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It tolls for thee

After attacks on mosques last month left almost a hundred Ahmadis dead, Pakistan must decide what kind of nation it wants to be. Choose wisely, implores Zainab Mahmood.
Zainab Mahmood
17 June 2010

In brutal terrorist attacks on two mosques in Model Town and Garhi Shau in Lahore on 28 may 2010, 98 Ahmadis were killed. The enormity of the casualties, ubiquitous media presence and excessive coverage of the events in local and international news has kept this issue in the limelight. In a few days, when the next big story - the aftermath of cyclone Phet, budgetary crises, American drone attacks - hits, the emphasis will shift and the issue could find itself gathering dust in virtual backroom. But one can hope that the tenacity of the followers of the Ahmadiyya community, the general public’s outrage within and outside Pakistan, the hundreds of articles, petitions and reports circulating around the world in support of the victims, in opposition to the blasphemy law, will prevent this “story” from being killed. This time this issue is not going to go away even if the headlines and breaking news tickers do.

Recounting the hundreds and hundreds of cases of persecution against Ahmadis in Pakistan would require sheets of papers running for miles. But highlighting the kind of persecution meted out to Ahmadis as facilitated by the blasphemy law (introduced in 1974 under General Zia’s regime) is necessary to give people an idea of what kind of absurd, inhuman and immoral activities occur without accountability in Pakistan. For decades the opportunists masquerading as religious leaders have misused the blasphemy law in order to establish their writ over a scattered and divided Pakistani society.

Extremists victimise Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus, threatening and harassing them in localities where they live and work, convicting them for baseless crimes without concrete evidence, desecrating their mosques, temples and churches, assaulting their women, destroying their personal properties, all in the name of protecting the finality of Prophet Muhammed (khatam-e-nabuat).

Where is this religious fervour when the teachings of the Holy Prophet are being openly violated, disobeyed and defied as heinous crimes are committed against people of Pakistan. The women and children who are raped, sold as sexual slaves, buried alive or beaten and tortured by their employers or colleagues based on their religious beliefs. Do they hang banners denouncing these crimes on the Mall Road in Lahore, do they spend countless hours writing graffiti on the walls of thoroughfares and institutions across the country condemning the acts of violence against Muslim women and children?

The answer is a resounding no, this is only reserved for insulting, defaming and calling for the expulsion and death of Christians and Ahmadis. The extremist religious leaders make good use of their time and funds to train amongst others, young children as “child-soldiers” to terrorise and murder individuals they are brain-washed to believe are enemies of Islam. One of the terrorists caught by Ahmadi worshippers in Model Town was 16 years old. At this tender age what can he know and understand about the sobriety of the issue of the finality of prophethood and its preservation. He probably doesn’t even know how to spell his name or what “jihad” denotes but he is unwittingly participating in it, used by religious opportunists who are sacrificing innocent lives to further their barbaric cause. Where are these young boys who speak in uncommon dialects, their unending supply of ammunition and detailed accurate information about specific targets all over the country, coming from? Conspiracy theorists on political shows on private television, leftist editors and nationalists blame the ever-present “foreign” hand facilitating these jihadists. Others point fingers at the tribal areas where the writ of the government is no longer a reality on the ground, while politicians disgrace themselves arguing about the provincial origins of terrorists on national television shouting, “your province has more terrorists than mine”. Does that really matter, will it comfort the victims of the families to know if the terrorists who killed their fathers sons and uncles were Punjabi or Pashtun?

Death threats continue to be sent to office bearers and volunteers of the Ahmadi community. A week after the 28 May Lahore attacks, a terrorist in possession of a large amount of bullets, klashinkovs and hand grenades was arrested by security forces outside an Ahmadi mosque in Chenab Nagar. Threats are also made on a constant basis to businesses, institutions, clinics, and law firms owned or managed by Ahmadis and the general public is warned not to engage in any social or business activities with the Ahmadis. So stopping the consumption of certain jams and juices will help appease the religious sentiment of the masses, will it?

Imagine if all the people who attempt to renew their passports begin to refuse to sign the box, denouncing Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as an impostor, the ruckus it would create bringing the government to a difficult cross-road where they would be hard-pressed to implement any criminal charges against the Muslims who stand in defiance, as no law compels them to show proof of their religious leanings. If every enlightened Muslim who wants to rid their country of barbaric laws and terrorism against innocent people takes a stance at whatever opportunity they can, how many will the state authorities arrest or silence? The fear of the reaction of the state as well as the extremists holds people back from doing what they know is right, which is what keeps this country stagnated.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, the state has been unable to recognise the needs of its citizens. Neither the martial law regimes nor democratically elected heads of state have understood the dynamics of a successful compromise with the “religious” parties. In 2002, the surprising outcome of elections in Pakistan sent shivers of disbelief through Pakistan and the world over when religious party Muttahida-majlis-amal (MMA) came to power. Despite rifts under the umbrella causing certain factions to split away, the governing strength of the religious parties was established and continues to exert influence in certain provinces in Pakistan even today.

With the United states bringing in obscene amounts of aid to fight the “war on terror” and the increased presence of military and intelligence personnel, Pakistan is caught in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” debacle. Unfortunately, examples from history where foreign military intervention has been utilised to fight the demon within do not hold much promise. Are we prepared to see Karachi turn into Kandahar or for Lahore to suffer the same demise as its cultural counterpart Baghdad? Doomsday theories abound, people have been heard warning people of Pakistan about the wrath of the higher power that floods the valleys of Hunza in the north and summons cyclones in the south of Pakistan. As the country reels from the damaging effects of terrorism and a flailing economy and prepares to deal with natural calamities, the resilient citizens who have lived through generations of turmoil are not ready to throw in the towel.

Are the extremists so blind-sighted that they cannot see that persecuting the Ahmadiyya community has the same effect as widely hated American policies and actions relating to the war on terror have had on the psyche of fundamentalists? With increased American presence on Pakistani soil, drone attacks and arrests of Pakistanis suspected for their involvement in terrorism, more people are sympathising with the opposite point of view. In the same way singling out Ahmadis in attacks such as those on 28 May 2010 only helps them to gain more national and international sympathy. It also reaffirms their faith and makes them more determined to stand up for their rights. If the majority of the nation assumed that following the attacks on 28 May, the doors of the mosques in Model Town and Garhi Shau were bolted shut and Ahmadis sat afraid and wary in their homes, they must think again. Not only did people return to the very same mosques this Friday, wiped clean and guarded by brave and unflinching volunteers, but prayers were attended by fathers who had buried their sons last week, sons who had read the last rites of their fathers, the young and old, the majority of whom had witnessed the carnage of last Friday, each of these men stood shoulder to shoulder embodying the unbreakable spirit of the community.

Persecuted minorities prove time and time again the same willpower that led Iranian women and blacks in apartheid-controlled South Africa to resist persecution. As the head of the Ahmadiyya community in London calls upon all followers to show restraint and steadfastness in the face of trials and tribulations, the people of Pakistan have a decision to make. Opportunities don’t knock twice and we will be condemning ourselves to more years of terrorism, civil strife and economic paralysis if we don’t deliver justice and seek redemption. Pakistan needs to heed the calling embedded in its very name; therein lies the clear indication for “Islamic” values to be upheld in a secular “republic”, without which peace will never be achieved and the bells will never stop ringing.

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