Ancholi blasts: When will we remember that the white in Pakistan’s flag represents minorities?

Published: November 25, 2013
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The Shia community have been the target of persecution and even outright genocide. PHOTO: AFP

The Shia community have been the target of persecution and even outright genocide. PHOTO: AFP Two back-to-back blasts rocked Ancholi, Federal B Area on November 22, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS Two back-to-back blasts rocked Ancholi, Federal B Area on November 22, 2013. PHOTO: AFP

Another bomb blast; another attack on the Shia community.

The blast in Ancholi, Federal B Area was so loud that my windows shook and the children woke up even though I live miles away. I shudder to think what must have happened to those near its epicentre. I have walked in those streets, bought things from the stores now destroyed, spoken to the residents in years past and played cricket with one of the dead victims.

Now it has been reduced to rubble and dust, and become another statistic in the growing litany of acts of violence against a besieged minority.

The true measure of a nation in many ways is how it treats its minorities and those it is meant to protect. It is fair to say that Pakistan has completely failed in this respect. The Shia community have been the target of persecution and even outright genocide. According to reports, some 5, 000 people have been killed in sectarian violence in the last two decades with the majority of them being Shias.

More than 700 Shia Hazaras have been killed since 2001.

In 2012 alone, more than a hundred members of the Hazara community, out of a total of over 400 Shias, were targeted in various acts of sectarian violence. Many of these were dragged off buses en masse and killed while on pilgrimages to Shia holy sites in Iran.

Pakistan has never been the bastion of communal rights that its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had wished it to be. He unequivocally expressed this desire in his speech before the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947. Jinnah himself was a Khoja Shia who married a Parsi lady from one of Bombay’s most modern families and whose sister led a very public life.

His speech and the utter disregard shown to it by Pakistan’s politicians after Jinnah’s death are well documented. What baffles most people is how it came to this? How could a country betray the vision laid out by its creator so quickly? The dream of communal harmony and benevolent secularism received the first blow on March 12, 1949 in the Objectives Resolution – a mere six months after the death of Jinnah and less than two years since the speech of August 11. The resolution was then incorporated into the constitution of the country and changed the nature of the country to an Islamist state in which the head of State could only be a Muslim, setting the nation on a slippery slope which becomes steeper every year.

The rest of course, was done by the 1977 coup, funding of jihadi groups, use of hardliners as ‘strategic assets’, and capitulation of the state.

There is no doubt that Islam was founded in a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse society and from the very beginning men and women of other faiths played a role in Islamic history. Neither the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), nor his followers practiced the form of persecution carried out by bigots in his name today.

Later examples of peaceful treaties and co-existence with minorities in the area around Madina and Makkah, only confirm the belief that genocide and forced conversions were never promoted in the Islamic faith. The Quran makes it clear that there is no compulsion in religion and Muslims must co-exist with followers of other religions.

In fact, throughout most of history, Islamic kingdoms have had a better record of minority rights than their counterparts in Europe and other places. When the Jews were being persecuted in Europe and being labelled as the killers of Christ, it was the Muslim Kingdom of Granada in Spain that gave them refuge. After Salahuddin Ayyubi, better known as Saladin, conquered Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed the Jews who had been forced out by the Crusaders to re-settle in the city.

William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice revealed the bigotry of the European society. In it, Shylock, a Jewish money lender is despised by the profligate Venetians that borrow heavily from him. He makes an impassioned speech in the first scene of the third act, in which he questions the persecution of his fellow Jews:

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”

Ironically, this poignant plea still rings true and its words can be uttered by the mistreated minorities of Pakistan.

As I stood on the spot of the bomb blast watching the congealed blood and flesh mixed with grey rubble, I recalled another night last year when I stood on the same street in solidarity with the Shia victims of the Quetta blasts. As the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood assailed my senses, I thought back to all the killings and bomb blasts the Shia community has been hit with.

In all of them I see widespread hate and unabated genocide. I see the massive failure of the State to protect its citizens and feel the pain of other disenfranchised minority societies – pain that Abel Meeropol attempted to describe in his poem, Strange Fruit which explained the lynching of slaves in Southern American states and delineated the horror of bigotry and ignorance:

Southern trees bear strange fruit

Blood on the leaves

Blood at the root

Pastoral scene of the gallant south

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck

For the rain to gather

For the wind to suck

For the sun to rot

For the tree to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop

When will the pain end?

When will people remember that the white in Pakistan’s flag is a representation of the minorities?

Is this 1933 all over again?

Unfortunately, the dream of communal harmony lies dead at the hands of killers who roam free.

Let us mourn.

Sibtain Naqvi

Sibtain Naqvi

A writer and social commentator who has written extensively for various Pakistani English dailies. An art critic accredited by the AICA and the Royal College of Art, London, he dabbles in music and sports writing and tweets @Sibtain_N (twitter.com/Sibtain_N)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.