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Pakistan: The insecure majority: The state against its own citizens

The English press of Pakistan which today often sells itself as a liberal element celebrated when Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974. Our leading papers opined that the Ahmadi “problem” had been solved and that democracy had prevailed.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Int’l Desk
Source/Credit: Pakistan Today
By Waqqas Mir | 6 May 2012

Scholars tell us that part of the reason that constitutions exist is to afford protection against abuses that a majority is prone to; in other words constitutions exist to save us from ourselves.

The way we persecute minorities is a stark reminder of the lack of our collective imagination. What else can explain it? We are up in arms each time we hear of a Muslim being strip searched or discriminated against in some country that is oceans away and yet the religious minorities in our country are told: don’t you dare do anything that we deem improper. That is some high-minded bigotry.

The latest tragedy in the systematic persecution against Ahmadis has arisen in Lahore. Their “place of worship” was too similar to a mosque and hence complaints were lodged. Police acted to remove Quranic verses from the walls and has now, reportedly, put up billboards to make the mosque look less like a mosque and more like God knows what. I do not think God intended his places of worship to have particular designs or for them to be called certain names. But thanks to the late Mr Zia-ul-Haq, that is how we roll in Pakistan.

The hatred and discrimination against Ahmadis has been pervasive in the state of Pakistan since 1947. The fact that intellectual giants like Mr Zafarullah Khan achieved any position of prominence was and remains the exception rather than the rule. Of course it is unjust for a state to decide who is or is not a Muslim. But Mr Bhutto gave in to political pressure and put his weight behind the 2nd Amendment that labelled Ahmadis as non-Muslims. However, even that action did not allow use of state power against Ahmadis so it is not the real reason why we are in this mess.

The reason Ahmadis have no real constitutional right to freedom of religion today was Mr Zia’ul-Haq’s doing. He criminalised, among other things, practice and propagation of Ahmadi beliefs, including the use of the word mosque to refer to their “place of worship”. The English press of Pakistan which today often sells itself as a liberal element celebrated when Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974. Our leading papers opined that the Ahmadi “problem” had been solved and that democracy had prevailed. In one way, that view was still defensible. The Pakistani constitution was never meant to be a “constitution of feelings” — I borrow this term from Professor Noah Feldman. Unlike the US Constitution which prohibits establishment of religion and concomitantly the feeling of being excluded if one religion is endorsed, an Islamic state necessarily causes people to feel excluded. However that feeling of exclusion, as important as it is, did not and does not have to mean that state power is used to harass and punish people for their beliefs. That is the real rotten thing here

I do not agree with a state deciding who does or does not belong to a particular religion but absent any discrimination I can still see the point of those who want to engage in such an exercise. However there is no defence to a state persecuting those that the majority deems to be “hijacking” its own religion — that is how Pakistan treats Ahmadis.

Consider the absurdity of the Lahore situation. Policemen reportedly had to remove Quranic verses from the walls of the Ahmadi mosque. Can you imagine what would happen if a Christian or an Ahmadi ever dared to remove Quranic verses from anywhere? Even from the walls of a church or a temple? Bingo, Blasphemy laws and the punishment of death would come into play. Yet because here the intent was to “protect” Islam, then removing verses is not a crime. I am not suggesting that the poor policemen committed a crime. I am pointing to the absurd application of the laws of the land. Just think about the glaring contradictions in ways in which we treat actions.

Let there be no doubt about this. Freedom of religion, if you are a non-Muslim, is a joke in Pakistan. It only exists to the extent that you do not offend the sensibilities of any orthodox Muslim — if you do, then he can file a criminal complaint against you. What moral authority do people have to protest against discrimination against Muslims in other countries when Ahmadis are persecuted in Pakistan? The logic is the same; the majority feels unsafe. At least in other countries, the state’s police power does not legitimise systematic targeting of beliefs.

The real danger here — and one that is now hurting the Shias in Pakistan as well — is this: society has little tolerance for beliefs it deems offensive. And many of its members are willing to use not just state’s police power but also arms to attack the minorities. This has resulted in targeting of Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Shias. Where do you draw the line? This is morally bankrupt and let no one tell you otherwise. What is so Islamic about an Islamic state that discriminates so blatantly on the basis of religion? That anyone branded or born a non-Muslim is not just a lesser citizen but also has to suffer a lifetime of insecurity? I know Pakistanis love demonising Israel but Israel does not, and I repeat does not, discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to rights of citizenship. Yes it is a Jewish state but Muslims and Christians are equal citizens of the Israeli state. Don’t rebut this by pointing to some other instance of Israeli policies, deal with the argument — a state’s treatment of its own citizens. Yes, I just defended Ahmadis’ rights and lauded Israel. That will make me very popular in Pakistan.

Any one of us in Pakistan could have been born into an Ahmadi, Christian or Hindu household. The fact that we, the constitutionally recognized Muslim majority feel safe today, is merely an accident of birth. But think of those who value a faith just as much as you value yours and they have to suffer for it. I do not expect anti-Ahmadi laws to vanish soon and even if they vanish I am not naïve enough to believe that discrimination would end. But the least we can do is have empathy, challenge use of state’s power to persecute minorities and take the fight from there. Anyone with a modicum of decency should be outraged by the recent events in Lahore. Anyone who cares about discrimination on the basis of faith has to be, simply has to be, outraged by this. And I cannot say that enough times.

Waqqas Mir is a Barrister and an Advocate of the High Courts. He is currently pursuing his LL.M in the US and can be reached at wmir.rma@gmail.com or on Twitter @wordoflaw

Read original post here: The state against its own citizens

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