Do you think I look like a terrorist?

Published: October 28, 2010

Do our police forces really protect us?

It was a scorching Saturday afternoon and I was supposed to be at cricket practice for my office team. As I waited in the heat for a colleague to pick me up I looked around for some shade.

Incidentally, there was a tree nearby where a ranger’s van was parked. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone –get some shade and protection from mobile snatchers.

I moved under the tree and stood beside the van, chewing gum. Ten minutes later, my colleague was late and I was still waiting.

Suddenly, a ranger came up to me and said:

Maulvi sahib, aap thora agay jaa kay kharay ho jaeyn saaey mein.”


“Hey minister, Please go and stand a little farther in the shade.”

I looked in the direction in which he was pointing and couldn’t see anything there except an electricity pole which wouldn’t provide any shade, as there was no obstruction to the sun’s rays at all. (I also realized that my physics isn’t as bad as I thought).

I turned around and asked the official if it was forbidden to stand where I was. He looked a bit confused and replied, “umm…no, it is allowed but…”

I considered that to be a good enough answer and told him I wasn’t going anywhere until my colleague arrives and stood my ground. The boy backed away but made me wonder why he was so worried about a civilian standing next to his van.

I looked at myself to find the answer; I put myself in his shoes and tried to visualize who he was talking to.

He was talking to a man with a long beard, standing with a bag on his shoulder, which he was constantly opening and peeking into to find his cell phone to check the time. Perhaps he thought I was a suicide bomber waiting for my jacket to blow up. I was only wearing a T-shirt that day. Maybe he thought the bomb was inside my bag or that they had invented a suicide T-shirt now. Was it chewing gum that gave them the wrong signal? Or was it the time I kneeled down to tie my laces? It could have been anything.

I’ll tell you what it actually was: a pure case of confusion regarding who is protecting who. The whole nation is victim to it. Pakistani nationals are made to feel like aliens in their own country. Security is provided by the government for God knows who, because whenever an incident is planned to take place, it actually does; be it a target killing, mobile/car snatching, robbery or a suicide bomb blast.

In a country where the law enforcement personnel need security themselves, the situation cannot be good. Something when the best solution for ensuring safety is bullet-proof vehicles for members of parliament. Running a government is no child’s play. A government is responsible for the life and prosperity of each and every individual who exists on the land it claims to govern.

The common man isn’t interested in how Obama plans to negotiate with Osama. Neither does he care about what Mr Kerry and Mr Lugar have donated in charity to our royal beggar brigade. An ordinary citizen of this country needs a calm, stable life with assurance from his or her government that it will take care of citizens’ lives, rather than the other way round. The next time you step out of your homes, make sure you carry your CNIC with you; you might have to prove your identity for the sake of your ‘own’ security.


Hammad Mateen

The author is a mechanical engineer, education management professional and freelance writer working in the social sector, he tweets as @hammadmateen (

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

  • Ali Farooqui


  • Usama Zafar

    Well this is something which happens to all of us each and every day of our lives. We are living in a state which is at war. It’s nothing new!!Recommend

  • Jafakush

    It is only common in India Pakistan. Desi people usually stare in horror the bearded person, others Chinese, Malays don’t.

    Corporate media has brainwashed us well, probably public relations father being nephew of Mr. Freud might something to do with its effectiveness.

    Be steadfast, they will change.Recommend

  • Arachnid

    Yes. (Sorry)Recommend

  • IZ

    An interesting article that hits on a sad truth. Given all that has happened, I don’t blame the ranger for being nervous, but he is being nervous about the wrong demographic. Most suicide bombers are below the age of 18 and so do not have long beards. In fact many make it a point to be clean shaven to avoid suspicion. Sad.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    They would never learn, would they. The people with suicidal intentions have more or less been found with clean shaves. Secondly, they wear jackets and there are still parts of the country too warm to wear a jacket. Thirdly, they stand next to a Ranger car and go KA-boom! Rather than just wait and watch to get caught.

    If the policeman or ranger has suspicions over your bag, they could have politely asked and checked and you being a good citizen would have to comply (and keep the complains inside as they are doing it for your own good.

    The incident was handled so wrong so much that it does make you think that if they know how to protect. Being police does not mean to boss.Recommend

  • Shahbaz

    100% agreed

  • Humanity

    It seems that human brain is quick to lump every one that fits a visual or a behavioral pattern into one category. It helps justify the logic that if one person behaves a certain way all others in the group will follow suit. Most of us fall victim to the demeaning acts of stereotyping and bigotry sometimes in subtle ways and at other times through shamelessly blatant acts of terror.

    It is very disheartening to realize that the image and symbols of the religion of peace have been tarnished so badly by the Muslims themselves. The western propaganda machine uses the fodder created by supporters of extremism to reinforce the negative image.

    Thanks for writing this piece. It is an eye opener for me and I am sure for other readers as well. It takes a conscious effort to recognize bigotry and to educate ourselves to be more thoughtful and considerate. Discrimination and bigotry are divisive, painful, and demeaning. It is easy to see the hurt once one steps into the victim’s shoes. We must acknowledge the problem and then try to better ourselves. It is a constant struggle. Thanks again. Regards.Recommend

  • Nasirahmad

    hammad mateen. i don’t know where you from in pak. but what happened to you is now happening to everyone. first when we were stand near to a police, we feel safe, but now due to wrong policies of our government we are afraid of going to police or any millitary man. thank you for giving your story on web. Recommend

  • Farooq Ahmed

    Awesome man u did the job which actually i want to did but u did a briliant job we miserable pakistanis are often face such challenges where we have to prove our identity in our own country despite of the fact that 80 out of 100 is spend on these securities personells but they are so scarred if you come acros to them they stopped u cantt side are become like srinagar i think they may proviso in near future then we have to get a visa for entrance in cantt areas so friend what we can we can pray for the betterment of the situation in the country. Recommend

  • AA

    It also reflects that the security forces like the civilians are so traumatized with all the terror incidents that they can’t take any risk and can’t even apply simple logic in assessing threats.Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    I wonder how come someone be judged on face value? Plus, I hate it when people with beard get labels like Maulana.Recommend

  • xeeshan

    Did the ranger “boy (as you call him)” at any point force you to move? You are assuming he did what he did because of your looks but maybe he had another reason. It might even have been for your protection for all you know. The rest of the article doesn’t even make sense. Exactly what are you trying to say here? Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    I m sorry……..But may be just because of the beard…….I have seen police stopping on every point beard wala drivers……..:-(………..It must be a fear or myth in their mind that every bearded person is a Mullah or terrorist……..An uncle of mine wasnt getting employed because of the beard bcz he was told he was a Mullah…….so all is there in the mind………..Recommend

  • parvez

    No you don’t look like a terrorist. You look like a normal person with an unkempt beard.
    It’s not your fault that Osama or other AK types also kept such beards and as such the perception came about. If it bothers you as it seems so why don’t you try the Shaid Afreedi style and look dashing.
    An interesting write up and handled quite well.Recommend

  • Tanzeel

    Have you ever tried to figure out why is it happening, why the bearded men being seen as suspicious? The fault lies within Mullah brigade of Pakistan, they have been indulging in terrorism and calling for Jihad every now and then. Be it Raiwind, Yaumul Quds paraders or Anti Musharraf Ulemas. Ranger was justifiably reluctant to stand with you, Although you are not into terrorism yet you have to bear the brunt of what your community has done with this nation.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    hey Man, I dont want to be impolite and stuff
    but if a bearded guy came upto me, Id be pretty scared and uncomfortable
    not only because he could be a potential ‘bomber’ especially if he is wearing a jacket or has a bag
    but also because, religious adult men, can not shut up about their whole whole preaching business
    The fear of attempted preaching is enough to send me fleeing town, LOLRecommend

  • Daubic

    You people should be felt let down only when these kind of things don’t happen. But you would continue to condemn the Human Rights Violation in J&K and you want them to live peacefully like you and enjoy the same privileges as you do. Indian Muslims in Kashmir should also feel the same way as the author of this blog feels. Anything that happens in Pakistan is a success to human rights and killing of people in Mosque, Shrine, Markets, Public places are success of human rights whereas unintentional death due to the dissolving of mobs in J&K is a HR violation.

    People should remember that India provides better respect towards its citizens be it Kashmir-is or Muslims or Hindus or of any origin or of any any religion. Recommend

  • Waleed Khan

    You do ,totally.

    Just Google or youtubeRecommend

  • Ahsan

    Very nicely written. Of course, I do not agree with the author’s views but he has a good style nonetheless. Here is what I differ about:

    “I’ll tell you what it actually was: a pure case of confusion regarding who is protecting who. The whole nation is victim to it. Pakistani nationals are made to feel like aliens in their own country.”

    There is absolutely no confusion in the minds of the ‘Common Pakistani’. But the ‘Common Pakistani’ isn’t the one the author thinks is.

    There are 3 categories of people in Pakistan: Common Man, Bearded/Veiled People and the Elite. No one understands this better than the Common man of Pakistan that he has to safeguard himself against becoming the fodder in the tug of war between the two. So, when he gets stuck in a confrontational situation between the B/V people & the Elite, he has absolutely no confusion about what to do: run as fast and as far away as possible and away from the scene of potential disaster ;)Recommend

  • Omer

    Totally agree. I have to carry my NIC with me everyday and I have to prove my identity when I have to go out of cantonment and coming back homeRecommend

  • Humanity

    @Shahbaz: “100% agreed”

    100% agreed with what? People can’t read your mind, Shahbaz!Recommend

  • Ahmed

    There could also be another reasons that he tried to send you away from his van.
    If he had taken you as a danger then he would not have told you to get away.He would have searched you.He would have surely known that if you even blew yourself near the pole,they would not be safe in that condition too.

    Perhaps it was something to do with their duties like keeping people away from their places so that common people would not be harmed if rangers get attacked.Recommend

  • Adnan Yusuf

    @SadafFayyaz: I personally know a number of my friends with religious outfits and appearances being treated as outcasts in Pakistan. The most outstandingly ironic thing is, many of my muslim colleagues work full-time in UK and North America. Most of us, including me, have religious outlooks and beards, but we have never experienced any prejudice at our workplaces. I do accept the fact that there are exceptions here in UK as well where someone might throw a comment at you, but overall, their masses tend to keep an equal society. I wonder where they adopted all those traits from where once my manager even got a bit angry because I missed my Zuhr jamaat due to a meeting and later arranged for a prayer mat as well.Recommend

  • Adnan Yusuf

    @Deen Sheikh: So you in fact are saying that a person with a beard would clearly be a bomber or a preacher and that’s it. That’s vile. Remember, your prophet had a beard as well, so did all his companions.
    And let me translate the term “religious” in your statement. That means “Deen-dar”. Check your first name dude. Will just use your words “hey Man, I dont want to be impolite and stuff” :)Recommend

  • Deen sheikh

    @ Adnan Yusuf
    What difference does it make what my name is
    You don’t need to tell mr what my name is and what it stands for
    As far as my discomfort about visibly religious people is concerned
    Such individuals can not resist the temptation to start preeching to those that are not as religious as them, I mean such people should leave us as we are, but no they want us to be as religious as them
    If I had a penny for everytime I’ve been preached I’d be richRecommend

  • Natasha Suleman

    Hammad ,

    You have just been exposed to the ‘every bearded man is a terrorist’ mentality. Thank the ‘educated’ posting comments here and saying yes to your question more than the ‘protectors’ who are there to guard Karachi from the ‘non-bearded’ terrorists of the secular MQM ANP and PPP.

    You just got more ‘enlightened’ by the ‘darkness’.

    Also, the religion illiterate citizens of the so-called ‘fort of Islam’ need to understand that every bearded man is not a ‘maulvi’.

    Jahil qaum.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    @ Deen Sheikh

    So what is wrong if they start preaching you ? You can simply tell them to stop and let you find your way on your own.There is nothing to criticize someone who tries to tell you something good.If you simply don’t want to hear all that then do let them know.In the same way,they should not mind that.There is nothing like forcing.

    And yeah ! I should also start feeling uncomfortable around all clean shaved people.They could be atheists.If not,then they could be those who will just pull me away from my religion by giving highly educated yet immature advices.If not then they could make me materialistic.
    I am really afraid of all these people.Should I ? I must not.

    No Sir ! We must not judge people by their appearances.Recommend

  • Asad Beg

    I truly feel sorry for you. Not because the ranger didn’t let you stay in the shade but because you were a victim of ‘stereotyping’. Apparently we have created these stereotypes and the one who has a beard, who wear Shalwar Qamiz and offer Salah five times a day is most feared of being a terrorist or an extremist whereas its mostly other way around. Personally I don’t think attire makes any difference, you are what you are!

    But look at the other side of the picture as well. You were probably on your way back which means you would have been in home after a few hours max, but that ranger, he wouldn’t budge. It is his duty to stand in the line of fire come what may. Statistically speaking our security forces have attained the most damage in the terrorists attack. Mostly, its the police guards and the rangers standing on the roads who appear as soft targets for heartless terrorists. And yet the security officials, knowing the risks are ever present if not vigilant.

    We are fighting this war against terror which was imposed on us and we have no option now but to fight back. So lets fight at our best and rise up as victors against terror. Instead of being rivals and enemies lets stand as band of brothers to attain a common goal, peace for all.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    blah blah blah blah blah blah
    on what basis are you pointing out that what the other person is communicating is appropriate or inappropriate, to you what might seem like the preacher communicating the right thing, to the listener, it might be an appropriate thing
    and as far as politely telling off the self proclaimed conveyer of God’s message to the masses, such people do not listen
    they do not listen to your polite request, when you ask them to kindly let them be and not to try to pull or push them towards the same religious sentiments as experienced by them.
    Religion is a personal affair, no one has the right to say anything to any one, seriously, how would all those religious people out there feel, if I started acting like them, and started overly pro actively preaching my way of life. Infact even for not listening to their mumbo jumbo, they would label me a Kafir/Infidel/Athiest/Traitor/Colonised Mind etc
    If I had a penny for everytime I have heard such insults from refusing to listen to such people id be filthy rich, I know my manners, etiquets and common courtesy, politeness does not work with these people, they are under some sort of brainwashed belief, that is their God given obligation to bring everyone to their path, and if they do not they will be answerable to God.
    My message goes out to all people religious or non practising, Live and Let Live, Do not be judgemental towards the other person, if some one is not religious let him or her be, if some one is religious, as long as their not violating social ettiquets also let them be.Recommend

  • Adnan Yusuf

    @Ahmed: I definitely accept your view over this issue. Personally, if you see the overall comments over this post, you will find most people to have respect towards people following sunnah. You do find a handful of idiots with attitudes similar to these “but if a bearded guy came upto me, Id be pretty scared and uncomfortable not only because he could be a potential ‘bomber’ especially if he is wearing a jacket or has a bag“. I’d like to share a personal view over it (Saturdays huh). I used to live with a bunch of British Army cadets when I was doing my PhD at a West Midlands university in UK. All of them were very nice dudes including a muslim cadet as well. The muslim dude was extremely abhorrent of anything Islamic and used to mock me in front of these cadets alot, tagging me with different names. One day he showed a sickening terrorist video from somewhere where someone was killing someone. He said “this is what you muslims are … ** terrorists”. To my surprise, I had two other students there including a British cadet. Both got angry at his remarks and left the room telling him NOT to show such a stuff especially infront of a muslim as it disrespectful and promotes religious hatred. The guy later apologized but I still wonder what is it that really makes us, being muslims, more disrespectful towards our own faith when many others respect it despite so much propaganda going on everywhere. Think about it.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    @ Deen Shiekh

    Dear you are pointing towards those who think of imposing their view.These kind of people are not only found in those doing TABLEEGH but also all around us.They are found in every society.This happens when people make it their ego.My point is that if a faction of people doing TABLEEGH behave in this aggressive manner then we must not tag the whole community like them.If they behave like this then they are indeed not aware of the manners of preaching.Then we must not think them representing Islam and peace.There are many many who PREACH in a very appropriate manner without imposing their view and that is what Islam is about.It has been never about forcing and imposing.If some one of us gets a bad experience with some of them then why do we think them presenting the whole community involved in preaching ? It is the result of TABLEEGH that today we have around 2 billion Muslims around the world.Preaching has to be preaching.Not any imposition.

    Summary is that those who preach, must try to preach in the way the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and His Companions were used to do.They never forced people nor did insult anyone.Those who are not involved in preaching must not label every preacher an aggressive minded person.There must be a sense of tolerance and respect for each other.

    Otherwise we will keep contributing to the flawed perceptions that a bearded man is a terrorist and a clean shaved is a kafir.Let’s establish tolerance and brotherhood.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    @ Adnan Yusuf

    Sir ! The incident you have mentioned is indeed pointing towards providing respect to all opposing people,and this is the way we can establish peace and harmony among people associated with different beliefs.

    The statement of another person that you have cited is indeed harsh.But you have also called him in a harsh way in your post.These harsh statements from both sides will never help.They will only widen the prevailing gaps.Let’s reconcile.Let’ brothers.Let’s be humble :)Recommend

  • mohsin

    its only because of the mediaRecommend

  • Sahar

    I’m sorry to say this, but as offended as you feel you can’t blame the police. It is a fact that suicide bombs are on the rise in every corner of Pakistan. The men who carry them out do have beards. The fact that you were loitering also made you suspicious. The policeman sounds as though he was uncomfortable asking you to move away, so clearly he didn’t want to be impolite but at the same time, can you blame him for not wanting to die? They’re prime targets these days.

    Not only them, but in my college the Jamat-e-Islami log even sent out a bomb threat to anyone planning on attending a mixed college function (which was being hosted by the teachers). First they printed out flyers advising everyone to not go. Then they printed out a flyer warning everyone who went that they would turn the venue into a graveyard. So although I still feel guilty for feeling uncomfortable when I see a man with a long unkempt beard, I remind myself that I have every right to do so. Some of them would like to see me dead after all.

    Although men with neatly trimmed beards don’t scare me. Go figure.Recommend

  • Sahar

    It’s not because of the media. It’s because this is life. Even Zakir Naik tries to rationalize terrorist ideology. These people are affecting our every day lives. When I see a suspicious looking man, I try to see if he’s wearing kajol, because they want to look their best for their hoors.Recommend

  • Adnan Yusuf

    @Sahar: NO Zakir Naik’s comments were taken out of context and the UK Foreign Office used his partial statement (about half of the statement). He clearly explained his statement that since the word “terrorist” is used for killing innocent people, it should NOT be used even to say that a “muslim should be a terrorist for a thief or a rapist”. Its only that UKBA was politically trying to bar him from the UK. His rebuttal is present online and those who are neutral would at least personally investigate about what he actually said before branding anything on him. If one is personally present in Dr Naik’s speeches in UK, he/she would see the actual reason behind all of this by the way people are embracing the truth. On the other side, though still short in numbers in Pakistan, there are people who leave no chance to mock our prophet’s sunnahs (like what our brother just did indirectly) by subtly referring to appearances and outfits. Recommend

  • Nasirahmad

    @Adnan Yusuf:sorry dear it was not good. but we have to do something for ourselves.what would be that. keep silence or something else like to spent our lives according to islamic owings or we start not to keep long beard or not keep our physical appearrence like what islam teachs. Recommend

  • Hammad Siddiqui

    Fear of unknown. Our agencies are not equipped to deal with the issue.. hence they treat every possible person as a terrorist!Recommend