Bigotry is what fuels the mob

“Oh, so you are from Pakistan!” the friendly old man sitting next to me on a metro train in Sydney repeated my words. “And is that near India?”

“Yes, India is our neighbour. We got separated over seven decades ago,” I politely clarified.

“But why?” he dauntingly asked. “I have never heard of an Indian colony.”

“Nope, we were not its colony. But we wanted a separate land to exercise religious freedom as it was getting difficult to live as a minority,” I tried to explain our freedom struggle in simple words.

“But dear, if I am not mistaken, a Sri Lankan kid whom I met on the same train this morning told me how someone of his nationality was brutally killed and set on fire a few days back in a country near India… now I remember that he had named Pakistan.”

“Yes,” I shamefully admitted. “That was in Pakistan.”

“So is Pakistan full of people belonging to your religion?” he pointed towards my hijab.

“Nope, Sir. Our country has many religious minorities. There are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and…”

“And can they practise their religions with the same freedom you had yourself yearned for in yesteryears?” he mockingly smiled and added, “Now don’t complain if someone pulls of your scarf.”

The old man left the train as it stopped on his station, but I could not take my eyes off of him. I froze. The initially friendly conversation that started off with smiles and greetings had quickly metamorphosed into a harsh, gut-wrenching reality check. 

How can we, Pakistani Muslims living overseas, complain of increasing Islamophobic assaults in the rest of the world when our Muslim countrymen living in Pakistan are flag-bearers of the same bias, hatred, and extremism?

What happened in Sialkot is the first of its kind neither in Pakistan nor in Sialkot itself. 

Back in 2010, when brothers Mughees and Muneeb were mercilessly beaten to death and their bodies mutilated on the basis of unwarranted accusations of robbery and murder, a mob comprising public as well as police was ultimately held responsible.

In 2017, when Mashal Khan was walloped and lashed before being shot in the head and chest, the police ignominiously preferred not to interfere and stated the presence of “too many people” as the reason. A video footage of the incident showed his lifeless, bruised body being kicked and beaten with wooden planks and eventually being pulled out from his clothes by a mob comprising reportedly three to four thousand students.

Today we are still stuck in the Dark Ages despite existing in 2021. Using blasphemy as an excuse to target those whom we dislike, much alike the Church sentencing Galilei to imprisonment on finding him a “vehement suspect of heresy”; killing two brothers because the mob had to take out their frustration from daily lives on merely being tipped about an alleged robbery; slaying a 23-year-old student within the university premises on allegedly “promoting the Ahmadi faith on Facebook” while his only fault was to overtly highlight maladministration of his university which the mob somehow found to be profane; taking the life of a factory manager who, despite not being the follower of your faith, was dutiful towards his work and had only removed the posters from walls on account of the pending renovation work; these incidents are years apart yet depict how we are reluctant to evolve with the changing times.

Priyantha Kumara, being a conscientious general manager, was strict in enforcing discipline among factory workers and himself started removing from walls some posters which happened to be an invitation to a religious gathering. This turned out to be a fatal mistake because all he knew was that such posters should not be stuck up on walls of factories, school, or public toilets; he did not know that removing them was a blasphemy in our country that still exists in medieval times but posting them was not an offence in the first place. 

What next? He was beaten, tortured, killed, and his body burnt by a mob of hundreds, realistically only to take out their anger and frustration, on the very same day when a Hindu mob in India’s satellite city Gurgaon targeted Muslim prayer sites and chanted “Jai Shri Ram” while obstructing local Muslims from offering their weekly congregational prayer. What’s the difference between the two mobs? Characterised by religious extremism, violence, and conceit, there is actually no difference; ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ are mere prefixes. This, perhaps, redefines our freedom struggle as an effort to acquire a piece of land where we could assemble our own mobs for lynching people whom we dislike.

I landed in Australia with my share of apprehensions and worries, especially after 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings and 2021 run-over attack on a Muslim family in Ontario. Looking myself in the mirror while putting on hijab makes me afraid of only one thing: What if this community eyed me as a part of the same angry extremist mob owing to the religious identity I have embraced? What if they considered me as a threat to them? 

The lynching of Sri Lankan citizen in Pakistan has given me a shout that this fear is life-long, for such mobs and individuals are everywhere. Living in such times when religion is the top-most reason for enmity among peoples itself is a challenge, let alone proving oneself as an advocate of peace while calling oneself a practising follower of an ideology. It is for this very reason why a lion’s share no more believes in putting on labels of religious identification, let it be in the form of clothes, ornaments, or beards. 

So why call it Islamophobia, anti-Christian sentiment, or blasphemy when all these types of xenophobia are nothing but venomous extensions of bigotry? The bigotry that massacred 51 Muslims on a Friday in a mosque in New Zealand. The bigotry that assassinated a non-Muslim on a Friday at his workplace in Pakistan.

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