A politics of numbers is at play in the aftermath of the Easter attacks. Many people have reacted to the suicide bombing by insisting that it is not an attack on Christians and that ‘Muslims have died too’, while some are also quick to point out that more Muslims have died in the attack than Christians. Before getting sucked into this politics of numbers, one must ask that if the casualties of Muslims are higher, does it make it less of an attack on Christians or does it take away from the fact that people were targeted on Easter? How many deaths does it really take to see that non-Muslims and Muslims belonging to certain sects are targeted for their identity? All these years and thousands of deaths later, in any less bigoted society, there would have been a clear understanding of which is the more vulnerable group here.
While words of regret and condolences are pouring in for ‘our Christian brothers’, the narrative that ‘terrorists are not Muslims’ remains alive and well. The list of ‘they’ keeps growing — TTP, Afghan Taliban, ISIS and the like, and the mantra of ‘terrorists are not Muslims’ does not make ‘them’ any more or less Muslim. Neither did it or will it give anyone the authority to decide who is indeed Muslim and who is not. They are whoever they identify themselves as, regardless of how many other Muslims would like to term them otherwise. There are three choices then: one, to keep debating on who is Muslim and who is not; two, to see this as a grand conspiracy to make Pakistan and Islam look bad; or three, move on and acknowledge that the worst are amongst us.
The discrimination suffered by certain groups in the country exists across the board. It exists in every child who is told by her parents not to eat at her Hindu friend’s house, it is in the Constitution that does not allow for a non-Muslim head of state, it is in the classist derogatory terms that are designated for Hindus and Christians, it is in the children who grow up believing that all Muslims will go to heaven only because they are born Muslim, it is in the complete and absolute silence when an Ahmadi is killed for being an Ahmadi and a Shia for having the wrong last name.
This hate, in which our society is so well-nested, sees its greater manifestations in terror attacks. The targeting of certain groups is neither the sole result of the war on terror or a response to Operation Zarb-e-Azb. There was no Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2010 when Ahmadi worshippers were targeted in Lahore or when Hazara neighbourhoods were wiped out. There was no war on terror in the 1950s when there were protests around the country propagating anti-Ahmadi hate. This hate and discrimination exists in the very foundations of this country and society.
The recent events in Islamabad were a perfect illustration of this hate. There is available documentation that casts doubts over Aasia Bibi’s guilt, yet there were thousands of people in Islamabad calling for the execution of the Christian woman. The state is so spineless that it can give space to those publicly spreading hate, but anyone opposing these voices does it at the risk to their lives. Is the state so drenched in hate that it is, in essence, on the side of Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters?
Not only are state institutions spineless, they do not even care enough to be embarrassed about their continued failure. Regardless of how the National Action Plan is projected and how many believe in the illusions of safety, there is no victory for the dead and there is no victory for the living left to mourn them. Victory does not lie in music videos or hangings by the state that has executed over 300 people in a year. There is no victory for families being shot on a community bus for being Ismaili, there is no victory in the death of students at a university, there is no victory in the death of women and children out for Easter celebrations in a public park.
There are no victories, but only great tragedies here. The tragedy of a family member who is left to identify mutilated bodies, the tragedy of parents who will not know which child to mourn first, what to do with the clothes and shoes strewn around the house, the tragedy of the widow who will neither be able to look at family pictures nor let go of them, the tragedy of the orphaned child who will grow up alone.
As people bury their children today and wonder how they will possibly live the rest of their lives without them, the rest of us need to remember that no amount of denial will wash away the stains of blood on the playground’s swings.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2016.