Monday, 5 July 2010
Sectarianism has poisoned Pakistan
The violence seen in Lahore last week was aided by a bigoted constitution. How has stock in our nationhood plummeted so?
The recent attacks on a prominent shrine in Lahore demonstrate how the unrest in Pakistan is caused by a minority of few who cannot tolerate the plurality of beliefs in Pakistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban are lying through their teeth when they claim that they do not attack public places. It's becoming more and more apparent that these militants aren't resisting American hegemony; this a war to determine Pakistan's future and, by proxy, the future of Islam.
Whether the Tehrik-e-Taliban actually arranged the bombers' suicide belts is irrelevant; they have created a domino effect that's likely to spread from commercial capitals such as Lahore to cities with historic shrines and Pakistani historical sites, such as Multan, or Taxila.
Unlike Baghdad, where violence between Islamic sects is a product of the war America is waging, the onus of last Thursday's blasts falls squarely on us, the citizens of Pakistan. We have been complacent about sectarianism for too long.
A good friend who works for a transportation company told me in 2007 that in villages along the highways to Waziristan where the Taliban had seized control were the bodies of butchered Shia Muslims. That year, Lahore's public was too busy mobilising about the judiciary and President Musharraf to pay the violence any mind.
Sectarianism has a brutal history in Pakistan that existed long before militants in Afghanistan began calling themselves the Taliban. I remember as a child in Lahore the broadcasts of gun violence outside Shia houses of worship during the early 1990s.
Many Pakistanis feel that the attacks on two Ahmadiyya mosques last May, where gunmen unloaded bullets and grenades on Friday prayer-goers, were unprecedented. Certainly the Ahmadiyya community doesn't think they are.
To have a Pakistani passport requires citizens to assert that they are not part of the Ahmadiyya community. In a sense, holding that passport also makes you complicit in the blasts that killed dozens in Lahore's most famous Sufi shrine last week. Our inability to understand that this war is about national identity is rooted in the same complacency.
We are OK with the state deciding for us who is or isn't Muslim. In this regard, the Pakistani government has the weakest moral fibre in taking on this growing strand of extremism. It is hypocritical to fight the Taliban in Waziristan if we are okay about denying citizenship to millions of Muslims born in Pakistan.
It may sound extreme of me, but we should be jailing clerics in Pakistan that give edicts declaring believers to be non-Muslim or anti-Pakistani. It may seem extreme to an American that writers who deny the Holocaust are imprisoned in Europe, but extreme contexts call for extreme measures.
Pakistanis must stress how being born or raised in their country is enough to be Pakistani; laws preventing Ahmadis from referring to themselves as Muslims were amended to the constitution by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s.
I remember being uneasy at my desk in middle school when I was studying at Aitchison College in Lahore, and some of my classmates were getting bullied for having marks on them after returning from Shia processions during Muharram. Pakistanis themselves are the only ones capable of stamping out this discriminatory culture.
Some proactiveness is necessary on our part to make it clear that mystics, Shias, Ahmadis and Christians are all fellow Pakistanis. When you are pulled over by street police in any major Pakistani city, the first bit of information the police ask for is your family name. From one name your caste, religious beliefs and affluence is determined.
This came as a shock to all of my family who have emigrated away: that collectively our stock in our own nationhood has plummeted so. In a sense, these problems are all accrued debt we've accumulated for being so complacent. In the light of our bigoted constitution and deterministic culture we have to – for ourselves – decide that being Pakistani is enough to make us all countrymen. Otherwise, we might as well just refer to ourselves as Taliban, Muslim extremists, Islamic militants, and so forth.
Basim Usmani is a punk rocker from Lahore. He plays in the taqwacore group, The Kominas. They are currently touring the UK and will be playing the Hoxton Underbelly in London on 10 July.