Hazrat Ali (RA) once said that a society/government can survive in the condition of kufr (faithlessness) but not in zulm (oppression). While the precise incidence of kufr or iman in Pakistan is debated every day, the harrowing magnitude of zulm is inescapable. Across the mainstream political and social spectrum there seems to be an easy consensus on the principle that “minorities” should be treated equally and justly. The nobleness of the consensus is overridden only by its haziness. The primary question which is very meticulously avoided is who are the minorities, which of course would also entail answering the embedded question of who is the majority? The lazy answer is that the Muslims are the majority and non-Muslims the minority. The only problem with this answer is that it is really not saying anything. Since whereas Hindus and Christians are easily identifiable minorities, there are others which are not susceptible to such clear demarcations.
The discussion of what constitutes the majority has become a taboo. The question of whether the Shia are part of the majority or the minority is never raised, since it is considered insensitive or even uncouth to bring it up in polite dinner table conversations and hysterical talk shows. Again the answer would be there is no need for that since Shias are universally accepted to be Muslims. Well, one would be surprised. There are organisations in Pakistan which believe, propagate and act upon the belief that not only Shia are non-Muslims but also that they should be eliminated. A natural corollary of the reticence on the matter is that when Shias are killed and often with impunity, nobody is willing to recognise the genesis of this violence. The release of Malik Ishaq, leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, should have mandated at least a fraction of the media attention accorded to the wedding of Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza. Here was a man who has in the past openly exhorted people to kill Shias, and the really disturbing bit is that he has been let loose so that he can continue doing so. When the law minister of Punjab was revealed to be openly hobnobbing with the leaders of a banned sectarian outfit, there were not enough questions asked either by the media or his own party. The violence in Parachinar has become a black hole of our public sphere, especially in the Urdu media. There is a criminal reluctance to admit that there is a possibility that all this is an orchestrated campaign hinged on sectarian prejudice. Whether or not it is really orchestrated, the point remains that why is no one at least asking the question.
There are pamphlets that have been distributed in Faisalabad brazenly inciting people to murder the Ahmadis present there so as to cement a place in heaven for themselves. As a consequence of this, one Ahamdi was very recently murdered in that city. Almost as disgusting as the thuggish pamphlets themselves, is the fact that these are not being distributed by anonymous, secret terrorist organisations. Quite to the contrary, this is being done by very public terrorist organisations. The unchecked viciousness on display is horrifying. The failure of the Punjab administration to act is either because of sinister maliciousness or shameful spinelessness. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has displayed an unprecedented fondness of taking suo motu notices of practically everything under the sun, ranging from Atiqa Odho to the Karachi violence. Yet, my Lords either do not find the time or do not deem the matter worthy so as to mandate their attention and take cognisance of open call for blood in the industrial hub of Punjab. The Punjab government’s capitulation before the threat of homicidal religious fanatics is not a sudden surrender. We may remember that Mian Nawaz Sharif boldly and rather uncharacteristically remarked that he stood with his “Ahmadi brethren” in the aftermath of the barbaric attacks on their places of worship last year. The disgraceful bit was that almost immediately after this rare moment of genuine gallantry Mr Sharif had to swiftly and weakly clarify his position with ambivalent, apologetic and incoherent defense of what he really meant. The Punjab government probably maintains its silence because of the fear of the PML-that it might lose its rightwing religious votes. The problem with Faustian bargains like these is that such weakness becomes regressive.
As I write these lines, there are several posters in the Lahore Civil Courts (several on court room doors) extolling Mumtaz Qadri as a “ghazi” of Islam, who deserves to be released and glorified. While people should be free to be peacefully idiotic and follow ideological brutes of their choice, however firstly eulogising Mumtaz Qadri is an endorsement of his medieval barbarism and hence direct provocation to violence. And secondly, the court premises should not be allowed to be used to propagate violent religious bigotry. I would have demanded a suo motu as is customary, had I not known better. This after all is now a people’s court, although one sometimes wonders seeing the bullet-proof vehicles and regal entourages.
As for Mumtaz Qadri, he has not been sentenced yet, which is rather peculiar given a confession at the outset. The delay is a direct violation of the National Judicial Policy enacted by the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan himself. The standard rebuttal would be that the Supreme Court does not have the time to take personal interest in every murder case, especially when it has less controversial and more publicity hoarding cases available.
The real danger of masochistic cowardice and abdication of responsibility lies in the fact it is almost always the easiest choice available and hence infinitely addictive. False pretence of protecting sensibilities and ambiguous rhetoric fools no one. Under the thin, feeble guise is the perennial fearfulness which plagues us. The argument that people of every sect are murdered everyday in Pakistan and hence why the inordinate focus on particular ones ignores a basic principle, i.e. if one person is allowed to be murdered because of sectarian affiliation, then the excuse will inevitably extend to everyone.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2011.