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Editorials

On Minority Rights in Pakistan

It is astonishing to see that the so-called Ulama offer historical truths to their audiences without ever mentioning that history is not really transparent and unmotivated and often presents the views and perceptions of the dominant groups. The treatment of religious minorities is also based in this flawed retrieval of historical truth and this atavistic perception of a modern Islamic state.

 

Image, Courtesy Viewpoint Online.

 

 

After the brutal murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Ms. Asiya Nasir, a Christian member of Pakistani National Assembly, made a courageous and passionate speech in the national assembly. [The speech can be viewed here]. I have watched this speech numerous times, for in its tragic appeal also lies an incipient hope for a better Pakistan.

In the wake of Shahbaz Bahtti’s murder, Ms. Nasir puts the very question of what constitutes a Pakistani under a serious challenge. This question about the nature of a Pakistani identity is crucial, for it can decide the fate and future of Pakistani nation-state.

Ms. Nasir, one could say, in her historical retrieval of the contributions and sacrifices of Pakistani Christians inserts this marginalized community into the very heart of the nation, for after all, in her words, the Christian community was given a choice to move to India but they, as future citizens of what was to be a composite, cosmopolitan nation, chose to stay. They should, therefore, be included within the national promise as equals.

We cannot have it both ways: either we become a democracy in which all citizens—regardless of their religion, gender or other identities—are treated as equal right holders, or we stay the mockery of a nation that we have become: defined by a religious constituting power as opposed to the constituted power that at least, in theory, promises all citizens of Pakistan an equal humanity in the eyes of the law.

In her speech, the honorable member starts with a reference to the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti but soon moves on to challenge the very idea of Pakistan as an Islamic state. She points to the official portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and then asks him a direct question: “Is this the kind of Pakistan that you had promised us?” Her criticism of the current imaginary of Pakistan is, therefore, offered in comparison to the kind of Pakistan that Jinnah had envisioned and promised, a Pakistan in which the minorities would have had equal rights. The devolution of Pakistan into an Islamic republic, in this argument, is a failure of the Quaid’s dream and also a failure of the promises made to the minorities.

Ms. Nasir reminds her audience that when Pakistan needed the Christian votes to ask for a separate nation-state, the Christians had voted for Pakistan: their presence in the Pakistani public sphere, thus, was not an accident of history but a matter of choice. Now, however, the same Christians whose votes were coveted at the time of partition are treated as second-class citizens. The arguments, thus, rests on the kind of nation that was promised to the minorities and that the current definition of the nation as a purely Islamic state is nothing but a broken promise.

Ms. Nasir also has some pointed questions for the government: “Why did you not provide sufficient security for Shahbaz Bhatti?” and “Why there has been no clear declaration by the Prime minister and the President to hold the murderers accountable?” The obvious reason for the indifference of the leaders of Pakistan Peoples Party, the party that had benefited from Shahbaz Bhatti’s loyalties, is because he is a Christian and thus, it seems, his life was not as valuable as that of a Muslim.

Ms. Nasir also points out that the minorities have reached a point in their history in Pakistan that they are seriously questioning whether or not to remain in Pakistan. If the current treatment of the minorities continues, she states, then the minorities will have to choose to leave Pakistan.

Ms. Nasir’s speech is also made in the spirit of patriotism as a true Pakistani claiming equal rights in the national public sphere just like the Muslim citizens of Pakistan. This claim to equal treatment is also bolstered by the examples of Christian sacrifices for the cause of Pakistan, the sacrifices that have been elided from Pakistani history due to the “distorted history” being taught in schools. “We have not been given equal rights in sixty-five years” declares Ms. Nasir, and it is time now for the government and the people of Pakistan to recognize the Christians as equal citizens of the state.

The question of rights is, therefore, crucial to creating a more tolerant and humane nation and Islam, I am sad to say, will not solve this problem for us, especially the kind of historical retrieval attempted by our Ulama.

There is a perception amongst the devout Muslims that if we revert to a purely Islamic articulation of the nation, all our problems would be solved. This, of course, is a grand illusion created by the rhetoric of the mullahs and their followers and this rhetoric is made acceptable by cherry-picking Islamic history and by completely foreclosing any new and liberating interpretations of the Islamic sacred.

It is astonishing to see that the so-called Ulama offer historical truths to their audiences without ever mentioning that history is not really transparent and unmotivated and often presents the views and perceptions of the dominant groups. The treatment of religious minorities is also based in this flawed retrieval of historical truth and this atavistic perception of a modern Islamic state. This, in a way, foregrounds the role of constituting power over constituted power. [I am using Roberto Esposito’s discussion of these two facets of power to make my point. For details, see Esposito. Bios]. In such a project, the worth of the individual and the larger political entities is determined through recourse to a transcendental constituting power. But while in most of the cases the constituting power ceases to exert itself and creates a space for the constituted power to function independently, in case of our Ulama the constituted power of the Pakistani constitution is always under constant pressure from the metaphysical constituting power of the Muslim sacred. It is this reversal to a purist past that allows them to create unequal subjects within the Pakistani political space. Thus, even though they live in a modern nation, the individuals in Pakistan, based on their gender and religious identity, get divided into active and passive right holders. As a consequence, Only Muslim males seem to enjoy the full rights and humanity of real citizens, while women and minorities are reduced to a passive political identity, alive but not really fully realized political beings.

It is this nexus of power and religion that Ms. Nasir’s speech challenges, for if Pakistan really wants to be a democratic and humane polity, it must accord equal rights to all its citizens and no amount of purist religious retrieval should be able to trump that.

The saddest thing about our Ulama is that they have chosen to elide all views contrary to what they deem a proper interpretation of the sacred. Thus, while our mullahs can quote their respective scholars, none of them seems to acknowledge the existence of scholars such as Mumtaz Ali and Fazlur Rahman who, at least, attempted to force a more nuanced and enlightened interpretation of the sacred. These are the silenced histories of Muslim past that must be retrieved and foregrounded if Islam is to play any positive role within the Pakistani public sphere.

Meanwhile, in the absence of any such movement in Pakistan, I would declare my own personal stance: I stand with my brother Shahbaz Bhatti for his humanity, his wisdom, and his sacrifice and with my sister Asiya Nasir for her courage to ask some apt and hard questions.

(Also published by Viewpoint Online)

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Categories
Commentaries Editorials

Some Good Pakistani Blogs

Now that we have started aggregating content from selected Pakistan-related blogs, we have found a rich array of blogs dealing with various aspects of Pakistani life. I thought I should take a few moments to introduce some of these blogs. My account of these blogs, of course, is in no way exhaustive. So, please feel free to suggest your favorite Pakistani blogs in the comments and we will include them in our Pakblogs section for our readers.

Art Ka Pakistan: Maintained by Nadia Hussain, this is a personal blog that provides ideas, thoughts, and commentaries of an artist and could be very useful to all those interested in art and artistic pursuits. Nadia describes her blog as follows:

Wannabe artist (except they’re called visual artists now), corrupter of young Pakistani minds, do gooder (and badder), lover, not a fighter and a general procrastinator. And Murree Brewery rocks.

Citizens for Democracy: I strongly endorse CFD’s effort who describe their mission in the following words:

Citizens for Democracy (CFD) was formed on Dec 19, 2010, as a coalition of professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals outraged by the consistent misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics.  We came together at a meeting at Karachi Press Club, convened by Professional Organisations Mazdoor Federations & Hari Joint Committee (POJAC).

CFD calls upon all professional groups, NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and individuals to join hands for its one-point agenda, to work against the misuse and abuse of the ‘blasphemy laws’ and religion in politics. CFD chapters have subsequently been formed in Lahore and Islamabad. Please see CFD stand and endorsing organisations at this blog. Email: cfd.pak@gmail.com Twitter: @cfdpk.

Desi Flavors: Maintained by Rafia Shujaat, Desi Flavors is a wonderful blog that provides quite a few traditional, some fusion, and some very innovative recipes. I could not recommend this wonderful resource enough.

[We have removed “Hope for Pakistan” as it was mirroring the Pakistani Spectator]

Journeys to Democracy: Maintained by Beena Sarwar, a renowned Pakistani journalist, this blog needs no introduction. If you ever need to find some incisive, thought-provoking analysis of Pakistani current affairs, this is the place to go.

Middle Ground: Defines itself in the following words:

Middle Ground is my place on web where I put together my thoughts. Middle Ground falls in the middle of extremism and liberalism. It shows the picture of tolerance, which is much needed in our country these days, than before.

It is a place on web where I write what ever interests me. Subjects may vary but they will always be something related to my country, Pakistan. I am trying to play my part by contributing in some way to the progressive Pakistan.

Mustafa Qadri: Maintained by Mustafa Qadri, one of our contributing authors and an active journalist and humanitarian, this is the kind of journalistic writing all the bloggers should aspire to and emulate.

Pak Tea House: This is one of the most established blogs of Pakistan and a place to visit for astute political and cultural commentary.

Secular Pakistan: This courageous blog declares its mission thusly:

We are here to advocate the dream of a state where a citizen is recognized because of his/her existence as a human being rather than cast, creed, sect or religion. Contributions, feedback and death threats are all welcome.

The Pakistani Spectator: The spectator is not just a blog; it is rather a newspaper-like multiauthor blog filled with interested commentaries and stories about all things Pakistan.

United for Justice: This is another good blog that aims to fight all kinds of discrimination in Pakistan.

Well, this completes my first round-up of good Pakistani blogs. I am certain that I have missed some very good and important blogs and would love to include them in the next such round-up. feel free to use the comment section below to suggest any blogs that you deem should be included in our next roundup and also in our Pakblogs section.

 

Categories
Commentaries Politics Religion

Pakistani Blasphemy Laws: Resources

The coat of arms of Pakistan displays the nati...
Image via Wikipedia

(From Citizens for Democracy)

Religion or Politics?: Tracing the history and origin of 295-B and C, the most misused sections in the chapter on Offences Related to Religion – by Farieha Aziz, Newsline, Feb 27, 2011

No punishment for blasphemy in Quran – detailed study by the eminent scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, downloadable pdf file

Blind Faith: A short documentary film about the blasphemy law in Pakistan by Sara N. Haq

How Should We Deal With Blasphemy? By Dr Khalid Zaheer (from his blog)

Release Aasiya Bibi, Repeal Blasphemy Laws, Abolish Shariat Court | Baaghi

The non-reform of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws tells a wider story about Zardari’s failure to foster true democracy – By Ali Dayan Hasan in OpenDemocracy, Dec 30, 2010

Overcoming ‘blasphemy law’ hype – Beena Sarwar « Journeys to democracy, Dec 30, 2010

The blasphemy law by I.A. Rehman, Dawn Nov 25, 2010

Categories
Commentaries Editorials

Hate Speech, Mullahs and the Pakistani Public

While we all have responded in different ways to the recent murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, we also need to push for the regulation, definition, and prosecution of hate-speech so freely aired by the mullahs.

In a recent set of Friday sermons recorded by activists associated with Mashal Books, one aspect of this hate-speech becomes very clear: almost all the mullahs from different sects of Islam are more concerned with demonizing and castigating their sectarian others, instead of focusing on the socio-political issues that affect lives of common Pakistanis.

(Those interested in listening to a sample of these sermons can find them on our blog: http://thepakistanforum.net).

The impact of this unbridled hate-speech is further accentuated by the free expression of such hate through the regular Pakistani media channels. Thus, in case of Pakistan, while the secular public sphere has seriously diminished, the avenues for hate-mongers have increased both in terms of physical spaces and digital and news media.

We saw that in the wake of Salman Taseer’s murder, not many so-called Ulama were willing to speak up against this act of murder and the same happens to be the case with the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti.

The media, in fact, were overeager to show the accolades being offered to the murderer by the people. Some critics have also suggested that Salman Taseer’s murder was probably caused by the false image of Taseer created by the media.

There is, therefore, a need for Pakistani government to legislate against hate-speech and then implement the law against those who still incite hate about other groups, especially minorities.

There is a difference between expressing one’s opinion and making one’s opinion so absolute that only the annihilation of our opponents seems to be the correct option.

We need to force our government to take note of the actions and words of these hate-mongers, for only then we would be able to transform our public sphere into a place for civilized conversations instead of what we have now: a one way street of death.

(Published by Pakistani Bloggers)