One is deeply grieved this week. One is perpetually mourning one thing or another it seems in this country of ours—four years into Notes from the Underground and never a dearth of things to be thinking out loud about. This week, it is again the depths of brutality to which people can sink. This time it is another attack on Ahmedis, in Faisalabad. What started as a fistfight turned into guns being fired, six Ahmedis being shot, an Ahmedi bait-ul-zikr and possibly a few homes being stoned and set on fire. Our new information minister has tried his best to trivialize the incident as basically just a fight over a rooster, but most public disputes involve a lot of testosterone, punches and mobile phone footage of the event being disseminated on social media. Maybe a minister being fined. It’s interesting how all other fistfights somehow do not conveniently devolve into mobs several hundred strong setting the neighbourhood on fire, chanting slogans and firing guns in the air.
Let’s say it really did begin with a case of merey kukkar ko paaoon kyun maara – the rooster in question was inadvertently kicked by someone else, triggering the actual fracas. Let’s also ignore for a minute how trigger-happy the male temper seems to be—as they say in Urdu, can’t even let a fly sit on your nose. Let’s look at how little it takes for an ordinary argument to snowball into a bloodthirsty, baying mob. Two or three men make a fight, but an entire neighbourhood makes a mob. For a country that loves to look the other way whenever someone genuinely needs help, it’s telling how people are also perfectly happy to jump onto some kind of self-righteous excuse of a bandwagon, in this case, killing Ahmedis.
Perfectly reasonable people morph into lunatics when Ahmedis are in the picture. A jeweler my family frequents now has a sign that says they won’t do business with Ahmedis. It’s clearly offensive—it reminds one of “no dogs and natives” signs—but also strangely childish. How on earth would a jeweler know if there was Ahmedi in his shop? He didn’t ask me to recite the kalma or do a secret handshake before showing me a tray of rings, and I presume he wouldn’t when I paid him. Then why have that ridiculous sign to begin with? Jibran Nasir was harassed almost perpetually during his election campaign to publicly denounce Ahmedis as non-believers. He staunchly refused, to his enormous credit. What do we have to prove to each other by saying this? What kind of cosmic brownie points do we think we are earning by telling other people they aren’t allowed to call themselves Muslims? Worse than that, we can’t even leave it at that. They can’t call their places of worship mosques, they can’t quote the Quran on their gravestones and evidently now they can’t buy jewelry either, because a shopkeeper is obviously afraid of getting some non-believer cooties.
Maybe that’s what it really boils down to. Maybe that is the root of our national Ahmedi-and-other-minorities hysteria. We’re afraid, deep down, that our own faith isn’t good enough. That being around people who have different beliefs, or different versions of our beliefs, will taint us somehow. We can’t leave it alone, or ignore it. Only the weak and feeble-minded are so afraid of difference. We mock the west for being terrified of women in hijab and niqab, but they are also operating from the identical premise of fear—they are afraid of women wearing symbols of the bombs and explosions they have come to expect from Islam. What’s our excuse, though? Which Ahmedi has stormed into a school and murdered children? Which Christian has detonated a bomb in a public park on a holiday? Which Shia Hazaras have set fire to mosques, that they all have to be punished repeatedly like this? What Islam are we defending, and how? We can’t have our cake and eat it too, you see. We can’t tell the west that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and then turn around and lynch Christians and burn down Ahmedi homes. This is not how one registers protest, this is how one engenders terror and oppression. We cannot be this kind of barefaced hypocrite, a shameless two-faced fraud, because then nobody will believe anything we say. Nobody will believe that our Prophet was the kindest man we have ever read of, who didn’t even frown at that terrible woman who used to throw garbage and thorny branches at him every single day, because we, who say we follow him and his example, persecute the weak. We actively and willingly wish to harm and endanger the minorities of this country merely for their ‘mistake’ in believing things we don’t agree with. We made an entire country out of nothing so we could have the freedom to believe without persecution, and then we betrayed our own ideology and turned into the very thing we fled from. What a way to annihilate one’s own history.
The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.