Sending the fanatics a clear message

Published: May 30, 2010
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The writer is professor at the University of Vermont, US. saleem.ali@tribune.com.pk

The writer is professor at the University of Vermont, US. saleem.ali@tribune.com.pk

I am writing this article from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where the news of the tragic attack in Lahore has just reached me via CNN. Although I had plans for another topic for this week’s article, the tragedy compels me to tackle the subject head-on. Such intolerance has existed in other faiths as well but they have gotten over it. Christians have learned from their indiscretions during the inquisition and Hindus have also learned from their theological fractures after the assassination of Gandhi. Yet Muslims remain unable to deal with pluralism.

The irony is that fanatics everywhere speak triumphantly of how strong their faiths are and are growing worldwide. Yet, if they are so secure in the message of their faiths, why do they feel compelled to persecute people with whom they disagree with? The reality is that fanaticism among Muslims will grow weak precisely because of such intolerance. Many Iranians converted to the Bahai faith because the intolerance they faced in a country ruled by clerics. We are seeing the same trend among Muslims worldwide.

I believe firmly that unless the mainstream claims their religion back from the fanatics, we will be left with a group of ruling fanatics in Muslim countries with all the educated professionals fleeing to the west. The fastest growing faith tradition in most parts of the world is no longer Islam. Christianity is growing faster than Islam in Africa and South America. While data is hard to come by, based on my fieldwork in many parts of the world, I can state with anecdotal confidence that the numbers of Ahmadis and Bahais are growing fast, mainly because what they offer is more tolerant and peaceful than what is heard in most mosques from Jakarta to Casablanca.

Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate was an Ahmadi who took great pride in his country. However, because of the state’s persecution of his faith he could not even open a research centre. This is a shame and a loss for all Pakistanis who are in a deep conspiratorial neurosis. Any time there is a problem, they blame minority communities with little evidence whatsoever. Our media is complicit in this nonsense-mongering and no political party can be exonerated from blame either.

So what do we do? When anti-Semitism became rampant in Europe the solution in many countries was to declare Holocaust denial a crime. Even though this may have appeared a contradiction to norms of free speech it was necessary. Pakistan may have to undertake similar drastic measures to make hate speech against any minority a crime. Let’s work together to make it clear to fanatical clerics and politicians that we cannot tolerate hatred towards any faith tradition.

Although any law against hate-speech is unlikely to pass in our parliament, our media can turn its vigilantism towards finding out which clerics are engaged in such hate speech. Citizen journalists can record and document such nonsense and expose the culprits in the public domain.

Recovering from such collective lunacy will take time for Pakistanis but let us not despair. On my taxi ride today along the Mekong, the driver asked me where I was from. Upon hearing my reply he said: “Pakistan – big problems!” He paused somberly and then in his broken English continued: “But worry not. Vietnam big problems many years ago — but now fine.”

Published in the Express Tribune, May 30th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Riaz Ahmed Phulpoto
    May 30, 2010 - 2:19AM

    Media realy has a role to play to put to shame the nefarious designs of extremists. The faith needs to wrested from the ruthless clinches of extremists and fanatics. Lets hope the dark days will finally vanish— and that too before its too late.Recommend

  • May 30, 2010 - 2:48AM

    Our problem is that many amongst us dont even believe we have a problem. Everyday someone points the finger at foreign hands and nefarious conspiracies. Even when the Taliban claim responsibility for attacks we are not prepared to believe it. Case in point, the Sharif brothers in Punjab who by all accounts still believe that sectarianism is an imported phenomena and the Punjab has little role to play in fomenting it.

    Outlawing Holocaust denial was a much later step. First the local German populations who lived near the concentration camps were forced to tour the camps and bury the dead.

    Second, rules that limit the display of Nazi paraphernalia insured that the iconography that was associated with the martial Third Reich was gradually removed from the German conscience. As long as militant outfits can rally support around Islamic symbolism, their power to declare those who oppose then as infidels multiplies.

    Rather than shutting off areas after operations, those who voice the most scepticism regarding the Taliban should perhaps be asked to visit the areas, the training camps and meet the local population who suffered under their rule. Recommend

  • Muhammad Ziad
    May 30, 2010 - 5:21AM

    “I can state with anecdotal confidence that the numbers of Ahmadis and Bahais are growing fast”

    This is contrary to most of the great Scholars of this world who suggest that adherents to a more radical version of Islam is increasing ( eg Samuel Huntington). We rely on facts rather than ‘anecdotal confidence’ by the way.

    They might be growing yes but because they are highly supported by the International community and Ngos who fails to protect even the Basic rights of the Balochis or Pakthuns in Pakistan but rather focus on the Ahmedis who are profoundly in a better position than the aforementioned communities or rather race which are targeted by the state and foreign mercenaries alike. Easy Visa Policies, ability to mount international pressure on the state, means to live in a foreign state..things a normal Pakhtun or Baloch can only reminisce. Then why is it that you were forced to write about the Ahmedis instead of something other that you were suppose to write on rather no one (you) ever cared to write about millions of Pakhtuns displaced or killed in the Frontier or Afghanistan by the Us or Pakistani forces in Collateral fire.

    Please remind yourself that Ahmediya community was targeted by the terrorists , the same terrorists India was attacked by in 2008 that killed many jews. Nevertheless , i have yet to come across an international pressure towards India or the blame game of faiths.

    It is a terrorist attack , not a deliberate attack of faiths. The terrorists have targeted the US , the Muslims, the British , the coalition etc. Why do you insist that it is time for Muslims to learn or to rid themselves of Fanatic clerics which happens not to be the case. fanatic clerics exist all over the world … Faisal Shehzad was not influenced by a Fanatical cleric, and Anwar Aulaki (Us most wanted these days) is quite a normal moderate cleric or was.

    Hindus have learned , Christians have learned ….Negative. As recently as in 2002 in Gujrat Hindus have deliberately attacked,raped,plundered the Muslims . This is one act , but several in India are there to explain the atrocities done to the minority muslims , yet you claim they have learned after Gandhi. Do note that investigations consider the riots as State Sponsored something you don’t find in Pakistan.

    By faith the Nato forces are Christians , nevertheless i agree that they have killed many ‘innocent’ Muslims not on the basis of their religion. But are you suggesting that among an army of Thousands , none of them committed any act sponsored by the state on its subjects just because he was a Muslim? Abu Ghuraib ? Many incidents in Gitmo?

    The Muslims have been the most tolerant all over the history. Since you took up history as a lesson for Muslism , why not we both sit together and study History and see which religion was the most tolerant and peaceful? Case studies Jerusalem and Spain?

    Do not color the Ahmediya blood with Islam or Muslims. I’m a Muslim first and a Pakistani second. You offend me by calling my religion a hostage to Fanatics. Whereas you seem perfectly ‘alright’ with Hindus and Christians despite their short comings and failure to protect the similar rights of Minorities in their own countries.

    Do you know the hypocrisy in all this? Given that you really have a Pakistani passport , we signed on a paper to become the citizens of this country where it said that I denounce Mirza Ghulam Qadyani as a false nabi (prophet) and declare all his followers as ‘non Muslims’. Surprisingly, no fanatic Cleric made us sign this document but a clean shaven official sitting on his desk with an old typewriter (now replaced with computers) occasionally accepting bribes for a ‘faster’ process.

    Before you overlook this comment with the notion of ‘just another fanatic’. I would like to introduce myself as a graduate of LSE in Politics and International Relations and perhaps more respective towards religious tolerance than most of the ‘other’ Pakistanis i meet.

    Sigh. Recommend

  • May 30, 2010 - 1:50PM

    Response to Mr. Ziad’s comment

    There is really no data on conversions and so Samuel Huntington’s conjecture is as good as mine. You resort to the old blame game on NGOs — have you visited the number of NGos who are working in Afghanistan at great peril to their safety and being labeled as agents? You are falling for the propaganda of the extremists. Please spend time in the relief camps. The Red Cross is even offering first aid treatment training to the Taliban to show that they are objective and so please don’t fall for the propaganda of the fanatics.

    LSE graduation is great — but Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was also a grade of your venerable institution. Indeed, there are many highly educated individuals who can have sympathies in some tangential ways with agendas of intolerance and conspiratorial rhetoric.

    If you are interested in this topic, have a look at my book on Islam and Education:

    Details at:

    http://www.oup.com.pk/shopexd.asp?id=1442

    May we all be guided towards peace and tolerance
    SaleemRecommend

  • zubair
    May 30, 2010 - 1:57PM

    Muhammad Ziad, i have read your comments twicw but failed to understand them or find any logic. What I understood was if hindus attack muslims in 2002 and NATO forces are fighting in Afghanistan. its alright to kill Ahmadis. The worst portion was the pride with which you announced yourself to be a graduate of LSE.Recommend

  • Mahvesh
    May 30, 2010 - 2:23PM

    Mr. Ziad, sorry, but you lost all credibility when you said you’re a Muslim first and Pakistani second. Not to question your faith but such sentiments allow you to overlook many atrocities because you associate more with religious leanings rather than your own countrymen. Case in point – bringing up the Baloch/Pakhtun vs. Ahmedis debate. It allows you to directly associate this act with India without asking yourself that maybe it is our own fault. Recommend

  • May 30, 2010 - 3:47PM

    Mr Ziad, you seem to be arguing towards a race to the bottom. Its as if violence in Pakistan against minorities is justifiable because violence against minorities in India for example is much worse.

    Why is it so hard to condemn the murder of human beings regardless of their faith or beliefs? No one doubts that Muslim rulers of Spain and Jerusalem were more tolerant than the rulers of today. But isn’t that exactly the point?

    Also, how are radical Muslims “supported” by the international community, and since when is it an NGO’s job to protect the “basic human rights of Balochi’s and Pakhtun’s”? Is that not the government of Pakistan’s job? Would you care to list the NGO’s that are formed solely to support the Ahmedi community? Diverting resources away from Balochis and Pakhtuns?

    Your arguments are laced with rhetoric and hate. Murder is murder and making comparisons to the state of other nations dose not excuse us as a nation or the government for failing to protect Pakistani citizens.

    If your arguments were applied to Muslim minorities in say Western countries then our criticism of racial profiling, visa restrictions, pat down searches, potential ban on the hijab, etc would fall apart. Recommend

  • Muhammad Ziad
    May 30, 2010 - 7:01PM

    @ Mahvesh

    My faith does not compel me to overlook atrocities but by your logic so should this be the case of all or anyone. This is your speculation and indeed it is very biased. Nevertheless i fail to fathom your argument? I don’t point these attacks on India but rather to terrorism which does not recognize borders.

    My reason to compare Ahmedis and Pakthuns etc was to shed light to the fact that Ahmedis enjoy the patronship of the international community whereas the Pakhtuns in Fata or the Balochis don’t (as much as the ahmedis etc). The Ahmedis are for the first time the target of terrorism (recent waves) and they are already blaming the constitution and the media for calling them Halak which is cashing in on the dead. It is not like some cleric attacked Ahemdis because he was instilled with hatred against their sect but rather it is the global hatred which can attack any sect even their own kin and recognizes no difference between Ahmedis,Pakhtuns,Balochis or what not.

    Condoling the dead does not mean Pakistan is to be blamed for such incidents, safety is state responsibility but blame it just for failing to protect the security not issues like Halak and what not.

    @ Saleem Ali ,
    I was not talking about the taliban in Afghanistan but the Citizens of all those countries. Case being Fata, where Amnesty or Human rights commission is yet to comment on the bombings or killings of thousands of civilians as a result of attacks from taliban or the government (Us included). Had these civilians been Ahmedis , it would’ve been a combined pressure from international community and Ngos alike. I have not read your book which i surely will but i ask you , what compelled you to not write about these fanatics when they recently killed hundred of tribal elders? Personal affection ?

    These are the terrorists , more of a global product than a fanatical cleric’s horde. This is not the time to ask Pakistan to amend but the time for the world to condole with Pakistan on the deaths of its citizens rather than blaming it for creating this menace which is mostly the US share. How is only Pakistan being asked to cleanse whereas it is a global phenomena ?

    I agree, educated individuals can have sympathies for terrorists but i miss the point here. I do not sympathies with the terrorists nor do i hold an extremist view of eliminating the Non Muslims. Twice in your comment you have linked me to extremism which is quiet compelling i say.Recommend

  • Sharjeel Jawaid
    May 30, 2010 - 8:22PM

    So long as the fanatics, religious or otherwise, have a say in running our affairs such killing will continue. The root cause lies in the government and the so called civil society abdicating its responsibility in working towards creation of a just social order. The destitutes among us shall continue to be brainwashed for killing in return for paradise.

    I am waiting for the last many years for our clergy [read: ulama, mashaikh and political mullahs]to come forward and denounce the killing of innocent in the name of religion. Perhaps they have sought their nirvana being photographed kissing the Koran, without going into its message; which holds the life of an indvidual scared over and above anything else.

    Although religion has been used by tyrants in the past to justify their hegemony, it was not religion which perpetuated the major holoucasts in twentieth century. More than sixty million people perished in Europe, Soviet Union and China alone under secular doctrines.

    The British who are in the forefront today, against the war on terror killed millions in Bengal, manufacturing a famine during the peak of their rule in the subcontinent.Recommend

  • Ali Haider
    May 30, 2010 - 8:47PM

    Very nice article.Recommend

  • ryan shah
    May 30, 2010 - 10:05PM

    Very nice article and all i can say on this matter and article is that we need to wake up!we need to forget all the differences and stand together as one nation!need of the time is to be patient but brave at the same time!what’s the use of accusing each other and abusing on the basis of religion????we are human beings first,it’s our responsibility to protect mankind!Those who died were Pakistanis,we all are Pakistanis,so please get rid of the orthodox and biased ideas!let us ‘Heal the world’!Recommend

  • Rationalist
    May 31, 2010 - 1:25AM

    The main problem is that the basic tenet of Islam is followers are to convert the whole world into dar-ul-Islam. If they don’t covert, the unbelievers are considered dar-ul-harb. Right there are the seeds for intolerance and bigotry. While most Muslims are indeed peaceful people, it can’t be denied that the Islamic terrorists are indeed following Islam.

    Mr. Ali seems to think that Islam will lose its followers because of the inhuman acts of the Islamic terrorists. However, he ignores the fact that Islam has built-in control mechanisms to prevent people from leaving. There is death penalty for blasphemy or apostasy. Yes, I agree with him that violent Islam will lose its potency if the followers start to leave the religion in large numbers. But, is it likely due to the control?Recommend

  • Rashid Saleem
    Jun 1, 2010 - 12:19PM

    The seed of intolerance has been sowed for decades in our country and it cannot be over-done in a year or two. It needs constant fighting for a long time. The important thing we have to start thinking on more liberal and secular lines to over-come this intolerant syndrome in our society.Recommend

  • Farukh Sarwar
    Jun 1, 2010 - 1:28PM

    Intolerance has grown with immense pace in the past few years in our country; we must try to create harmony in our society, so that we can give the future generations a better place to live. Recommend

  • Wazi Swazi
    Jun 4, 2010 - 6:27PM

    Is it possible to get rid of Pakistan’s Islamic Foundation, and let Pakistan become a country based on rule of laws or even join India under the banner of Democracy, so there are no heinous crimes in the name of religion or fanatical identity at all. Since Pakistan is based on False Islamic Foundation, its poulace will always be neurotical!Recommend

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