Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Perspective: A murder in Nankana | Ghazi Salahuddin


It is reported that during the prime minister’s speech in Jamia Naeemia, slogans were raised in favour of Mumtaz Qadri, the executed murderer of Salmaan Taseer.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: The News Int'l
By Ghazi Salahuddin | April 2, 2017

The contradictions we have to contend with

Sixteen days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed a Holi function in Karachi to underline the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, a prominent member of the Ahmaddiya community was shot dead in Nankana Sahib near Lahore. It was a hate crime because a banned sectarian group claimed responsibility for the attack.

There is obviously no connection between a speech made by the prime minister and another despicable expression of religious extremism and intolerance in our society. But I have put them together for a reason. PM Nawaz Sharif’s address was lauded as historic for being progressive and inclusive. It was seen as a resolve to promote the spirit of enlightenment and harmony through an alternative narrative.

Again, one would not expect a meaningful change in the social environment within a short period of time – even when new initiatives are set into motion. Nonetheless, the murder of Malik Saleem Latif, a senior lawyer who was also a relative of our first Nobel laureate Dr Abdul Salam, on Thursday has drawn attention to the abiding sickness of Pakistan’s soul.

And it is appropriate to wonder if this incident would prompt any serious reflection in the minds of our high officials in the specific context of what the PM had proclaimed in his Holi speech. The message that has been conveyed through the Nankana murder has to be juxtaposed with the pledge that was made by the PM so that measures, which are necessary to curtail such hate crimes, are readily undertaken.

It would be worthwhile to recall what the prime minister had said and why his remarks had invited attention and appreciation. He said that: “Pakistan was not made so that one religion can dominate over others”. He had also asserted that “no matter what religion you follow, or what part of the country you belong to, you must be provided equal access to progress and development”.

It also has to be noted that this Holi speech had been made a week after PM Nawaz Sharif visited Jamia Naeemia in Lahore where he asked the ulema to develop a counter-narrative to negate the ideology of the terrorists. This was taken as an indication that Pakistan’s civilian leadership is finally realising the imperative of correcting the national sense of direction by veering away from religious conservatism. After all, what he told a gathering of Hindus in Karachi had intimations of what the Quaid had said on August 11, 1947. In that sense, Nawaz Sharif’s apparent tilt towards a more liberal approach in his policies is significant and raised expectations that the government will now be more resolute in suppressing religious extremist and sectarian intolerance.

Unfortunately, it is possible to have misgivings about the intentions and the capacity of the present rulers to confront those who have whipped up passions of hatred and intolerance. Besides, the moment that truly dictated the need for a new narrative had arrived more than two years ago when our schoolchildren were massacred by terrorists in Peshawar.

Though that unbearable tragedy had led to the formation of NAP – which included some measures in the direction that Nawaz Sharif has now indicated – the overall situation on the ground in the context of sectarian animosities and extremism has not changed. This is so despite the successes achieved in military operations against terrorists.

The contradictions we have to contend with were evident when Nawaz Sharif asked the clerics to provide a counter-narrative to defeat the terrorists. It is reported that during the prime minister’s speech in Jamia Naeemia, slogans were raised in favour of Mumtaz Qadri, the executed murderer of Salmaan Taseer.

The Nankana murder must be seen in the perspective of the persecution of the Ahmaddiya community. It has a long history and its narration would explain some of the salient features of what has gone wrong in our evolution as a nation.

Incidentally, just a day before the killing of Malik Saleem Latif in Nankana, the Jamaat-e-Ahmaddiya had released a report that said that six Ahmadis were killed for their religious beliefs during 2016. Saleemuddin, the group’s spokesperson, was quoted as saying that the government had failed to implement NAP because no action had been taken against those inciting hatred against Ahmadis. He said that as many as 700 such articles were published in national dailies last year.

It so happens that another news report has surfaced that relates to religious minorities and calls for a reference to Nawaz Sharif’s Holi speech. It stated that a prosecutor has reportedly asked members of the Christian community who were facing trial in an anti-terrorism court in the Youhanabad lynching case that he could guarantee their acquittal if they renounced their faith and embraced Islam.

Without going into details that have been provided by social activists, I am reminded of another remark that Nawaz Sharif had made in Karachi: “Forced conversions are considered a criminal practice in our religious teachings”.

A sad aspect of how our society is wounded by the persecution of and hatred against communities or individuals in the name of religion is that major political parties and leaders have no time to think about these issues. They remain passionately engrossed in their partisan squabbles. Since the people – mainly, the audience of our television channels – are also addicted to the political theatre, matters that define our destiny as a nation are largely not taken into account.

As an aside, just look at the games they are playing in the political arena. Naturally, the rulers too have to join the fray at a time when the campaign for the national elections, due in the summer of 2018, seems to have begun. But rulers must also be mindful of their legal and moral obligations and attend to promises they must keep.

This brings me back to Nawaz Sharif’s promises to not only protect the religious minorities but also put together a counter-national narrative. The big question is whether any moves have been made after the two speeches I have mentioned in this column. Is someone trying to figure out how the national narrative is to be modified? How will the government, for instance, respond to the murder in Nankana or the exertions of a prosecutor to convert some young Christian men?

Alas, there is no evidence to show that the ‘historic’ pronouncements of the PM have caused any dent in the business as usual. And bigotry is very much a matter of routine.

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The writer is a senior journalist. - Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com


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