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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Debate with extremists in a non-confrontational way?


Karachi Literary Festival

In today’s world, Pakistan is known for all the possible bad reasons. The wave of terrorism and extremism, which was nurtured and well protected by Gen Zia, is  now damaging our homes. How many more to loose their lives is a question which remains unanswered especially after the assassination of Salman Taseer.

Who will be the next to stand up like him and support a victim of intolerance and extremism? Again I have no names in my mind after Sherry Rehman has withdrawn the bill to amend blasphemy laws. Now is silence acceptable or are we going to speak out?
It can be the strategy which is not being productive. I, somehow, agreed to what Karen Armstrong has suggested at Karachi Literary Festival. To a question on how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri, she said, “debate with them in a non-confrontational way rather attacking their belief system”.

I am not at all sure that it will work 100 per cent, but the options are already not many to deal with this extremism. It is just to try out anything that pops up and carries logic.

Below is the story:
Express Tribune

KARACHI: At the Karachi Literature Festival, Karen Armstrong laid out a charter of compassion, with the dangers of an overpowering ego at the centre of her argument.

With a packed hall of people eagerly listening, the session began with a question posed by moderator Abbas Husain: if compassion is the prescription for the symptoms of the disease that is intolerance, then what is the cause of the disease? Without a moment’s hesitation, Armstrong answered: “Ego”.

It is ego, argues Armstrong, that makes us place ourselves and our beliefs at the centre of the universe. It is that same ego that then causes us to degrade and denigrate the beliefs and arguments of others, that makes us enter debates not with the intention of learning from them, but with the aim of proving the other wrong and ourselves right.

The remedy Karen Armstrong proposes for this condition is compassion. Were we to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the world would be an infinitely better place.

It is hard to argue with that but how on earth, as one audience member asked, do you debate with those who would rather use a gun to win their arguments? In short, how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri?

Armstrong responded by saying that in her experience, most hardline religious groups are motivated by fear, the fear that their beliefs and way of life are going to be wiped out. Their violence then, is a reaction to that fear. The answer, according to her, is not to attack their belief system but rather to debate with them in a non-confrontational way.

It is a neat argument, but also one that ignores the fact that for many extremist groups the quest for power is now an end in itself. And that fear is for them more a tool than a motivating factor. She does of course accept the fact that the sentiments of hardline religious groups are often exploited for political purposes, drawing on examples from the United States all the way to Pakistan.

God is not a politician, says Armstrong, but there is no denying that His word is used for political gain.

Another audience member argued that since religious beliefs seem to lead to violent arguments, perhaps the answer is to remove religion from our lives altogether. To this Armstrong responded that Homo Sapiens were in fact Homo Religiosis, and that denying religion is alien to human nature.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

 

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US-Pak relations: terms of estrangement


Najam Sethi
The News, February 06, 2011

The case of Raymond Davis has outraged most Pakistanis and raised nagging questions about the nature of the US role in Pakistan, about the integrity of powerful sections of the media and intelligentsia, and about the political opportunism of the ruling PPP and PMLN governments in Islamabad and Lahore respectively. Ominously, the strategic US-Pak relationship is fraying with unforeseen consequences for both.

The US has stationed dozens of armed intelligence agents in Pakistan. These belong to the CIA – which is a part of the US state – or Blackwater-type private security or intelligence companies specifically contracted to the State Department or to the Pentagon. These men and women have been granted visas by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) on the basis of a protocol signed during General Pervez Musharraf’s time after 9/11. Many, though not all, carry diplomatic passports with “official” or “official business” visas granted by the GoP following formal requests by one or the another US agency or department. Some are attached to the US Embassy in Islamabad, others to the Consulates. Some have formal diplomatic (status) cards issued by the Foreign Office, others don’t, which makes their diplomatic status vague despite their possession of diplomatic passports. Some carry firearms and fake IDs – which is known to the relevant GoP ministries and military intelligence agencies, firearm licenses or not – and others don’t. In other words, ambiguity about their status, work, and facilities afforded are duly maintained jointly by the US and Pakistani governments and intelligence agencies like the CIA and ISI.

That, at least, is the theory. In practice, however, the GoP retains a conscious element of “plausible deniability” about the status and work of such Americans. This is akin to the theory and practice of publicly protesting and privately condoning drone attacks, as one recent incriminating Wikileak revealed. We may also recall how provincial police, including military police, have often, in the past, stopped vehicles with tinted windows or windscreens and false number plates, but have been helpless against armed Americans inside these vehicles on account of interventionist phone calls from powerful officials in Islamabad. The rules of such discourse have not been made public. That is why there is so much anguish and outrage in the media and public against the Americans “who are so brazenly breaking the law of the land” when, in fact, they are doing so with the knowledge, connivance and even approval of the civilian government and military authorities.

Therefore the chronicle of Raymond Davis was foretold. It was only a matter of time before an Iraq-type Blackwater incident of “shooting first and asking questions later” would happen somewhere in Pakistan. I warned against it in October 2009. Neither the Americans, nor the Pakistanis, it seems, have learnt any lessons. No Standard Operating Procedures for such operatives and operations (spies tasked to uncover terrorists) were laid down or made public, nor was their status exactly defined, let alone implemented.

For example, the tinted windows and windscreens, false number plates, and weapons in the vehicles are meant purely for security purposes (to deny recognition to any would-be terrorist and afford defense) and not for evasion of the law (the correct registration documents are always inside the car and can be produced at will). But this SOP hasn’t been properly conveyed to provincial policemen. Nor was the diplomatic status for immunity purposes of such agents clarified and coded by Pakistani and American authorities, just as in Iraq where such agents had to be secretly sent to the US by local authorities after every violent transgression of the laws of the land. Out of over 200 such incidents in Iraq during 2005-2007, over 160 incidents were characterised by US “private agents shooting first”, ostensibly for purposes of “self-defense” or “security”.

This explains the confusion in the statements issued by the American Embassy in Islamabad which first said that Davis was on “official business” contracted to the Consulate, and then changed it to the Embassy when a reading of the Vienna Conventions of 1961 and 1963 suggested that the question of diplomatic immunity might be affected by the consular or embassy status of the person involved, regardless of the diplomatic passport held. It also explains why a State Department official in Washington was wary of confirming whether the agent at the centre of the storm in Pakistan was in fact Raymond Davis or someone else under the guise of Raymond Davis. It also explains the reluctance of the Pakistani Foreign Office to make a clear statement about the diplomatic status of Davis regarding immunity from criminal prosecution.

To make matters worse, the issue quickly became a vicious ping-pong game between the PPP government in Islamabad and the PMLN government in Punjab. Each side has been trying to get brownie nationalist points from the people regardless of the consequences for the strategic US-Pak relationship and national security. If the Punjab government had consulted the federal government before formally arresting Davis and acceded to an informal request to hand him over to the Americans, there would have been no storm and the “Protocols of the Elders” would have remained hidden. Instead, the Punjab government immediately gave a statement that Davis would be tried for murder in a court of law unless the federal government took responsibility for him and confirmed his diplomatic immunity. When the FO dithered, the Punjab government appointed a public prosecutor who immediately went public with his “strong case” against Davis by consciously distorting the facts of the shootout. Unfortunately, the more the Punjab government delighted in the discomfort of the federal government and exploited the media and public outrage, the more the federal government in general, and the FO in particular, retreated behind a smokescreen of feigned ignorance and wounded pride. Privately, the Punjab government has told the US embassy that it is ready to facilitate Davis’s release if the FO makes a statement in court that Davis enjoys diplomatic immunity!

The role of the media and intelligentsia, in general, is a case of deliberate distortion and outright lies. The fiction persists that Davis “murdered” two Pakistanis by shooting them in the back, despite an autopsy report that says four out of seven bullets hit the armed motorcyclists in the front. The fiction persists that they were “innocent citizens” despite the fact that they had robbed two passersby earlier in the day, whose cash and cell-phones were found on their persons. The fiction persists that he was in no imminent danger of grievous injury, let alone kidnapping or death, despite the fact that foreigners, especially Americans, have been routinely targeted and killed or kidnapped by terrorists in Pakistan in the last decade. No one, of course, has bothered to offer a motive for Davis to “murder” the two young men, and even talk of “proportionate” defense is misplaced. So where do we go from here?

The US has signaled distinct annoyance with the GoP. A cool reception was accorded by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani in this weekend’s trilateral meeting in Munich. Ambassador Hussain Haqqani has been summoned to the White House and lectured on the virtues of state maturity and reciprocity. The Af-Pak border in Waziristan has heated up, with one Pakistani soldier having been killed in clashes with US-Afghan troops on the border. The IMF has hardened its stance. President Asif Zardari’s proposed trip to Washington and one-0n-one with President Obama in March stands threatened. A go-slow could also impact Coalition Support Funds and US$2 billion worth of weapons in the pipeline for the Pakistan military and $1.5 billion from the Kerry-Lugar Bill for the civilian government of Pakistan.

The sooner this matter is sorted out, the better it is for both countries. Additionally, the rules of US-Pak engagement involving state and non-state actors must be made explicit for the media and public, without hypocrisy and doublespeak. No state’s national interest can be served by passion or prejudice, regardless of the affront or hurt. It is in the national interest of Pakistan to retain a strategic relationship with the United States. However, the US must stop pressuring Pakistan to accept armed, trigger-happy cowboys on intelligence operations as unaccountable diplomats. If this practice continues, there will be more outrage and anguish on the street, and both Pakistan and the US will be the net losers.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2011 in US-Pak relations

 

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Persecution of minorities


Dawn, Shada Islam

SO it has come to this. Reading about Sherry Rehman’s decision to drop her attempt to amend Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, I had three quick thoughts.

First, hats off to a very brave woman. Second, shame on a government and country which cannot protect its minorities from human rights abuses, violence and extremism. Third, forget criticism from Pakistan and other Muslim countries of so-called ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and America: people in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

Being part of a minority is not easy in any part of the world. History is replete with horrifying examples of persecution of minorities, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda. But I never expected the country I was born in to turn into this sad land of intolerance and ignorance.

Growing up in Pakistan all those years ago, I was taught that the constitution protected Muslims and that the white strip on the Pakistan flag represented Pakistan’s minorities. We lived in a vibrant, diverse multi-cultural community. Like many women my age, I was taught by Christian teachers, brought up by Hindu ayahs and learned ballet from exquisite Parsi ballet dancers. But times have changed, tolerance and accommodation, the concept of ‘live and let live’ have given way to persecution and discrimination.

Pakistan is not alone in treating its minorities as second-class citizens. Across the Muslim world today, being a Christian means at best being subject to hostility and discrimination and in the worst case, facing the death sentence. What I find particularly galling is that the countries — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan for example — which mete out the harshest treatment to their Christian communities are the most vocal when it comes to denouncing ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and the US. Frankly, I am getting fed up with such accusations.

Having kept a very close eye on Europe’s 20 million-strong Muslim communities over the last 10 years, I can safely say: yes, it has been a challenging decade for European Muslims but most would agree that it is better to be a Muslim in Europe than a Christian (or a Hindu) in a Muslim country.

There is no doubt that the 9/11 terrorist attacks, followed by the publication of caricatures of the Prophet (PBUH) by several European newspapers, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, as well as subsequent real and suspected terrorist activity in Europe, have resulted in increased suspicion, surveillance and stigmatisation of Europe’s Muslim communities.

Most European governments have enacted tough new anti-terrorist legislation. Populist parties, using a simple anti-foreigner/anti-Islam rhetoric, have gained more influence and power in many EU countries. Mainstream politicians have adopted an equally strident anti-Islam and anti-Muslim narrative to win votes and improve their ratings in opinion polls.

The discussion on integration has been further muddied by rising European concerns about the arrival of refugees and asylum-seekers. In the process, journalistic ethics have suffered, with few journalists ready to challenge prejudice, clichés and misleading reports. Undoubtedly, Europe’s commitment to core values, including human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, has taken a blow.

In addition, Europe’s post 9/11 attitudes towards Islam are linked to security concerns and fears of radicalisation of the continent’s Muslims but also reflect uncertainty about European identity. Making matters worse, an uncertain economic climate in many European countries as well as the presence of weak leaders unable to ease public anxieties about globalisation and unemployment have made it easier for populist politicians to spread a simple albeit toxic xenophobic message: the West is headed for a clash with Islam and Muslims.

However, this is only part of the story. Despite the anxiety about the visible presence of Islam and Muslims in the public space, the last 10 years have also been marked by transition and change in the lives of European Muslims.

The spotlight on European Muslims has had a positive effect by helping Muslims and host communities confront difficult issues of integration and multiple identities which had been neglected and overlooked over decades.

Governments are slowly combining a security-focused prism with a more balanced approach which includes an integration agenda and Muslim outreach programmes. Government and business recruitment policies are being changed gradually to increase the employment of Muslims and minorities. Business leaders are demanding an increase in immigration, including from Muslim countries, to meet Europe’s skills shortage. The EU has adopted a new anti-discrimination directive in the new Lisbon Treaty which strengthens existing rules on combating racism.

Significantly, European Muslims are becoming more active in demanding equal rights as full-fledged citizens, organising themselves into pressure groups, and emerging as influential politicians, entrepreneurs and cultural and sports icons. Ten years after 9/11, the challenge for European governments and European Muslims is to hammer out a fresh narrative which looks at European Muslims as active and full-fledged citizens rather than as exotic foreigners.

Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on the failure of multiculturalism in Europe, the continent today is a vibrant mix of people, cultures and religions. Integration and mainstreaming is taking place and there is slow but steady recognition that all Europeans, whatever their religion, ethnic origins and cultural background, share a common space.

More time and hard work will be needed before Europeans elect their own Barack Obama and readily embrace and celebrate diversity. But work on such a goal has begun.

My advice to Muslim governments is simple: stop ranting against the West, take a few lessons in citizenship and minority rights from Europe and America and start listening to all your citizens, not just the small number of extremists which carry guns.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Ahmadis, Blasphemy, Christians, minorities

 

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A student accused of blasphemy: Is it our future?


The assassination of Governor Salman Taseer has left a deep scar on ailing body of moderate voices.  Only a man like Salman could dare to go sympathising with a woman like Aasia Bibi who was accused of unforgivable crime (blasphemy) which is yet to be committed by her. But the heroic treatment received by his assassin has given a boost to all those forces who were already misusing this law. But they are all now fearless and bold enough to fix their personal disputes through such allegations and more openly.

I was wondering how broad the scope is but this latest incident has answered my thoughts. It has reached to the education institutions where students are being accused of blasphemy based on their personal knowledge which they express in exams on their answer sheets. A teacher exposing answer sheets of his students has just not shaken the trust built between a student and teacher, but also has violated all norms of confidentiality. A teacher is just authorised to pass or fail a student for his knowledge but cannot file a case against him and get his student arrested. But it happened here because Pakistan and Pakistanis have shut their minds and killed their basic wisdom when any random person accuses anyone voluntarily of blasphemy.

Have we realised as a nation that what are we proud of? We have pride in a senseless craze for a version of a religion which only helps in victimising minorities now even majority; we feel pleasure in awarding death to weak so that we do not need to return borrowed money or property; and we take revenge from our minorities for all those things which we could not get even being part of the majority. This is a disease which should be treated. Sooner the better. But the delay is taking more lives and ruining the future of this country. Just a good human being knows that all the deeds done for humanity will be rewarded by the one Who has created him.

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
February 1, 2011
PAKISTAN: Education officials of Karachi must be prosecuted for
filing a blasphemy case against a student

A case of blasphemy has been registered against 17-year-old Syed
Samiullah, an intermediate student and resident of Mujtaba Colony
Malir Halt. The charge was registered in the Shahrah-e-Noor Jahan
Police Station, Karachi, Sindh province.

The incident was reported to the police by Professor Agha Akbar, the
controller of examinations of the Intermediate Board of Education,
Karachi, who attached copies of Samiullah’s answers sheets as evidence
of his alleged blasphemy. The professor charged that Samiullah wrote
derogatory remarks in his answer sheets (Urdu, Islamiat and Physics)
against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him).

He was arrested on January 28, 2011 on the complaint of the chief
controller (Intermediate Board).

The Judicial Magistrate, Central, Ehsan A Malik ordered Samiullah to
be sent to the juvenile prison after the Shahrae Noor Jehan police
produced him in court and requested judicial custody. In an
application to the judicial magistrate, Samiullah submitted that he
had confessed to committing the ‘unpardonable sin’. He apologised and
promised that he would never commit ‘such a sin’ again. An FIR (First
Information Report) (56/11) was registered against him under 295-C of
the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) at Shahrah-e-Noor Jahan police station.

In Pakistan militant Muslim organisations are using the blasphemy law
as the best way to keep the society under their influence and
conservative doctrines. Due to the continuous indifference of the
government and the authorities towards militant expression of power by
the Muslim fundamentalists the malicious use of the blasphemy law has
swiftly seeped in to the educational institutions.

The appeasement policy of the state towards the Muslim
fundamentalists has now reached an alarming stage in that the opinion
of the students can be judged using blasphemy as the rule. It is
condemnable that the institutions which are aimed at providing
education free of bias are obstructing the freedom of expression of
the students. It is a very dangerous sign for the positive growth of
the society that the teachers are also using the blasphemy law to
pressurize the students and suppress their opinions.

This is also a clear demonstration of intimidation aimed at the
student community in regard of their freedom of choice to answer
examination papers through their own understanding of the subject. The
student, Samiullah, and his family, were pressurised by the malicious
intent by the Board of Education, Karachi to confess that he had
committed blasphemy. Samiullah had no other choice other than to
confess after seeing the murder of a governor due to the fake charges
of blasphemy and the glorification of his murderer by the religious
organisations.

Examiners only have the right to pass or fail students based on the
answers they give to the exam papers. They have not right what-so-ever
to grade, fail or take action on exam papers which they feel are
contrary to their religious ideals. Neither do they have the right to
instigate criminal action against students based on these papers or
against the student’s point of view or opinions.

In this instance, the Board of Education is using the blasphemy law
to intimidate and threaten a student for daring to form his own
opinions. By filing a criminal case the officials of the Education
Board are trying to control the mentality of the society and push the
students towards the Militant Muslim organisations. They are utilising
the people to think in this way, that if someone commits such a crime,
he should be killed.

In a country where the literacy rate is below 40 percent (that
includes those persons who can read or write their names and make
signatures) the filing of fake cases of blasphemy against students to
stop them from expressing their own views is nothing less than a
criminal offence on the part of those who are supposed to be providing
education to the society.

It is also an established fact that the examination copy on which a
student answers the questions on a particular subject based on his
personal knowledge, is confidential and no one has the right to make
it public or use it to file a case. In a very explicit manner the
Board of Education has breached the bond of trust and confidentiality
between the students and examiners.

The government must take serious note of the actions of the Board of
Education, Karachi, and prosecute the responsible officials for
misusing the blasphemy laws against a student on a issue which was
totally a matter of opinion on the subject which he understood
according to his knowledge. The case of blasphemy against the student
should be withdrawn immediately and he should be released from the
custody of the juvenile jail so that he can continue his education in
an environment free of intimidation and threats. In any case it is the
responsibility of the government to provide an environment conducive
to education free of religious and sectarian bias.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Blasphemy

 

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Living between fear and courage


Moni Mohsin: Moni Mohsin's latest novel is Tender Hooks (Random House). She lives between Lahore and London. She had known Salman Taseer since she was a teenager. "Gutted by his murder and nauseated by the public reaction to it," she mourns the death of a proud liberal.

India Today
Fifteen years ago when I married a London-based Pakistani, my brother-in-law Najam Sethi said laughingly to my mother, “Moni will be the only one of your children to survive the coming storm.” He was only half-joking. As a progressive journalist who has received more death threats from the religious right than I care to count, he has personal experience of the danger to secular liberals from an increasingly intolerant Pakistani polity. He knows that anyone who takes issue with the mullahs or speaks for the rights of our marginalised minorities or even objects to the cynical use of religion in politics, runs the risk of being killed. As the murder of the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, showed last week, no liberal is safe in Pakistan.

In London, on the other hand, I have enjoyed a life of safety, stability and the rule of law. But I have also tasted the bitterness of separation from my homeland and of my increasing irrelevance to it. I have tried to mitigate the pain by keeping alive my contact with my country. I contribute regularly to its publications, sit on charitable trusts and maintain property there. I also take my children back frequently so they can grow up feeling at home in what a huge part of me still considers home.

Moni Mohsin’s latest novel is Tender Hooks (Random House). She lives between Lahore and London. She had known Salman Taseer since she was a teenager. “Gutted by his murder and nauseated by the public reaction to it,” she mourns the death of a proud liberal.

On January 4, my husband, children and I boarded a plane back for London. As always, we had spent our Christmas holidays in Pakistan. Though grateful to have spent time with my parents and siblings, I was unhappy with my visit. In the time I had spent in Pakistan, I had witnessed yet again, from close quarters, the depressing spectacle of a fracturing society and collapsing State. In my three short weeks there, I heard from all quarters of kidnappings, shootings, hold-ups and burglaries. No one reported any of the crimes for they knew there would be no action.

Every time the phone rings at an odd hour, my heart leaps into my mouth. I don’t want to be the only member of my family to survive the storm.

During a bitterly cold winter, there was little gas and less electricity; flood victims were pouring into cities; inflation was rampant; people were sullen; and in the background, a cowering, feeble government was anxiously assuring fulminating mullahs of its undying support for the blasphemy law. On New Year’s Eve, religious parties called a countrywide strike to support the blasphemy law. Either out of fear or sympathy, everyone obeyed. So much, I thought to myself, for Jinnah’s dream of a tolerant homeland for Muslims.

As my plane took off from Lahore’s Allama Iqbal Airport, a couple of hundred miles to the north outside Islamabad’s Kohsar Market, yet another blow was being dealt to Jinnah’s dream. Airborne by the time it happened, I did not find out till we landed in Heathrow. As I switched on my phone, a text from my brother-in-law flashed across the screen: Tragedy: Salman Taseer murdered by his own security guard.

I’d known Salman since I was a teenager. His eldest daughter and I are close friends. Our daughters in turn have been buddies from the cradle. So I’d had the opportunity to observe Salman from close quarters for over 25 years. If I were to use one word to describe him, it would be “uncompromising. He was uncompromising in both his political and personal life. Unlike some sermonising politicians who preach Islamic values in Pakistan and party with A-listers in London, Salman scorned hypocrisy. He was a proud liberal in everything and everywhere. He was also a man of wit, charm and above all, courage.

I am gutted by his murder and nauseated by the public reaction to it. Some of it I had expected. I had expected the religious parties to crow. Having already witnessed his own party’s moral cowardice, I had known that all mainstream parties would run for cover. I also knew that some fanatics would issue public threats-of course completely unchecked by the State-to Salman’s supporters. I knew that TV “analysts”, who’d probably envied Salman’s flamboyance all along, would smugly hold forth on his “insensitivity” towards “our people’s delicate religious sensibilities”. I was nauseated but not surprised by any of that.

But what I had not expected was that over 200 lawyers, who until last week were championing democracy and freedom of speech, would shower his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, with rose petals. I had not expected Pakistanis like myself, who live in the West and enjoy every one of its hard-won liberties, to set up Facebook pages lauding Salman’s murderer as a hero. I had not expected the blogs of ordinary middle-class kids, who salivate over Angelina Jolie and dream of a green card, to condone the murder of “an immoral Westernised liberal”. I had not expected novelist Hanif Mohammed to do a random poll in Karachi and discover that most people he spoke to on the street outside his office did not condemn Salman’s murder.

I had not expected all this because it has long been my sustaining belief that though we are ruled by a venal army and morally corrupt politicians and though we are terrorised by a small but murderous fringe of hardliners, the ordinary person on the street is a decent moderate who yearns for stability and the rule of law. After all, I reassure myself, religious parties have always been humiliated at the ballot box. That belief is why, despite all the kidnappings and the gunnings and the fatwas and suicide bombs, I keep taking my children back. That is the reason why, after 15 years abroad, I am still mentally, emotionally and financially invested in Pakistan.

Of course, I would be lying if I said that no one spoke up for Salman in Pakistan.

As usual it was left to the same small group of embattled progressives to pick up the baton. A few brave journalists condemned Salman’s murder on tv. English language newspapers wrote editorials against mounting intolerance in Pakistan. Human rights groups vociferously registered their protest. Candle-lit vigils outside the fallen Governor’s residence in Lahore and at Kohsar Market in Islamabad, were attended by housewives and schoolchildren and office workers. But compared to the thousands who expressed support for Qadri, a few hundred attended the vigils. Where were all the concerned citizens I meet in Lahore and Karachi every time I visit, who sit in their homes bemoaning the lack of security, the mounting disorder, the brutalisation of society?

The answer is simple: they were still in their homes. As soon as the murder was announced on TV, most people fled to the safety of their homes to barricade themselves in. Streets emptied and shops closed within minutes of the announcement. Most people have experienced enough violence to be truly fearful of it. I sympathise with them. I also fear for my family, as I do for every liberal left standing in Pakistan. Every time the phone rings at an odd hour, my heart leaps into my mouth. I don’t want to be the only member of my family to survive the storm. And I feel guilty that I am not there to struggle alongside them.

If I could have my selfish way, I would immediately spirit each member of my family and every single friend out of there. But I also know that if I did so, all would be lost. And I know that we must continue trying to reach out to the people-still the majority, in my view, despite the depredations in their ranks-who want peace and freedom but are too frightened to ask. We must encourage them to stand up and demand it. So I live every day hovering between hope and dread, fear and courage. May my hope and my friends’ and family’s courage be vindicated in my lifetime.

 

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