Amidst the barbarity of Pakistan’s current sociopolitical landscape, a humbling humanity is to be found in communities that the state has made every effort not to protect. On Sunday, the Christian community in Peshawar staged protests against the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, to stand in solidarity with Muslims around the world who believe their faith has been derided by the caricatures. The debate surrounding the magazine’s satirical publications with regard to the free speech/ hate speech prism is complex, but the protests in Peshawar symbolise a much simpler, and much more humane idea.
The Christian community could have chosen to remain silent on the issue, and nobody could have raised a finger at them for it. The consistent persecution and racism the community has had to deal with at the hands of extremist Muslims, with the most brutal examples being the attack on the All Saints Church in September 2013 that claimed over 127 lives, and the blasphemy law which is used against innocent Christians with utter disregard and frequency, would be reasons enough for them to withhold their protest. Instead, demonstrators took to the streets with placards and banners in favour of world peace and condemning the “blasphemous” cartoons. The dangerous irony here, is that they seem to play into the Islam-blasphemy nexus; an idea that more often than not, harms them. Perhaps few of them are moved by the content of the cartoons themselves. Perhaps most are acting only on the directives of their local and global religious leaders. Perhaps some of them haven’t a clue about the problematic ideologies the Charlie Hebdo massacre has kickstarted. It is important to remember, that to the Christians of Peshawar , a community so utterly ostracised and discriminated against, this is not about Charlie Hebdo at all. It is an act motivated by a desire to find common ground, to find a greater cause for sympathy in a society that only relegates them; it is holding a hand out and asking to be included in a common narrative, to belong to a common citizenry. The country must see that, and appreciate it for its bravery.