With the recent rise of Islamophobia in the United States, most Pakistanis have suddenly become experts on minority rights. My social media timelines are filled with Pakistanis urging the West to accommodate Syrian refugees escaping persecution, and be more accepting of pluralism. I also see my countrymen condemning the Western media for having double standards, and not giving enough airtime to aggrieved Muslims. Many have also erupted in fury over Donald Trump’s recent Islamophobic comments.
All these grievances in far-off lands are justified, but an incident here at home on Friday has put our uprightness on these same issues in question once again.
In the darkness of the night, an extremist mob attacked the Pakistan Chipboard Factory and the adjacent residential complex in Jhelum and burnt it down to ashes. The factory belonged to an Ahmadi. The attack was preceded by calls from local mosques asking “honourable (ghairatmand) Muslims” to defend their faith and religion against the “filthy Qadiani” blasphemers.
Someone had accused a worker at the factory of defiling verses of the Quran. Extremist clerics are known for inciting violent mob attacks on minority faith communities based on trumped up charges of blasphemy. In recent years, the Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have all been victims of such mob violence.
Without any further enquiry and without any regard for due process, a growing mob set out to serve justice. With 200 workers normally on site, the factory was pelted with rocks and then set ablaze.
When the police was unable to control the situation, the army was called in to help. Though it was too late to rescue the building complex, those trapped inside were luckily able to run to safety; some taking refuge in nearby bushes till the mob was dispersed.
In a video from the rampage, an angry mob can be seen chanting, “God is great” repeatedly, and using expletives for the Ahmadis. A ringleader can be heard asking the crowd to burn everything down within 20 minutes. The charged mob agrees,
“We will beat them, we will lynch them.”
The instigator then tells the mob that anyone who didn’t take part in the arson would be a disbeliever, ensuring maximum religious participation in the attack.
It was a night of horror for Jhelum’s Ahmadi community. But it was not yet over for them. The thirst of the mischievous mullahs wasn’t quenched just yet.
One would think this incident would prompt law enforcement to secure the area’s Ahmadi property and mosques in anticipation of further attacks. And they did, but not enough to stop what was to follow. The attackers re-grouped in larger numbers the following morning and stormed the Ahmadi place of worship in nearby Kala Gujran. The place of worship was ransacked, its property thrown out and torched in the street. According to some reports, this also included a copy of the Quran. But that’s apparently fine since it wasn’t the kafirs, but God’s ‘chosen men’ doing the burning.
The building was then properly cleaned, and victory was celebrated by saying the Asr prayer within the building. Yet another building had been conquered by radical mullahism in the name of God.
Ironically, three Ahmadis have so far been arrested, with no arrests from the attacking mob and the clerics who instigated the trouble. The situation in the district is still tense, with Ahmadis fearful of their security in hiding.
And all this while, I was hoping the issue of the basic rights and protection of Pakistan’s five million Ahmadi citizens will finally seep into mainstream national discourse. After all, it’s the National Action Plan era. But unfortunately, nothing seems different so far. It is clear that we – as Pakistanis – are concerned about minority rights only in distant lands, not in our own.
So how is this recent attack on the Ahmadis relevant to our recent outpouring of rage on social media? It, once again, exposes our utter dishonesty and hypocrisy.
We decry Islamophobia in the West, but turn a blind eye to the rampant – and far more putrid – anti-Ahmadi bigotry in Pakistan. We cry out when Donald Trump suggests Muslims carry special identification badges, yet overlook the fact that for four decades, our own Ahmadi citizens have been forced to carry such discriminatory IDs – identification that has left them disenfranchised. Not just this, the state also mandates that all Pakistani Muslims abuse the spiritual leader of the Ahmadi community to obtain a ‘Muslim’ passport. What if Trump wanted Christians to testify to the falsehood (God forbid) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to obtain a ‘Christian’ ID? A few fuses would blow – may be even literally.
We scream out in anguish when Trump suggests some mosques be closed. Yet, we ignore the fact that we are responsible for closing down, sealing, torching, or occupying over a 100 Ahmadi places of worship in the last few decades. What Trump merely suggests for Muslims, we have been successfully implementing against the Ahmadis. Ahmadis are not permitted to say the Kalma, Salam, Azaan, pray in public, read the Quran in public, identify as Muslim or identify their place of worship as a mosque. Each of these carries a three-year sentence under Pakistan’s Ordinance XX.
We urge bigoted politicians in the West to be more accepting of Syrian refugees. But we forget the fact that every year, numerous Ahmadis leave Pakistan to seek refuge in China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and in Western nations, escaping the threats they face here at home. We want other nations to accept refugees, while we continue to create numerous refugees of our own. Numerous Hazara Shias and Hindus have also emigrated out for the same reasons.
We also show strong outrage over the Western media’s bias towards Muslims. But we conveniently discount how our own media treats our minorities? When was the last time you saw an Ahmadi spokesperson giving their opinion on television? Even as almost 100 Ahmadis were mercilessly gunned down in Lahore in 2010, the media in Pakistan blacked out the Ahmadis. The official response of the Ahmadi community was censored from the media. And in the wake of the Jhelum attacks, is there any television channel that has taken the Ahmadi point of view on air? Anyone that has given voice to their grievances? Where else in the world does the electronic media leave the very people under attack out of the discourse altogether?
Here’s my point my fellows. We are a bunch of hypocrites. We are a dishonest people. This may sound harsh. But it is the mildest way to state this truth. And unless we change things for our own people here at home, our voice will have zero impact elsewhere.
So next time you speak of how minorities are treated in the West, also reflect into your own attitudes towards your own minority communities back home. Raise your voice to end the apathy. Speak up for your own countrymen too. Let it be known that you will not allow this to continue anymore in your name. Reclaim your spaces from the extremists who have occupied them, and write the narrative for a pluralistic and tolerant Pakistan.
For all this my fellow Pakistanis, let us first end our hypocrisy!