM), and Farah Naz Ispahani (PPP), even this symbolic measure would not have passed.
Progressives need to start going on the offensive against these purveyors of hate. We must hold these leaders, parties, TV personalities, and the rest accountable for their exhortations of violence against religious minorities. It’s time to take a stand.
P.S. Don’t forget to sign our petition, which has now been endorsed by the Women’s Action Forum (Karachi and Hyderabad).