…if anyone slew a person―unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land― it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people
Quran 5:32 (Yusuf Ali)
“That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!” wrote Margaret Mitchell in the early half of the 20th century. Unfortunately, this has never been truer for Pakistan than it is today. A series of persecution against minorities has gripped what was once the Land of the Pure.
Early Friday morning, Lulusar, an area known for it’s lush greenery and beautiful lakes was bloodied by cold murders. In acts that evoke images from the Holocaust, four buses en route to Gilgit were intercepted by armed men The gunmen wearing khaki forced passengers to show their identification cards. After lining 19 innocent passengers, the gunmen tied their hands, and in a cacophonous move shot them dead, point blank. The passengers crime? They were Shia. The Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan claimed responsibility for this attack, but it has not been the only one of it’s kind. From Parachinar in the north to Karachi in the south, Pakistan’s 30 million Shia population is threatened by violence of the worst kind.
Ironically, with each passing day, Pakistan, a nation that was sought for by a Muslim minority of India for the sake of religious freedom has become increasingly uninhabitable for its minorities. Only yesterday, an 11 year old Christian girl with Down’s Syndrome was arrested for blasphemy in the Mehrabadi area in the heart of the capital. On Friday, a police contingent removed Quranic verses from Ahmedi graves on the demand of a banned organization. Earlier, the Hindu Council petitioned for a law against forced conversions, and the PPP government moved to take action after reports of mass migration of the Hindu community. These few examples are just a random sample from a series of conflict and intolerance that only seems to be escalating.
This deep-seated hate against minorities cannot be written out by just the law. Article 20 of the Constitution grants religious freedom to all, yet with weak governance and grass-root level intolerance, it is incumbent upon us all as residents of Pakistan to work to restore a semblance of normality in the nation. It should not just be a few voices going against the tide in a sea of hate, but every man, woman and child speaking out for justice. We should not leave our Pakistani brothers and sisters haunted by their own homeland.
I fear that we have become too insular. We pray in our own little mosques, temples and churches, with little or no real community dialogue. Each religious community seems to be plagued by misconceptions and stereotypes of “the other”. In fact, from an early age the majority of Pakistanis are fed a steady narrative of “religious supremacist” voices. We are plagued by a kind of Piet-itis, if you will – a disease in which you have an over-inflated view of your own piety. Only our particular mindset is the “correct” version, and every one else is just bound for Hell. We tend to see the world through our own narrow lenses, without looking at the broader picture. It doesn’t help that our education boards help propagate their own ideologies without a real vision for promoting unity and tolerance in the motherland. There is a real need for interfaith dialogue in our country (and without jumping on each other’s throats). It is time to admit that we have failed to create a safe society for our children and the next generation, and if we continue in our parochial ways, it will only exacerbate the situation. A long term solution, based on interfaith discussions and debate is needed, but before that all of us – regardless of our own religion and sect – need to admit that there’s a problem, and stand up for protecting each others’ lives.
Martin Niemoller wrote a poignant poem during the Holocaust to protest the lack of outcry over Nazi persecution. A search led me to this version that seems to fit Pakistan’s situation today.
“First they came for the Sikhs, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Sikh.
Then they came for the Christians, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Christian.
Then they came for the Hindus, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Hindus.
Then they came for the Ahmadis, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Ahmadi.
Then they came for the Shias, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Shia.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me”
(Poem adaptation credit: http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/martin-niemoller-about-pakistan/)