Why do over 17 million Pakistanis hold a ‘favourable’ view of ISIS?
At first glance, it looks like an overenthusiastic Black Friday sale by Q-Mobile and Huawei, but a closer look at the unmistakably grim faces next to the long banners reveal that this group was involved in Pakistan’s favourite pastime – a protest.
Yes, we love a good protest, don’t we?
We gleefully demonstrate against the sentencing of murderer Mumtaz Qadri, who incidentally threatened to commit the anti-Islamic act of suicide after being hailed as the ideal Muslim and says he isn’t afraid of death but exhausts every legal avenue to avoid meeting his maker.
We violently burn down cinemas, eateries, and other businesses completely unrelated to a video or cartoon made about the Prophet (PBUH) in another geographical location.
And what was this particular protest about?
The right to abuse Ahmadis, of course.
Pakistan hasn’t been very kind to this community since their rise in the late 1800s; they were declared non-Muslims and barred from practicing several acts synonymous with Islam. Over the years, many Ahmadis have been jailed under these laws. Some, like Pakistani Nobel Prize winner Abdus Salam, had their graves, which declared them as Muslim, desecrated.
Every few years, Ahmadis are tortured and even murdered. Their properties are destroyed; their businesses, places of worship, and gravesites are desecrated. Not even women and little children are spared.
Recently, the Punjab government commendably sent police to the Hafeez Centre mobile phone market in Lahore to take down pamphlets from stores boasting foul language against Ahmadis. These pamphlets had come under focus on social media, thanks to journalist Raza Rumi, after which the authorities admirably took swift action against the hate speech.
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) December 10, 2015
Later, the police arrested one of the store owners responsible. Of course, this didn’t sit well in Lahore, and here began another ferocious show of strength against the Ahamdis as well as the authorities for siding with them.
Activists Mohammad Jibran Nasir and Kashif N Chaudhry summed up the dire situation well:
The detained man has since been released on bail, immediately finding love from our masses.
Having examined what earns an angry protest in this country, let’s take a look at the incidents left ignored by our demonstrators.
1. Mass child molestation ring uncovered in Kasur? No protest.
2. Churches attacked, scores killed? No protest.
3. Christian TV station burned to the ground? No protest.
4. Incidents of young girls and women brutally raped? No protest.
5. Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) approves child marriage? No protest.
6. Thousands of Christian and Hindu girls forced to convert to Islam every year? No protest.
7. Minorities falsely implicated under a draconian law? No protest.
On the international front, when people produce cartoons or videos mocking the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) we burn our own country down, yet when a couple of Pakistani origin declares solidarity with ISIS and murders scores of people in the United States, or when Boko Haram kill with a greater frequency than ISIS, when they kidnap and rape hundreds of school girls, or when ISIS itself commits atrocities in the name of Islam, we can’t be bothered to stage a display of defiance.
The pattern here is clear. The Muslims in Pakistan only spring into action where they feel there is a threat to their scripture. The Ahmadis interpret Islam differently, so we hate them. The cartoons offend Islamic sensibilities, so Pakistani Muslims will tear at each other because they can’t reach anyone else. The Christians and Hindus aren’t Muslim, so therefore they are considered to be inferior.
Ironically, most Pakistanis don’t understand Arabic and hence have a little grasp of the very scripture they are defending. Instead, they rely on those with megaphones. Perhaps this is why there is such indifference to the cruelties committed by those misusing Islam.
Of course, we hope it is merely disinterest. We hope there is deafening silence because our angry protestors are too lazy to stand up otherwise.
But what if they aren’t? What if they quietly approve of ISIS, al Qaeda, Taliban, and others? What if our people believe that anyone loosely interpreted as an apostate must be butchered?
As Pakistani/Canadian writer Ali A Rizvi pointed out, in a recent PEW survey, nine per cent of Pakistanis approve of ISIS, while 62 per cent said they ‘don’t know’. I spoke to PEW directly, and was told that such a large percentage of ‘don’t knows’ indicate a lack of familiarity with the issue.
So let’s concentrate on the nine per cent. Essentially, nearly one out of every ten Pakistanis approves of ISIS. If we believe our population to be 192 million, the nine per cent translates to over 17 million Pakistanis supporting ISIS.
Meanwhile, a 2014 report says ‘only’ eight per cent of Pakistanis approve of Taliban and 12 per cent approve of al Qaeda.
In other words, over 15 million people supported the Taliban in 2014, and over 23 million had a favourable view of al Qaeda.
Alarming? Yes, but it explains how Mumtaz Qadri has more groupies than Justin Bieber.
Let’s have a detailed look at some points standing out from a 2013 link.
1. 88 per cent of Pakistanis believe corporal Shariah punishment should be handed down to thieves.
2. 76 per cent of Pakistanis say any person who converts from Islam to another religion, must be killed. Only Afghans, Egyptians, and Jordanians hold this belief more.
3. 89 per cent of Pakistanis believed any person caught committing adultery must be stoned to death. No other country holds this belief more.
4. Lastly, four out of 10 Pakistanis claim the honor killings of women are ‘sometimes justified’.
In context of these findings, the nation’s headlines make for even more grim reading. One begins to appreciate why there is such apathy towards the plight of minorities. Why religious assassins are hailed as heroes. Why reports of honour killings smear our culture in dirty shades of red with such frequency.
The government of Pakistan should be commended for the swift response to the hate speech. It is part of the National Action Plan initiative by the administration to nip these plants in the bud before they grow into poisonous bushes. It may seem like a tiny step, but in context of this nation’s history, it is a giant one.
But this should only be the beginning. We need to take charge of what we teach in our schools, for one. We need to counter the extremist narrative in a meaningful way. As I said before, you can’t bomb an ideology.
Our belief system begs for reformation at its core, before it is too late.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.