One of the most majestic and arresting structures of Europe is the Great Mosque of Cordova. Apart from exquisite architecture, the unique thing about the mosque is that it is not really a mosque. Built in the eighth century by the Umayyad Caliphate as one of the greatest mosques, it was converted into a cathedral in the 13th Century after the Christian reconquest of Spain. Today, it is a building with an identity crisis, a mosque with a cathedral erected in the middle. Yet, anyone who has been a tourist there would know that one has to ask for directions to the Mezquita (mosque) or the Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque Cathedral) as that is what the locals refer to it as even after more than seven centuries of it being a cathedral. It stands as a symbol of defiance to the impulses of conquest and rebranding of buildings and indeed history. The obsession with demolishing, branding and rebranding buildings has not been extinguished with the Crusades, the Babri Mosque fiasco being a representative example. More recently, a court in Lahore had a petition asking that an Ahmadi place of worship should have the dome and minaret demolished, lest it misleads the faithful into believing that it is a mosque.
Its action would have been stupid at all times, yet the idiocy and sinisterly nature is compounded by a couple of reasons. Firstly, the place of worship in question is one of the two where the biggest massacre in Lahore since partition took place and the perpetrators of the mass murder remain at large. Secondly, the court was approached one or two days after the second anniversary of the obnoxious and shameful murderous episode, which incidentally was very deliberately ignored by our free and independent media and by the public at large. The oversight cannot be completely attributed to apathy, but rather to a certain degree of maliciousness. Devotional architecture has never been a particular area of interest of mine, yet it is obvious that the Pakistani State and the courts make an extraordinarily grand claim for themselves when saying that they will decide what place of worship is fit for those wanting to pray to the Almighty.
I did not see any statement from any public figure, particularly a politician, on the occasion of the anniversary remembering and extending condolences to those who passed away in the dastardly act. One reason could be that the massacre in Lahore is condemned to be eclipsed by hyper-nationalist and jingoist celebrations of becoming a nuclear power, falling round about the same time. Another reason is fear, yet the most disturbing potential reason is that many are not actually, really that angry at the incident. Stereotypical and boiler-plate statements and reactions such as “the loss of innocent lives is always regrettable” etc. do not cut it. It is not just the loss of innocent lives but rather the loss of innocent lives belonging to a group that is actively being hunted in this country and the need for the State to end this persecution and rise up to the additional responsibility of ensuring extra protection for them.
The slightly clichéd analogy with Nazi Germany and that those armbands may just be around the corner is not really as farfetched as it seems. Anti-Semitism is qualitatively different from other forms of racial and sectarian prejudices, since while all sorts of pejorative terms are used to describe the group against which one is bigoted, yet very rarely is malice or conspiracy alleged in regards to the group as an entirety. The rage against the Ahmadis might not be completely theocratic. A lot of Muslims consider other Muslims as non-Muslims, yet ordinarily they would object to (or at least one hopes that they would) to having public death warrants issued and displayed, except for the Ahmadis. Hence, like anti-Semitism it is something more than mere difference in religious interpretation; it is as if they are positively evil or insincere to the country. I hope you believe me when I say that I do not exaggerate, Ladies and Gentleman, this is the stuff of Auschwitz and gas chambers or at least this how it all begins.
I dearly look forward to a time where one would not need to somewhat apologetically state why this bigotry, repression and bloodlust should be resisted and is suicidal and self-destructive for everyone. If people from one sect can be murdered without much commotion being created, the justification immediately becomes useable for all. The Hazara Shia are a case in point. A cheap and low response to the question of Ahmadi killing and persecution is the pathetic counter-question of why are you obsessed with them, there are other people dying every day. We have heard the justification after Salmaan Taseer’s murder (who was one of the very few who vocally spoke against the Ahmadi massacre and whose birthday I am told recently passed away without much notice).
Some people have the nerve to go hoarse and lurid about minarets being banned in Switzerland while having nothing to say about the same in the Land of the Pure. There is another reason why this government, particularly federal, has a higher onus to act. Declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslim is the most disobliging skeleton in Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s closet and it is time that the record be set straight, befittingly by his own party. The State has no business declaring anyone from any sect, or fussing about religious architectural structures.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was a Shia, although probably completely secular at a personal level, had a standard answer to the silly rather intrusive question of whether he was a Shia or a Sunni. He responded by asking if the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a Shia or a Sunni. Fortunately for him, that response apparently ended the discussion. Lucky for him, I guess that he is not alive today. Since it is quite possible that Mr Jinnah would have been murdered by the faithful today just for that.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2012.
More in OpinionThink before we speak