Monday, June 14, 2010

Turning Outrage into Courage: By Ayesha Ijaz Khan

See note from me under Comments below (Connie)

Ayesha Khan (photo credit to Tribune Express)

The brazen attack on innocent Ahmadis in Lahore late last month is not just another terrible terrorist atrocity. It is more significant because there is speculation that the attack by extremist exclusivist forces targeted Ahmadis in order to bolster their own diminishing popularity among the population at large. The argument is that we have among us people who harbour such bizarre views of righteousness that to them eliminating those who may have slightly different beliefs is justifiable and praiseworthy. The fact that such disturbing thought exists within us as a community is not false. There were after all banners on Lahore’s Mall Road, in the lead up to this heinous attack, vilifying Ahmadis and other religions. We have also witnessed religious programmes on television that have advocated the killing of Ahmadis. But whether this thought process exists within a small minority or is in fact the way a large number of Pakistanis think is the key question.

Bigotry and hate exist in every society. What is important is how the state deals with it. In 1953, when anti-Ahmadi rioting first broke out in Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin resisted the pressure to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim. But in 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto succumbed. The fact that Prime Minister Nazimuddin, perhaps at the expense of his office (he was asked to step down soon afterwards), stood for what was right leads me to conclude that things started to go seriously wrong for Pakistan about 35 years ago. On the other hand, if one uses the example of what the blacks had to suffer in America, the history is opposite to ours. As late as the 60s, blacks in the US could not enter many restaurants, had to sit at the back of buses, and so on. But in 1964, America passed momentous legislation in the form of the Civil Rights Act, and though things did not change overnight, racial segregation was legally ended. It was the greatest achievement of the Kennedy government. Slowly, society responded by overcoming age-old prejudices and today America has a black president. This does not mean that all is well, for blacks still have lower average incomes than whites, but things have progressed in the right direction and are much better.

In the aftermath of the Lahore attack, I have heard condemnation from many quarters and outrage from some. The good news is that some who previously agreed with the legal discrimination against Ahmadis in Pakistan have now changed their minds. I find this particularly heartening. I must also praise our women parliamentarians from the PPP, MQM and ANP respectively, at whose behest, our National Assembly called the attack a “barbaric massacre”. The army too should be praised for burying with full military honours Major-General (R) Nasir Ahmed Chaudhry, who was brutally killed in the attack. And Mian Nawaz Sharif also deserves praise for describing Ahmadis as his “brethren” and an “asset for Pakistan”. Nearly every English newspaper has carried stories and opinions not only condemning the massacre but also highlighting the noteworthy contribution of the peaceful Ahmadi community to the Pakistan Movement, a fact that was rarely mentioned in previous years. In fact, I have read a couple of excellent pieces on this subject in the Urdu press as well, notably by Hamid Akhtar and Zaheda Hina.

But by no means is this enough. We must turn the present outrage into courage and take measures to reverse those steps that led us astray and away from the vision of our founding fathers. All our stakeholders, including the politicians, the army, the judiciary, and most importantly, the media need to come together and decide once and for all not to extend patronage to those forces that are bent upon creating divisions, to undo those black laws that give legal sanction to discrimination, to enact our very own Equal Protection Clause so all Pakistanis feel equally Pakistani, and to disallow hate speech. The last point is especially important for the media to consider as it has the most direct impact on opinion formation. Only then can we reclaim Jinnah’s Pakistan where “religion is not the business of the state” but best left between man and his Creator.
END OpEd

Published by the Express Tribune in the OPINION section, 14th June, 2010 here


The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London. ayesha.khan@tribune.com.pk (See more on author as novelist below)

"Her observations resonate well
with what a lot of us think and feel
today." - The Saturday post, USA

"A sort of Pakistani Judy Blume,
Khan delivers a novel that is far
from contrived or pretentious...a
delicious read." - Newsline, Pakistan Ayesha Ijaz Khan began her career as a lawyer, working for both Pakistani and American law firms in the fields of banking and finance law. In 2002, she wrote a fictional piece on Saudi women that won an Economist-sponsored competition. Through her writing and broadcasting efforts, she speaks vocally against racial profiling of Muslims in the post 9/11 western world, and equally argues for greater women’s rights in the Muslim world. Her particular area of interest is Pakistan.

Ayesha was born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan and has since then had an itinerant lifestyle...her writing is known to have a flair for accommodating expatriate viewpoints, as is evident from her novel, "Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazaar". Her socio-political commentaries have been printed in the prestigious Chatham House publication, The World Today, as well as in New Internationalist and the US-based CounterPunch. She has also contributed to The News, Pakistan Link, Dawn, The Friday Times and Chowk. Her interviews and panel discussions have been telecast by BBC Radio, Radio Adelaide and various television channels, including CBC, ARY, GEO, Vectone, Venus and PTV.

A sampling of the comments to this current article, "Turning Outrage into Courage", follows:

thankyou ma’am for ur support.

Jazak Allah for writing this very courageous article. May we have more people like you in Urdu media as well.

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Thank you for your article. A murder is a murder and should not be condoned...The Ahmedi community has been through this since 1951...My heart goes for the families who lost their loved ones, and I am nothing but ashamed.

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A valuable advice indeed, rather than lamenting the state and citizens we can turn this outrage into something positive. The silent majority must not remain silent any longer as it would be criminal negligence we need to speak out against these blatant atrocities.

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I am an Ahmadi. There are four million of me in Pakistan. This Islamic Republic is the only state in the world which has officially declared me to to be a non-Muslim. Why? It’s simple. I am an Ahmadi.

Ordinances have been passed against me. Acts and Constitutional Amendments have been drafted around me. Shortly after the heart and soul of our nation was ripped into two, a country reeling to define and defend its own identity unleashed itself upon me. In 1974, a parliament I had voted for adopted a law that outlawed me.

The rest of you were given a different story. Unlike you, I was not a “a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH”. But nobody really asked me what I believed in. Why? Because I am different. Because I don’t matter. Because I am an Ahmadi.

A powerful man who killed another powerful man in the name of the law did worse to me. In 1984, the General of an Army I support, pay for and even serve under passed another law: now I could not call myself a Muslim at all, or even “pose as Muslim”.

You might have noted the affects of that yesterday. As my attackers unleashed their wrath, television networks I watch and love got the location of the bloodshed all wrong. What I call a mosque, they insisted on calling a “place of worship”. That’s alright though. It’s not their fault. I’m used to the special treatment. After all, I am an Ahmadi.

...I wish I could give you a hug this Eid. I wish I could say “Asalamalaikum” and “Eid Mubarak” to you as well. I wish I could read to you the history of my people and even have you sample my food. But I can’t. That could cost me three years of prison time.

...Why waste your time with me? After all, I am an Ahmadi.

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It is imperative that violence by the terrorists does not provoke an armed retaliation from the affected. The liberals must fight this on intellectual front and refrain from indulging into any activity that might turn ugly because that is what these terrorists actually want.

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thank you for your brave, courageous and honest words. May these words spread like rain in a land burning with fire.

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The pain and anguish expressed by our Ahmadi brothers and sisters are deeply touching. However, please remember that the tragic loss of life on Black Friday was not the result of sectarian violence. It was an attack by sub-human creatures who had previously murdered Pakistanis of all religious denominations...

There is no denying the intensity of the hate and prejudice that exists in Pakistan against Ahmadi Muslims but we should not lose sight of the fact that the killers... had other motives as well...

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The public opinion needs to move against intolerance and bigotry by Mullahs in the name of Islam.

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I am glad that people are openly writing such articles.
The solution to our problem’s includes repealing the anti-Ahmadi and blasphemy laws.

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(Be sure to see my blogger comment below)

2 comments:

Connie L. Nash said...

The universality of issues handled in this article go well beyond Pakistan. My prayer is that this piece will: first of all – be heard and heeded in Pakistan – a nation which due to the history, current dilemmas and many highly-educated leaders – could lead the way in handling sectarian and discrimination better than most nations; and secondly, I hope that this item will be read far and wide as a shining example concerning the unseen ways Pakistanis challenge and police themselves. Many of us on constant news alert can’t help but observe greater freedom in the press from Pakistan than from the USA, we also see many genuine efforts toward peace, non-violence and a genuine democracy and never any stops that direction. We in the West have many more lessons to learn and values to follow in and from this country we’ve expected to manipulate way too long.

Connie L. Nash said...

Hello again, I meant to say in 2nd sentence...in handling sectarian differences and discrimination better than most nations...