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Attacks on Minorities in Pakistan: Growing power of fundamentalists in Punjab

media commentary and civil society response

by sacw.net, 1 June 2010

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(From: The Daily Times, May 30, 2010)

EDITORIAL: Brutal assault on the Ahmedis

May 28th, 2010, will be etched in history as ‘Black Friday’ for Pakistan. On the day that the country was celebrating ‘Yaum-e-Takbeer’ to commemorate the 12th anniversary of Pakistan going nuclear, Lahore witnessed two deadly terror attacks against the Ahmediyya community. Terrorists carried out simultaneous attacks on the Ahmedis’ places of worship — Baitul Noor in Model Town and Darul Zikr in Garhi Shahu — during Friday prayers when thousands of Ahmedis had gathered there. It was surreal to see the images unfolding on our television screens when the terrorists went inside the two houses of prayer and unleashed their terror on the innocent worshippers. More than 90 people died while more than a hundred others were injured. The Punjab wing of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Wielding guns, wearing suicide vests and with hand grenades at their disposal, the terrorists launched well coordinated attacks subsequently leading to a standoff for hours at Garhi Shahu while the Model Town assault was relatively brief. The effort of the security volunteers of the Ahmediyya community during the operations must be lauded.

The dead were buried separately on Saturday after the Ahmediyya community cancelled a mass funeral because they were not “satisfied with the security arrangements”. This is the height of injustice since the Ahmedis are the most persecuted community in Pakistan but every government, past or present, has failed to provide adequate security to them. In an act of supreme opportunism under pressure from the religious extremists, the Ahmedis were declared non-Muslims by Zulfikar Bhutto in 1974. This opened the door for religious zealots to wreak further havoc when it came to the Ahmedis. General Ziaul Haq, a bigot, persecuted the Ahmedi sect by promulgating discriminatory laws specific to this community. Since then we have seen a constant rise in intolerance towards the Ahmedis. Instead of giving protection to our minorities as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have castigated them.

Another worrying aspect of Friday’s brutal massacre was that apparently the Punjab government had been forewarned of possible terrorist attacks against the minorities. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that two security alerts were sent to the provincial government on May 13 and May 26 warning them of such an attack. It is shocking to know that instead of doing anything about it, the Punjab government adopted a ‘devil may care’ attitude. We are already in a life and death struggle with terrorism, thus the Punjab government’s apathetic treatment of an intelligence report of such sensitivity is nothing short of criminal negligence. On top of that we have seen the provincial government’s top minister hobnobbing with the leaders of banned terrorist groups, case in point being Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah mollycoddling a Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) leader in Jhang for electoral purposes. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif begging mercy from the Taliban to spare Punjab is another grim reminder that our leaders are playing a very dangerous game. It seems the PML-N is playing the role of a fifth column in this war against terrorism. Instead of owning up to the fact that there are terrorists in Punjab, the provincial government has shifted the blame to an obscure ‘foreign hand’. The government should not try to fool the public with red herrings. The people of this country want answers and not flimsy excuses. The Friday attacks were not just an assault on the Ahmedis but an assault on every citizen of Pakistan.

(From: Dawn, 31 May 2010)

EDITORIAL: Culture of intolerance

Friday’s gruesome attacks on Ahmadi worshippers in Lahore were a tragic
reminder of the growing intolerance that is threatening to destroy our social
fabric. Bigotry in this country has been decades in the making and is
expressed in a variety of ways. Violence by individuals or groups against
those who hold divergent views may be the most despicable manifestation of such prejudice but it is by no means the only one. Religious minorities in
Pakistan have not only been shunted to the margins of society but also face
outright persecution on a regular basis.

Take the police force, which is notorious for terrorising the poor. Even within
that section of society, however, it reserves its harshest treatment for non-
Muslims, for the simple reason that brutal or coercive acts directed against
minorities are even less likely to get policemen into trouble. There is no
shortage of more insidious means of discrimination either. To this day many
job applications require candidates to state their religion. Has the irrelevance of this query never struck the organisations in question, or is it part of a screening process designed to weed out `undesirables´? Now let´s venture down to the basic building blocks of society, from institutions to households. In many middle-class and affluent Muslim homes, separate eating utensils of distinctly poorer quality are reserved for domestic staff. But there´s more: a further distinction in entitlement is made between Muslim and non-Muslim employees.

None of this is surprising in a country whose statute books are riddled with
discriminatory laws, where jingoism is drummed into the heads of
schoolchildren and where radio and television talk show participants can
casually state that "we are all Muslims here in Pakistan", which is patently not the case. This is a country where a non-Muslim cannot, by law, become
president or prime minister. The blasphemy laws continue to be abused to
settle personal scores, evade debts owed to non-Muslims and to grab their
land by forcing them to flee in the face of violence. The state, meanwhile,
remains largely unmoved by the plight of minorities - and that isn´t
surprising either for it is a party to this persecution.

Tackling the terrorists who kill almost at will isn´t the only job at hand. The
culture of intolerance has become ingrained in Pakistan and wide-ranging
measures are required to change our collective mindset. Textbooks need to
be revised and the perils of both brazen and covert narrow-mindedness must be publicly debated. It would also help if major religious parties came forward to condemn atrocities such as Friday´s attacks on Ahmadis in Lahore. But that is perhaps asking for too much.

(From: Dawn, 30 May 2010)

A murderous mindset

by Huma Yusuf

As soon as I heard that gunmen had attacked two Ahmadi houses of worship in Lahore, I posted a despairing comment on my Facebook page, condemning the violence and wondering out loud why we, as a nation, had let it come to this.

Only later was I struck by the irony of my action: I had logged on to a website recently banned for carrying blasphemous content to decry the murder of members of a community that has for too long been persecuted on charges of blasphemy. But the point of my comment was not to be ironic — it was simply the closest I could get to screaming out loud.

Even as the attack was unfolding, law-enforcement officers started pointing fingers at the Taliban and its affiliated terror groups. But we can no longer pretend that Friday’s attacks were the extreme actions of a lone terror group. Instead, attacks of escalating horror and violence, growing in their scope, against the Ahmadi community are the most terrible articulations of a widespread social sentiment — that members of this community are, because of their religious beliefs, lesser people. For letting this ill-conceived notion flourish over the decades, Pakistanis are collectively complicit in the attacks.

On a practical level, the attacks are another tragic failure by the state to protect its citizens. The government is aware of the increasingly religiously motivated nature of terror attacks in Pakistan, and had been warned of the possibility of organised violence against Ahmadi targets in Punjabi cities. Friday’s ambush comes on the heels of the blatant persecution of the Ahmadi community in Faisalabad through robberies, kidnappings and target killings in March and April. In this context, it is appalling that the government had not provided better security for the mosques.

But more than an inquiry into the anti-terror capacity of the Lahore police, Friday’s attacks demand soul-searching at all levels of the state and society. The fact is, young men, not automatons, carried out Friday’s attacks. They were no doubt brainwashed into thinking that they were attacking the sites of worship of ‘infidels’, a label that is consistently used by extremists to dehumanise minorities and other vulnerable groups.

In a way, the attackers were fed the same rhetoric that Pakistanis have been heartily chewing on in the past few weeks — the idea that some views, practices or people are anti-Islam and blasphemous, and should therefore be obliterated. This basic idea is manifest in the sweeping ban against Facebook and other websites believed to host sacrilegious content, in the murder of a former ISI official accused of having links to the Ahmadi community and now in the slaughter of over 70 people at prayer.

It may seem inappropriate to compare these disparate events, but the logic deployed in each instance has been the same: wherever a difference of opinion or a divergent belief is detected, it must be snuffed out, no matter what the toll on human life, human rights, freedom of belief, freedom of expression and social harmony. This is the premise of the endemic and institutional intolerance that has Pakistan in a death grip.

Immediately after the attacks, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif declared that the “entire nation will fight this evil”, by which he meant terrorism. One wishes he had the courage to correctly identify the ‘evil’ that Pakistanis must collectively battle as the intolerance and hatred that have become hallmarks of our national character.

Political rhetoric aside, the ferocity of Friday’s attacks demands a concrete and drastic government response. It has been well documented over the years that growing intolerance of minority beliefs is a consequence of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. These have been used to justify censorship, settle personal vendettas, facilitate land grabs and inflict violence on minorities. Crying blasphemy, as Fauzia Wahab well knows, is also becoming a political tactic to silence dissent in a mockery of the basic principles of democratic dialogue. Most dangerously, accusations of blasphemy fuel the mob mentality that has hijacked social interaction in this country.

Given that this is the broader religio-political context in which Friday’s attacks occurred, there is no question that the government must repeal the blasphemy laws on an urgent basis. In August 2009, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the establishment of a committee to review “laws detrimental to religious harmony”, which was understood to include the blasphemy laws. Nothing came to pass from that process. Subsequently, in February, the government announced that it would implement procedural changes to laws that can be exploited to create ‘violence and disharmony’ in society. Sadly, no changes have been implemented and the battle cry of blasphemy is increasingly invoked. Now, there is no more time for dithering on this issue.

Moreover, the government should reconsider lobbying the United Nations for international legislation against blasphemy. Pakistan is currently leading 56 other Islamic countries in an anti-defamation of religion campaign. But it is too ironic — indeed insulting — to see our government lobby for the rights of religions on the world stage when it cannot defend the rights or lives of its own people at home. Indeed, how can the powers that be champion blasphemy laws in the name of protecting religious freedom, when those same laws are being used to incite hatred, foster extremism and justify the persecution and even murder of innocent Pakistanis?

The fact is, if our government truly rejects Friday’s violence, it should take all the necessary steps to address the root causes of discrimination against religious minorities. Chasing down those who planned, financed and executed Friday’s attack is just a stop-gap measure — the government must now take the bold step of showing Pakistanis as well as the international community that intolerance and hatred can have no place in our society. In addition to outlawing the blasphemy law, the government must support open debate, interfaith dialogue and school and madressah curriculum reform with an eye to dispelling misconceptions about different religions and sects.

Sadly, that’s a tall order, which cannot come to pass for a host of reasons: shameful historical precedent; the resurgence of banned Punjabi sectarian outfits pursuing an independent agenda; the political clout of religious parties; and Pakistan’s aspirations to be a major player within the Muslim world. But if we don’t address systemic intolerance and the violence and human rights abuses that it engenders, someone else will.

In 2002, the US House of Representatives introduced a resolution urging Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws. If the situation worsens, it may place similar demands on Pakistan again. But if the impetus to quell religious intolerance comes from an external power, it will never be effective. This is one evil we have to ward off ourselves.


RESPONSE FROM CIVIL SOCIETY

Ending Talibanization will Create Peace in the World!

Sindh Civil Society organizations have organized a protest demo condemning brutal killing of people of Ahmediya Sect in Lahore.

The protest rally will be held on June 1, 2010 at 11:00 am from Sindh University Old Campus Hyderabad to Press Club Hyderabad.

Those who are city are informed to participate!

Regards,

Sindh Civil Society – a civil society forum

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Dawn30may2010 TheNews30May2010