Guardian: Sectarianism has poisoned Pakistan

By Basim Usmani

Cross Post from The Guardian

The violence seen in Lahore last week was aided by a bigoted constitution. How has stock in our nationhood plummeted so?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/05/pakistan-terrorism

The recent attacks on a prominent shrine in Lahore demonstrate how the unrest in Pakistan is caused by a minority of few who cannot tolerate the plurality of beliefs in Pakistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban are lying through their teeth when they claim that they do not attack public places. It’s becoming more and more apparent that these militants aren’t resisting American hegemony; this a war to determine Pakistan’s future and, by proxy, the future of Islam.

Whether the Tehrik-e-Taliban actually arranged the bombers’ suicide belts is irrelevant; they have created a domino effect that’s likely to spread from commercial capitals such as Lahore to cities with historic shrines and Pakistani historical sites, such as Multan, or Taxila.

Unlike Baghdad, where violence between Islamic sects is a product of the war America is waging, the onus of last Thursday’s blasts falls squarely on us, the citizens of Pakistan. We have been complacent about sectarianism for too long.

A good friend who works for a transportation company told me in 2007 that in villages along the highways to Waziristan where the Taliban had seized control were the bodies of butchered Shia Muslims. That year, Lahore’s public was too busy mobilising about the judiciary and President Musharraf to pay the violence any mind.

Sectarianism has a brutal history in Pakistan that existed long before militants in Afghanistan began calling themselves the Taliban. I remember as a child in Lahore the broadcasts of gun violence outside Shia houses of worship during the early 1990s.

Many Pakistanis feel that the attacks on two Ahmadiyya mosques last May, where gunmen unloaded bullets and grenades on Friday prayer-goers, were unprecedented. Certainly the Ahmadiyya community doesn’t think they are.

To have a Pakistani passport requires citizens to assert that they are not part of the Ahmadiyya community. In a sense, holding that passport also makes you complicit in the blasts that killed dozens in Lahore’s most famous Sufi shrine last week. Our inability to understand that this war is about national identity is rooted in the same complacency.

We are OK with the state deciding for us who is or isn’t Muslim. In this regard, the Pakistani government has the weakest moral fibre in taking on this growing strand of extremism. It is hypocritical to fight the Taliban in Waziristan if we are okay about denying citizenship to millions of Muslims born in Pakistan.

It may sound extreme of me, but we should be jailing clerics in Pakistan that give edicts declaring believers to be non-Muslim or anti-Pakistani. It may seem extreme to an American that writers who deny the Holocaust are imprisoned in Europe, but extreme contexts call for extreme measures.

Pakistanis must stress how being born or raised in their country is enough to be Pakistani; laws preventing Ahmadis from referring to themselves as Muslims were amended to the constitution by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s.

I remember being uneasy at my desk in middle school when I was studying at Aitchison College in Lahore, and some of my classmates were getting bullied for having marks on them after returning from Shia processions during Muharram. Pakistanis themselves are the only ones capable of stamping out this discriminatory culture.

Some proactiveness is necessary on our part to make it clear that mystics, Shias, Ahmadis and Christians are all fellow Pakistanis. When you are pulled over by street police in any major Pakistani city, the first bit of information the police ask for is your family name. From one name your caste, religious beliefs and affluence is determined.

This came as a shock to all of my family who have emigrated away: that collectively our stock in our own nationhood has plummeted so. In a sense, these problems are all accrued debt we’ve accumulated for being so complacent. In the light of our bigoted constitution and deterministic culture we have to – for ourselves – decide that being Pakistani is enough to make us all countrymen. Otherwise, we might as well just refer to ourselves as Taliban, Muslim extremists, Islamic militants, and so forth

22 Comments

Filed under Al Qaeda, Citizens, culture, Islam, Islamabad, Islamism, minorities, Pakistan, Punjab, Taliban

22 responses to “Guardian: Sectarianism has poisoned Pakistan

  1. Ibn-e-Maryam

    Very good analysis. I blame the Mullahs, the politicians, and citizens for this mess in Pakistan, in that order. It is now the responsibility of the citizens to make Pakistan a pluralistic (religious, ethnic, political) and democratic country, with peace and justice for all. This was the vision of the Founder of the Nation.

  2. S.A

    I so agree with you…Thank you for writing a logical and simple argument.

  3. Sahal

    The problem is due to the fact that political and religious parties have used ethnicity and sects to garner support amongst the illiterate masses of Pakistan. Thought they might appear to not be affiliated with a certain sect or ethnicity, the reality is that many have been brainwashed to only think of their own group first. Be it religious or ethnic, they use that to get some backing when faced with opposition. The Mullah’s and feudal politicians are a curse upon our nation; we need a tough and secular leader who can curtail all these idiots.

    Let’s hope that such occurs and I look forward to seeing Pakistan become a better nation.

  4. Mustafa Shaban

    Good article. I agree with the author. We need to take away the influence of corrupt maulvis if we want to move forward as a nation!

  5. Sher Zaman

    This is a fact, even more than a fact that we have been poisoned by Sectarianism and this will continue unless or until we realize that this slow poisoning will eat us away.

  6. Mansoor Khalid

    Sectarian violence not only threatens the lives of people but also threatens the economic growing. This in long run results in soaring inflation so everything is in a way inter-connected. If we are to progress as a nation in all dimensions, we must not only kill all conspiracies to initiate sectarian violence but also try to nurture the coming generations on more liberal and rational lines.

  7. Raza

    A very good post and makes an important point that sectarian violence existed much before Taliban and is a cultural issue rather than mere military.

  8. Ally

    As i have said before and will always say, A secular Pakistan is the only way forward. We must remove religion from th constitution and go back to being just the Republic of Pakistan!

  9. Goolam

    Citizens need to educate each other about democracy, pluralism and humanism … and most importantly Islam … so that the Ummah can mobilise a truly constuctive political movement. Unfortuntely, we are so ignorant about deen, that we constantly defer judgement and “buy” our piety through association with the clerical class. Its a sad day when the Muslims emulate the beliefs that Muhammad SAW sought to liberate us from.

  10. Tilsim

    Great article. Complacency is no longer an option. It’s also clear that more and more Muslims no longer rely on the Mullahs for answers about their religion.

  11. Sahal

    Its Zia’s fault, some of it is Bhutto’s fault too.

    Zia was the biggest travesty in the history of Pakistan.

  12. nazir allahwalla

    what do you expect form a failed backward and a third world country?
    i rest my case.
    nothing is going to change these people.
    Im surprised that the other small groups have not been targeted yet. I presume the Bhoris and the memans and the khojas are have taken steps to be safe.
    Poor and innocent people getting killed for no bloody reason. What a shame.

  13. Tilsim

    Bhutto introduced Islamiat and Pakistan Studies into the national curriculum in 1971. Instead of embracing diversity, the thinking then was that Islam in public life would be the glue that would hold the nation together. This project opened the door further for mullahs and their involvement with the State. Now that they have tasted power, they and their supporters are focussed on eliminating dissenters. We need to go back to embracing and empowering diversity.

  14. Vandana

    Religion is the glue that joins a human being to his creator….to believe it can bind a people into a nation is way too simplistic.
    Good article.

  15. shiv

    Quote from the article:
    Some proactiveness is necessary on our part to make it clear that mystics, Shias, Ahmadis and Christians are all fellow Pakistanis.

    Hmmm…. So these people are all included as Pakistanis? Interesting to see who is left out. Deliberate? Freudian? Or Political?

    Which groups did Jinnah include among Pakistanis? Does the author of the article differ from the Qaid’s vision?

  16. Shah Zaman

    Some pearls of Maulana Maudoodi….

    Human relations and associations are so integrated that no state can have complete freedom of action within its own principles, unless those same principles are in force in a neighboring country. Therefore, Muslim groups will not be content with the establishment of an Islamic state in one area alone. Depending on their resources, they should try to expand in all directions. On one hand, they will spread their ideology and on the other they will invite people of all nations to accept their creed, for salvation lies only in it. If their Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place [Maulana Maududi: Haqiqat-i-Jihad (Lahore: Taj Company Ltd, 1964), 64]

  17. Maryanne Khan

    Oh finally someone naming the root cause of what is keeping Pakistan a malgoverned, ‘third world’ country. All Pakistani-born people need to consider themselves part of the polity. Simple as that. It’s the country of Pakistanis and all should be included. Divisiveness . . . divides, fractures societies, economies, governments alike. That is the reality. The moment one section of society starts thinking they are more ‘equal’ than others, (who then must be defined as ‘less’ equal) there is the end of the whole.

  18. Sadia Hussain

    For decades Pakistan has been battle ground for Iran and Saudi Arab where they have fought their sectarian war. These rifts are deepened now as we see intolerance is growing amongst the masses. The state needs to apprehend all sectarian outfits and promote inter faith harmony.

  19. nasir jan

    1. First they came …” is a popular poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the rise to power of the Nazis and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. In Niemöller’s first utterance of it, in a January 6, 1946 speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. The poem is re-written for today’s Pakistan.

    “First they came…”, of Pakistan.

    First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;

    Then they came for the Hindus and Sikhs, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Hindu or Sikh;

    Then they came for the Christians, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Christian;

    Then they came for the Ahmadis, and I did not speak out—because I was not an Ahmadi;

    Then they came for the Shias, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Shia;

    Then they came for the Human Rights Activists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Human Rights Activist;

    Then they came for the women, and I did not speak out—because I was not a woman

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out

  20. nasir jan

    First they came …” is a popular poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. In Niemöller’s first utterance of it, in a January 6, 1946 speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. The poem is re-written for today’s Pakistan.

    “First they came…”, of Pakistan.

    First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;

    Then they came for the Hindus and Sikhs, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Hindu or Sikh;

    Then they came for the Ahmadis, and I did not speak out—because I was not an Ahmadi;

    Then they came for the Christians, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Christian;

    Then they came for the Shias, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Shia;

    Then they came for the Human Rights Activists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Human Rights Activist;

    Then they came for the women, and I did not speak out—because I was not a woman

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out

  21. Jamal

    Well brelvis/sufis have learned this lesson the hard way.

  22. Humane

    Our constitution is a blank piece of paper, anyone can write whatever they want to but so far only mullahs have succeeded in doing so.

    Until we get our masses literate, they’ll just follow a bearded man who watches Katrina Kaif flicks but wants us to attack India.