This week I planned on writing on a different topic but reading these chilling lines from I A Rehman’s column titled ‘Patterns of intolerance’ in Dawn made me revisit the topic: “A young non-Muslim woman has been living in Lahore for quite some time. A few weeks ago she married an American citizen — a crime her neighbours apparently did not forgive. A group of hotheads raided her home at night early this month and on their inability to break into the house they damaged the car parked in the porch and pasted a notice on it: ‘kalima parh lo warna’ (convert to Islam or else).”
I happen to know this young woman personally. She is one of the kindest, hard-working and honest people I know. Just because she happens to come from a religious minority community and decided to marry an American citizen when anti-American sentiment is at an all-time high in Pakistan does not give anyone the right to vandalise her property and/or terrorise her family. It is a shame that she could only register an FIR at the police station after great difficulty and help from an influential person. She is as much a citizen of Pakistan as anyone else but her treatment at the hands of her neighbourhood vigilantes and the police shows how difficult it is for minorities to live in a country where intolerance is fast becoming a norm. This incident was a grave reminder of how we as a nation mistreat our minority communities.
Selective cleansing: Twitter was banned for a few hours recently in Pakistan but hate-literature is openly available all over the country and the state has done nothing to stop it
Another example of the treatment meted out to the minorities is this tweet by Farahnaz Ispahani, a politician from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP): “Creeping apartheid culture in Pakistan? WAPDA [Water and Power Development Authority] Ahmadi employees being made to eat at separate tables with separate utensils. Not Islamic. Inhumane.” This is the tragedy of Pakistan. Our minorities are treated worse than second-class citizens. On May 28, Pakistan will ‘celebrate’ going nuclear even though there is nothing to celebrate about weapons of mass destruction but that is how our psyche works. We are a ‘nuclear nation’ yet unable to protect our minorities. Two years ago, on the same day that we ‘celebrate’ as ‘Youm-e-Takbir’ (Day of Greatness), our Ahmadi brethren were being butchered in their mosques by religious fanatics who bay for the blood of those they consider outside the prism of Islam. With the exception of a few, there will hardly be anyone paying homage to the martyrs from the Ahmadiyya community on May 28. Instead of celebrating Youm-e-Takbir, let’s declare May 28 a day of tolerance to show solidarity with the Ahmadiyya community and other religious minorities in Pakistan. In fact, every day should be a day of tolerance and peaceful coexistence in our country.
Unfortunately, we live in a country where state officials are also prone to censorship, thereby increasing the level of intolerance. Recently, the government banned/blocked Twitter for a few hours because the social networking site refused to remove tweets aimed at promoting a competition of blasphemous caricatures of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) on Facebook. As Raza Rumi pointed out in his recent op-ed in Express Tribune, “Some lunatic in another part of the world indulges in a blasphemous act and our authorities want to punish the entire country. Such an insecure interpretation of ‘religion’ makes us the laughing stock of the world.” It is amazing that Twitter was banned but hate-literature is openly available all over the country and yet the state has done nothing to stop it. Banned terrorist outfits operate freely, yet the state has not clamped down on them. When the state itself promotes censorship, it gives a free hand to those preaching intolerance and hatred towards other religious communities. This is why we as a nation have to rise above these views and demand that everyone be treated equally in Pakistan regardless of their religion, caste and creed.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org