Unity, not uniformity

Published: November 6, 2014

A Christian couple, Shama and Shehzad, was beaten to death and thrown into a brick kiln furnace on the grounds of blasphemy. PHOTO: EXPRESS TRIBUNE

The brick kiln where the mob burned the Christian couple to ashes. PHOTO: EXPRESS TRIBUNE A Christian couple, Shama and Shehzad, was beaten to death and thrown into a brick kiln furnace on the grounds of blasphemy. PHOTO: EXPRESS TRIBUNE

We tend to accept unity as one of the fundamental guiding principles of Pakistan, without questioning what it means. The oft repeated, and clichéd, political slogan is that we need to unify the country. We all need to come together for Pakistan, but come together to what? Unify to become what?

The acceptance of the need for unity as a given truth, without questioning the very meaning of the word itself has led to a perverted understanding of the word. Unity seems to be understood to mean uniformity; a society where dissent is not accepted, any person holding an opinion contrary to the popular one is labelled as being anti-state.

The abuse of the word to further didactic political ideologies has led to violence in Pakistan against people not seen as part of the unified whole; the minorities, the people on the fringes of society. The Hindus and Sikhs in 1947, the Bengalis in 1971, the religious minorities since then have all suffered mob violence.

A Christian couple was burned to death on Tuesday but the news hardly surprised anyone. According to The Express Tribune report, Shama, known as Saima in the village, was caught burning garbage which had papers with verses of the Holy Quran on them. The rumour spread like wild fire and reached the local imam of the mosque who incited to take action against the couple on the grounds of blasphemy. The couple was clubbed to death and their bodies were thrown in the kiln’s furnace to burn to ashes. Shama was four months pregnant at the time of her murder. Last night, a policeman used an axe to kill a 50-year-old man from the Shia sect in custody for allegedly committing blasphemy.

People being burnt by angry mobs in Pakistan are no more a travesty; they have become a mere statistic, a growing list of people let down by our country. Somewhere along the line, we were made to be afraid to be other. Intrinsic to our preaching of unity was the idea that to be different was to be made. Quaid-e-Azam’s novel idea became a political tool to an Orwellian degree.

It is highly problematic to define what it means to be Pakistani in exclusionary terms. There is uproar on both sides to be either or, to be either secular or religious, to be liberal or fundamentalist, to be green or white.

Despite pre-modernism causing a collapse of binaries, and grand narratives, over a century ago, why do we strive for the need to define ourselves as a unified whole. The question is not how we can all become one but rather how we can stay who we are, and continue to live together without our Pakistani-ness being questioned for our opinions, or beliefs.

Our nation is one, but our people do not need to be one. The idea that every person living in Pakistan should be cloned from a political demagogue’s idea of an ideal Pakistani is not unity, but rather uniformity.

Pakistan is a country of a diverse group of people, we speak hundreds of languages, sing millions of songs. As our clothes differ from the peaks of K2 to the port of Gwadar, so do our opinions and beliefs. Just because a belief, or opinion, exists as a minority does not mean that opinion, or belief, does not belong in Pakistan. A part of true unity is not only accepting but celebrating our differences. The cornerstone of a civilised nation is the ability to encourage public discourse, but respecting disagreements.

Let us not take the green and white divide on our flag so literally, the white is as much green as any of the green. If we lack the institutional capacity to prevent instances of mob violence in the country, let us not lack the moral capacity to universally condemn them too.

If a community is to be understood akin to the human body, where one part feels the pain of another part, then every single part of the body is as much a part of it as any other. The toenail and the pinkie finger look completely different, serve completely different purposes and if they were to have opinions, they would probably disagree, but they form the part of the same body. And somehow, they have figured to live together on the same foot. All the fingers act in unity, but they are not uniform.

When we start encouraging public discourse on truths that we take for granted in our society, we will start asking questions of our behaviour. I do not know what Quaid-e-Azam specifically meant when he asked for unity, but I do know what he did not mean. He did not mean a society where we encourage everyone to be the same. The true mark of unity is to find a reason to be together, when nothing about two is the same. If we are to live in a Pakistan with unity, we must drop the ideas of uniformity and celebrate our diversity, rather than challenging it.


Shehzad Ghias

A graduate from the LUMS Law School and is running his own theatre production company, Cogito Productions.He works as a theatre teacher at various schools. He tweets @Shehzad89 (twitter.com/Shehzad89)

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

  • نائلہ

    Accusations of blasphemy are sky rocketing in Pakistan, from one in 2011 to ~68 last year! – according to the HRCP. Those who are quite right now may well be the ones who are accused tomorrow- take a stand sane people, before even that right is taken from you- behind the mask of religion.

    What annoys me the most is people trying to protect God’s book. Yes, we give it utmost respect. But if someone doesn’t, is the Almighty not enough to handle them? Is our God (nauzubillah) so weak, that we have to defend His word by going against the same teachings that were mentioned in the book she apparently burned? What importance does that book hold in a Muslim’s eyes if they are willing to KILL someone over it?

    @author: You are a great writer!Recommend

  • Prashant

    Humans are the same everywhere, full of prejudice, greed and vanity.

    It is the job of the state to keep its institutions free and independent of these attributes, when the state through its institutions decides to sanction persecution of those in lesser numbers, you get to see intolerance to the extent that some in the media abuse the minorities on prime time TV.

    It is not going to be easy for Pakistan to come out of this quagmire as Pakistan was created as an antithesis of India( read Hindu) and Hindus have been continuously vilified by the state and its institutions to justify the creation and existence of Pakistan in the absence of not being able to find an identity of its own.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Can’t live together in one country,and wish for Ummah?!!!!Recommend

  • Roon

    Pakistan was created as a homeland for Muslims, not as an antithesis of India (at first for all, but now as those in North West South Asia + Muhajirs.)

    Unfortunately, you are indeed right that “Hindus have been continuously vilified by the state and its institutions to justify the creation and existence of Pakistan” under the Military and Mullah junta but I would appreciate it if you didn’t besmirch the original vision of our founders who fought for a Pakistan at peace with the region and with its minorities.

    ” In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled
    by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims –Hindus,
    Christians, and Parsis –but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy
    the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their
    rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
    M.A Jinnah
    (In case you were getting annoyed with us parroting his 11th August speech)Recommend

  • Critical

    What puzzles me is not the action of these extremists but the silence of the ‘moderates’…

    The moderates have plenty of time to protest against cartoon,youtube movie,Gaza war or Rohingya muslims but they show a collective silence when it comes to blasphemy…

    You can write blogs in English papers(which hardly 10% read) or write columns about how this is not ‘true islam’ and bring out verses from Quran or from your Prophet’s life but unless “moderate” muslims come out in numbers… Noone else will believe you..

    Just my 2 paisasRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I feel very frustrated when a living breathing human being is killed at the signal of bigoted mullahs and the excuse of “blasphemy” rears its ugly head. Of course I hate it when people face persecution. But when these lunatics kill someone I feel more than sad, I feel nauseous. For a person is no longer alive, no matter what we write, no matter how much I campaign, no matter what we sacrifice, it will never do them any good for I cannot bring them back. Perhaps I will meet them in the hereafter and seek forgiveness from them for what my countrymen did to them.
    P.S Please don’t get me wrong, I belong to a community which has suffered persecution for 45 years. I am not saying that persecution is ok.Recommend

  • LS

    How convenient… Garbage burning with verses of Koran – so there isn’t any proof since the garbage has burned. Couple is burned with 4 month pregnant wife… 3 people dead and there isn’t anything to show for…Recommend

  • Vaporized vows

    The spectrum of insanity goes beyond imagination when one tries to comprehend the act of a group of so called “protectors of religion ” taking justice to yet an other level of individualism as if it is their essential right to level scores without even listening to the other side of the story also known as the aide of the accused !
    Who says that Islam would want a pregnant woman burnt alive without even given a chance to fully comprehend what’s in it for her.
    Pity them , but not as much as I pity those who killed them without even giving a chance to stand out.

  • Roon

    Many Christians in Pakistan are garbage collectors ,sweepers,etc. The trash they collect which they sometimes burn inevitably includes newspapers as well as other texts which may contain verses from the Qur’an making it extremely easy to implicate them in the desecration of the Qur’an.

    Hope this madness ends.Recommend

  • LS

    That 11th August speech was an aberration in history of Pakistan. The intent was limited to Jinnah and none of the Pakistani’s leadership after him shared that vision including Bhutto’s or Ayub Khan or Zia-Ul-Haq or Musharraf or anyone today.

    That speech is the only straw that liberals hold onto because there is nothing else to quote on or cite.

    As far as creation of Pakistan is concerned there were multiple forces, I won’t take names but below were 3 major factors:

    – An ambition of few leaders to be the nations first premier
    – Ambition of hundreds of business men from UP and Bihar who know that they would not stand a chance in India and were willing to fund TNT as long as their interests were kept in mind
    – TNT that had little support in 1930 when it was first discussed but when it was associated with “Islam in danger” in 1937 to 1940 it took off.

    “Islam in danger” and TNT were the tools used to get to the means described in first 2 points…Recommend

  • siesmann

    Silence is tacit approval.Muslims are intolerant people-this proves it.Recommend

  • Syeda Ali

    Its disgusting to see where we stand as a society. Killing a pregnant woman can’t be easy for a normal human being. However, it seems so easy for us! May the 3 victims rest in peace & those who are left behind, bear this with patience. Feel sorry for their family too :-(Recommend