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On the Massacre

May 30, 2010

I’ve been home and relatively free for over an hour and can’t push myself to any productivity until I get this out of my system.

Most of what needs to be said about Friday’s atrocities has been said. I’ll append a brief reading list for anyone who’s interested.

Usually I’m hopeful and broadly optimistic about what’s happening in Pakistan, the Muslim world, and the world in general of course. Not today. Today I have only prayers for everyone.

Prayers for those who lost their lives.
Prayers for the bereaved.
Prayers for those who are upset.
Prayers for all those who live in and around Garhi Shahu and Model Town.
Prayers for all Lahoris.
Prayers for all Punjabis.
Prayers for all Pakistanis.
Prayers for all Muslims.
Prayers for all Ahmadis.
Prayers for all minority groups in Pakistan – Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, and others.

Perhaps most powerfully, though, I pray for those who celebrated this. I pray for those perpetrated this. I pray for those who shrugged it off.

I pray for the rediscovery of humanity.

I pray for the the rebirth of conscience.

I pray for the return of morality.

Because at the end of the day, we only hurt ourselves. Every act of needless violence in Pakistan only leads to blood in our very streets. Every act of terrorism, whether in the name of God or country or greater good, terrorizes everyone. Not just Pakistanis. Not just potential investors or tourists or peacemakers. Everyone.

So when nearly a hundred people were killed while praying, a part of me was also killed. For they may have shot at someone they thought was an enemy, but they actually injured everyone else too – including themselves. They shot at every Pakistani who works for a better Pakistan – they shot at every Muslim who prays for a better Islam. They spat on all the good work done by so many brave souls. They spat on their own parents for raising them with the hopes that one day their sons would make them proud. They spat on any and every true jihadi around the world – in a few fell minutes, they slaughtered the hopes and efforts of all those who truly work in the way of Allah.

I am ashamed for not speaking about this before. I am ashamed for not spending my time more productively, for not doing all I possibly can. I am ashamed for not protecting my friends in the minorities. Today I am most ashamed for not speaking out in defense of one of my best friends when, two years ago, her community was attacked after one of the vilest, most two-faced creatures on Pakistani television spewed hatred. I’m sorry…

However, I don’t believe in collective guilt. The sense of shame is tempered by the need for perspective – by the knowledge that I did do almost everything that I could – that I always gave my all, often to personal short term detriment. And I carry my ideal of moderation to the Pakistani stage as well. There have been condemnations of the country as a whole. There have been angry statements directed at the Pakistani people as a whole, at students in particular for not taking a stance. And to a large extent they are warranted, this anger is justified. But in some ways this anger overlooks the reality of our lives.

Life is going on as usual in most of Pakistan today, and is that something to be ashamed of? What is this phenomenon – what is it that compels the vast majority of Pakistanis to get up and go to work in the morning the day after horrific incidents like these? Do we call it insensitivity and rage against it, or do we call it resilience and praise it? Is the fact that most people struggle only to get two square meals a day irrelevant? Is it truly proper to say that the reality of Pakistan is no reason to not mourn in public?

What, I ask, should be expected of us? Do we spend three days in mourning every time a bomb goes off, or do we go to work regardless of what happens?

In the interest of long term development, I choose to praise Pakistanis for going to work and delivering the ultimate slap across the face of any terrorist. I choose to remain in awe of the Wall’s ice cream seller as he cycles around all day long in 40 Celsius even after spending a night sweating in darkness. I choose to salute the Pathan who shows up with a spade at dawn, mere hours after a widespread conflict. I choose, in short, the ideal of hard work driven by a desire to improve one’s life conditions, born of the memory of pain. We need no reminders of the dangers in Pakistan.

“Have you forgotten that this could happen to you too?” ask many of the self righteous grievers. No, I venture; the insecurity that haunts Pakistanis is all too manifest in their actions. What, in the midst of our sobbing, we perceive as selfishness and lack of caring is often simply life – life, which goes on, as it must. The shopkeeper has to go and get that light repaired, the fruit vendor has to get the new produce, the student still has that exam in the morning. Somebody’s just gotten a promotion after years of slogging away. A baby was born last night. Should the parents refuse to be happy and deny themselves the real and pure joy of a new life, purely ‘in solidarity’? No, that would be injustice in its own way!  My point is that there is nothing wrong with sharing joy and laughter, especially in a country where they are all too rare. Life carries on and on and on and on……

I can carry on too, but I do not defend everyone. Indeed many have blood on their hands. And indeed all of us WILL have blood on our hands if we remain silent. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing right now – perhaps I seek somehow to achieve some sort of catharsis.

I am, to begin with, irritated with those who cannot see beyond Islam in Pakistan; those who quit Facebook because of blasphemy; those who rail out against America/India/Israel for allegedly hurting Pakistan only ‘because it is a Muslim state’. Where does Islam go when it comes to the treatment of minorities in Pakistan? Where do your verses from the Quraan and ahadith go when someone is punished simply for not being the same? Where does the Prophet’s example of love go, where does Allah’s command for tolerance go when you’re passing judgment on matters that you are largely ignorant of? In which book of Fiqh do you find the injunction to torment those who are different? It is your abuse of Islam that has provided critical support to the development of these murderers.

I am irritated with those who sail through life with intolerance marking their attitudes and behaviors. No matter what you may have achieved, it counts for nothing if you cannot have an open, inclusive approach. It is your attitude that has implicitly supported violence on Ahmadis.

I am irritated at those who form conclusions about and pass judgment on everything that makes the news, despite knowing little about most of the issues. It is your ignorance that leads to the intolerance previously described.

Of course, I am not free of blame either – no Pakistani truly is.

There are ways, however, to prevent a repeat of Friday.

The Pakistani civil society must loudly condemn these attacks, in every way, whether it be through candlelight vigils or posters in universities or the Internet (even MillatFacebook if that makes people feel better). Every form of expression should be used – television, print media, radio, SMS, Internet, banners, billboards, protests, candlelight vigils, paintings, videos, photography, and more!

This means talking to people about this issue and making them aware of the state of affairs. This means taking a strong stance against those who dismiss the rights of minorities in any and every related conversation in the future. This means putting up posters in your university expressing both apologies to and solidarity towards not just Ahmadis, but also Christians, Hindus, Bengalis, Makranis, and any other minority you can think of. This can mean sponsoring the production and broadcasting of a public service message on all the major media outlets. This can mean checking the office regulations and suggesting rules against harassment. This can be social marketing – for example, all the major telecom companies can unite to produce a billboard that reaffirms Pakistan’s committment to minority rights and put it up on the major thoroughfares and highways across the country. This can be the launch of any consumer product like a candy or ice cream that bases its message and advertising campaign on ‘one Pakistan for all’. I’m sure many people can come up with better, more creative ways to express the values of unity and tolerance.

Yes, the people aren’t the only actors here. Others can play immeasurably significant roles too:

  • The now-independent judiciary and ever-active lawyers should take suo moto notice of the clause that denies Ahmadis equal rights and overturn it on the basis of being ultra vires the Pakistan Constitution, setting the stage for a landmark Bill of Rights in the country – one that grants citizens both their rights and liberties.
  • The religious leaders must use their bully pulpits (in the original sense of the term) to condemn and pass fatwas against intolerance, extremism, violence in the name of religion, judgmentalism, and finally protect the minorities in Pakistan.
  • The government, ultimately, must take responsibility – I yearn for the day when each of our leaders announces, like Truman, that ‘The Buck Stops Here’. This means doing its best to facilitate if not encourage the path to a truly pluralistic Pakistan, one that fulfills the original vision of the country: to be a sanctuary for minorities, to protect people from the tyranny of the majority. Pass a Bill of Rights, enforce it in both letter and spirit, encourage the open expression of ideology, punish those who advocate intolerance, build institutions.

Wishful thinking?

Perhaps. Probably, actually, this post won’t be seen by more than very few, resulting in very little impact. If even one person changes his or her actions, though, I will be glad.

And in the hope that someone may do just that, in the hope that you, the reader, are that one person, I thank you.


Pakistan Zindabad.

Reading list:

Are all Pakistanis equal? (Imran Khan)

I Am an Ahmadi (Waj S Khan)

We all have blood on our hands! (Tazeen Javed)

Is this Jinnah’s Pakistan? (Raza Rumi)

We Are All Ahmadi (Manan Ahmed)

Targeting the Ahmadis (Kalsoom Lakhani)

The day after – Windmills of My Mind (Zaheer Kidvai)

A horrible day

Our collective shame (Huma Imtiaz)

Mai Baaghi Hoon (Saba Imtiaz)

Frayed ends of sanity (Nadeem Paracha)

The original sin (Cafe Pyala)

Kaafiron ki Factory (Mohammad Hanif – Urdu)

Hanging my head in shame (Kaala Kawaa)

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2010 4:02 am

    I still haven’t been able to collect myself to write about this. Mostly, because I have had conversations with people who are either indifferent to attacks against Ahmedis or even condone them. The rage and the shame hasn’t yet found the words to express itself.

    Humanity lies raped and mutilated in my own backyard. And yes, we all have blood on our hands.

    • June 1, 2010 1:43 am

      Express itself by asking those people if they defend murder. You HAVE to. No matter who they are.

  2. May 31, 2010 9:04 am

    My first ever poem, hehe, do have a look, and follow, http://bit.ly/d6jpqN

  3. Manoj permalink
    May 31, 2010 10:52 am

    Excellently written 🙂
    Minorities in Pakistan are also facing different other forms of Threats. I hope you also write on that as well.

    • June 1, 2010 1:56 am

      Thank you, Manoj. I didn’t write about the issues facing the Christian community after the Gojra and Shazia Masih incidents, but am planning to watch Ramchand Pakistani and write about the experiences of the Hindu community as well. Since Manoj is usually a Hindu name, may I ask if you too are a Hindu?

  4. July 7, 2010 10:41 pm

    Well expressed. I stand with you in all these prayers. May Allah give every muslim .. every pakistani the same level of tolerance and patience thats been expected of us from Hadhrat Muhammad SAWW .. ameen.

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