Fear the wrath of God

What do women seeking abortions, homosexuals in the US military, the animistic tribe of the Pakistani Kalash, and Christmas celebrating, non-vegetarians have in common?

Apparently, God hates them and so we all have to put up with terrorists, strong winds and the earth splitting wide open.

“Look what the Kalash have done now”

In the wake of November’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake, a tragedy that left over 390 people dead, Pakistanis have descended into their favourite game; the blame game.

It’s a familiar, age-old phenomenon. The wrath of God has been a sound explanation for the cruel, unusual, confusing and tragic since the inception of religion, and, perhaps, humankind. In the aftermath of tragedy, our coalition of reasoning has a total breakdown. We remember we are conquerable, mere mortals and this terrifies us, leaving us with few answers and many fears.

And so, we turn on each other.

After 9/11 an American pastor proposed that the terror acts happened because God was angry with Americans over abortions.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of five deadliest hurricanes in American history, a televangelist observed God had let it happen because of America’s descent into immorality. According to him the natural disaster was proof that the “judgment of America (had) begun”. The same year, a Buddhist monk blamed the Indian Ocean earthquake-generated tsunamis on the Christians. According to the monk, the natural disaster had taken place the day after Christmas because too many Christians had slaughtered animals and consumed their meat for the holiday.

Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake in which 316,000 lives were lost, a prominent rabbi reasoned that God Almighty was obviously sending a message to the gays in the US military. In 2011 the State of Virginia was struck by an earthquake, which took no lives but caused $300 million dollars in damage. The same rabbi again pinpointed homosexuality as the cause. This time he was a tad bit more diplomatic by specifically asking the “gays not to take it personally (because) this is just God doing what God does”.

The Blame Game

In Pakistan, we like to rotate the scapegoats of our blame game.

Some of the favourite contestants favoured by Pakistani conspiracy theorists are (in no particular order) the Indians, Amreekis (Americans), religious fundamentalists, or, as seen in the recent case following this year’s earthquake, the Kalash ‘kafirs infiltrating Pakistan who – despite being a minority of 3,500 in a country of 182 million – are apparently capable of bringing forth the scourge of God.

Or, I don’t know, maybe, there was an earthquake because of an immense build-up of geologic pressure at a subduction zone between two colliding tectonic plates or whatever.

The average reader may not even know who or what a Kalash is.

After all, they are fairly confined to their tribal lifestyle centred in the northern valleys of Pakistan. Plus, there’s only like, 3,500 of them and Pakistan’s a fairly populated place so – unless you’ve snuck up to the mountains for mini-Las Vegas style getaway with booze, beautiful women, and dancing – chances are you don’t actually know a real life Kalash outside of Google Images.

The Kalasha are Pakistan’s smallest non-Muslim community. They reside primarily in the Chitral District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa(K-P). They are polytheists and nature is a big part of their spiritual and daily life. A recent DNA analysis has confirmed the Kalashas are likely descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Their laws are highly unique compared to the rest of Pakistan, which is predominantly governed by a combination of Shariah and British common law. Alcohol is not forbidden to them. Divorce is easy enough for Kalasha women looking to change spouses. They must simply write a letter to the prospective new spouse offering herself in marriage and ask that the prospective purchase her at a higher price than the current house. Gender segregation is not a part of the daily life of the Kalash. Neither is veiling.

The Kalash are a unique and fascinating people. They are capable of many things. They make their own wine (known as tara), their own recreational drugs (nazar, an opiate-based chewing tobacco is a favourite), they have their own music and even their own set of laws (meaning they are outside the ambit of Shariah law which controls the rest of us Pakistanis).

What the Kalash are not capable of is singlehandedly inviting the wrath of any particular deity or God. And they certainly do not have control of the three colliding tectonic plates (Indian, Eurasian and Arabian) that Pakistan sits on top of and frequently is destroyed by.

Divine Intervention not Divine Retribution

Natural disasters are disruptive. And with this physical disruption comes the disruption of people’s worldviews. The weak, vulnerable and scared are the perfect target for theological institutions looking to win new believers. Combine a vulnerable population with the double-edged sword that is social media and what you have is a platform allowing aggressive, fanatic, and downright lunatic religious zealots to circulate their inflammatory ‘this is God’s wrath’ and ‘they caused this earthquake because they drink and party’ slogans. With emotions already high following the loss of loved ones and destruction of homes and livelihoods, it becomes too easy for a select few incendiaries to drive the country and its otherwise sane citizens towards irrational hysteria.

This unrelenting routine is now the unfortunate norm, which unfolds in Pakistan following a mass-scale tragedy. Instead of endeavouring to repair broken communities, the rhetoric that arises by the right-wing, hardliners results in a damaging blowback, which only leaves already-shattered communities further fragmented and striated.

Instead of a coherent analysis of what happened (an earthquake), and a reasonable response (rally together as a nation, help one another out), we’re left with a gang of bullies – ideologically incompetents hell bent on insisting that the earth’s inevitable shifting process is actually a frightening display of the powers of an evil, angry God.

The valley of the Kalash was once dominated by mostly the Kalash and moderate Ismailis. Today, as a result of migration and forced conversion, the Kalash are few in number compared to a flourishing Sunni majority.

Absolute domination by the majority has left newer generation of the Kalash slowly losing a rich culture and unique religion. The handful left behind face a daily conundrum; convert to Islam or face death, stop production of your wine or be sent to hell by the will of God, cover your women or face hell fire for all of eternity.

Yes, there are faults in the earth’s crust. Yes, weather patterns cause torrential rains and winds.

Yes, this is not Pakistan’s first devastating earthquake. And, yes, sadly this is likely not her last.

In the meantime, as winter fast approaches with both the Kalash and Muslims of Chitral currently exposed to the elements, let’s open our wallets, our hearts, and our homes. And, this time, let’s aim at seeking divine intervention instead of divine retribution.

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/30316/fear-the-wrath-of-god/

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