Existing on the edge of fear has become the norm for the vast majority of people in Pakistan. Once known for its remarkable hospitality, suspicion of absolutely everyone governs how people react on the streets, in shops and in other places where strangers have no option but to mingle. Given the current unrest, nay, let’s be honest and call a spade a spade: given the ‘civil war’ we have been so blindly living in for the past few years, suspicion is understandable. But one unfortunate thing, amongst many other things, of course, is that despite the indisputable fact that this civil war is being fought by Muslims against Muslims, the population at large appears to have turned almost completely against Pakistanis of other faiths, too.
Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and any other minority community to whom Pakistan has always been home, are increasingly victimised, persecuted and as appears to have become the trend of late, charged with blasphemy for no reason other than that they happen to own something, usually property or land, that someone else wants to get their filthy hands on. This targeting, irrespective of whether they are men, women or children belonging to other faiths, has knocked both religious and cultural pluralism firmly on the head. It is a very retrograde step indeed, all angles duly considered; a step which serves only to push this supposed ‘land of the pure’ even closer to being a ‘land of the narrow-minded, bigoted fanatics’ over which uneducated mullahs rule all and sundry and in which the word ‘freedom’ — be this freedom of thought, act or deed — has been deleted from the dictionary of the human right to live in peace.
Pakistan is, of course, an Islamic country but this, as insisted by the father of the nation himself, most certainly does not remove the rights of those of other faiths to which the country is also home. Yet, their rights are rapidly being erased with the result that those who can are bailing out for pastures new and far safer than if they were to fight for their birthrights here.
Just because someone happens to be of a different faith does not mean that they should be viewed as enemies which is, frankly speaking, how Muslims — through no fault of our own — are now viewed by the world at large. Knowing how abhorrent it feels to be treated with hurtful disrespect and utter disdain should make Muslims think twice about maltreating those of other religious persuasions. However, selfishly insular as the general population has become, it has done nothing of the sort and as a direct result of this insularity, the standard of life has been seriously degraded for all.
Just across our eastern border, people of many religious denominations live side by side in complete harmony: mosques, temples, churches and other places of worship stand in close proximity and all go about their daily lives and routines — religious, educational and otherwise — with smiles on their faces and happiness in the air. They live, or so it appears, in a state of bliss, which has long since been relegated to the history books here.
Fear and persecution of ‘others’ equates to fear and persecution of ‘self’ which is, for Pakistan, an extremely sad state of affairs, indeed.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2012.