Extremism

In Pakistan, ‘Blasphemers’ Like Me Receive Militant ‘Justice’

14 October 2014

Like so many others, I was recently targeted in a cold-blooded assassination for speaking out against extremism.

Pakistan has acquired a strong reputation of imprisoning a large number of men and women accused of “blasphemy.” Far from a fair trial, most of the accused are not even safe from mobs and vigilantes who assume the powers of both judge and jury. For a country that is ostensibly governed by a written constitution, this is extremely worrying. More so, when the state as an arbiter of human rights is silent, or even complicit in such human rights abuses.

The latest victim of the zealots’ ire is Mohammed Asghar, a 70-year-old man who also happens to be mentally ill. It is not surprising that there are some in Pakistan who want to see him dead. Asghar has been sentenced to death for blasphemy for various acts which, given his mental condition, he may not be aware of.

Asghar was formally sentenced to death in 2014. Despite his diagnosis in the U.K., of suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, the court chose to declare that he was competent to stand trial. However, late last month, a prison guard driven by self-styled zealotry burst into Asghar’s cell, and shot him in the back. The guard fired a second shot, narrowly missing. Restrained by others, the assailant nevertheless managed to get a good kick in as Asghar was taken to the hospital. Eyewitnesses have revealed that the  guard chanted, “Death to the blasphemer!” as he swung his boot at the old man. (more…)

Malala Yousufzai – A symbol of Pakistan’s Resistance to Bigotry

13 October 2014

“Lahore broke my heart”

5 October 2014

Author Reema Abbasi spoke to me about her travels across the country while researching for ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan’. Some excerpts from the conversation.

Reema abbasiReema Abbasi with her book

What was the inspiration to author a book on Pakistani temples?

For the last 10 years my reporting, columns and editorials concentrated on socio-political issues with a strong focus on secular values already enshrined in Islam. The tide of Islamism eclipsed Pakistan’s happy confluence one grew up in. So I felt it was time to make a concrete contribution through a topic that fused history through antiquated symbols of unity — which, in this case, belong to the ancient faith of Hinduism — and an essentially tolerant populace that believes in humanity and the pull of history.

This is why the book is “Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience” as it documents structures that can challenge time and shuns the idea of the supremacy of any singular faith. Every call to prayer demands respect.

Your book tells us multiple stories. The temples are endangered but there are positive stories as well. How would you give an overall view?

By and large, Pakistan and its communities deserve much praise for the upkeep of these age-old treasures. Many are now heaps of stones such as Tilla Jogian or Suraj Kund, but then disuse does that all over the world. Our over a year long journey across the country was an eye-opener. It sprang one surprise after another and assailed many presumptions with Kali Ki Gali in Peshawar, Shivala Mandir in Mansehra, a pujari’s words in Pindi:  “Yeh mutthi bhar dehshatgard kitna bigaar leingay?” to name a few.

But Punjab broke my heart, especially Lahore, a jewel layered with many diverse eras, has forced its Hindus to live with the greatest of burdens – false identity. They live lies by adopting Christian names.

Has the Sindh government proven to be a better guardian of the Hindu places of worship than other governments? Or is it the same story everywhere?

Sindh has done a tremendous job of maintenance, restoration, and reverence, so has Balochistan with Hinglaj and much of KPK honours its shrines. Punjab has lost over 1000 pre-historic emblems to neglect, greed and bigotry. (more…)

The Hindus of Pakistan

3 October 2014
A seminal book on the Hindu temples of Pakistan should be read by all Pakistanis.
Katas Raj
Kataas Raj
Temples in PakistanJournalist Reema Abbasi and photographer Madiha Aijaz have done a remarkable job of travelling across the length of Pakistan and documenting the state of Hindu temples. The regions that comprise Pakistan are central to the evolution of the Hindu religion and its various offshoots. For instance, the Indian subcontinent derives its very name from the River Indus. In the ancient Sanskrit language, the river was known as “Sindhu”. The Persians gave it the form “Hindu” and through successive generations the land finally came to be known as India, with various forms being derived from this root. Similarly, the shrines in Punjab and Balochistan are perhaps as old as Hinduism itself.

Reema writes at the start of the book – Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience – that her endeavor focuses on “Pakistan’s fraying social order and the sad prospect of it bringing about its own destruction”. In recent decades, the country’s minorities have come under severe attack from extremists and the state has often seemed indifferent or worse, culpable. Reema’s concern is not misplaced. In 1947, the non-Muslim population was nearly 23%. Today it is around 5%. Granted that the separation of East Pakistan caused a major decline in this number but we are all aware of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians migrating abroad. In fact, it has become a class-based exodus. The relatively privileged are the first ones to leave, and sadly, for the right reasons.

(more…)

I know how men in exile feed on dreams

26 September 2014
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To the accompaniment of songs, poetry and history, Raza Rumi spent a bittersweet evening with fellow exiles exploring the state of his banishment

Raza rumi and neelam

Neelam Bashir and Raza Rumi

“Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.” ? Ovid

I sat there, on a wooden deck with a motley crew under the summer sky. Deep into the suburbia of Maryland this was a spontaneous get together with a diverse group of Pakistani-Americans. The sorted, integrated types not at odds with the ‘evil West’ as we know it back home. Yet, they were exiles, dislocated in their own way. This was a strangely intimate evening with so many stories that merged into a moment of connection, a nameless bond.

Noreen and Amjad Babar – old residents here – are great hosts. Their home, an open house in all senses, hosts all the progressives across the length and breadth of the United States. That evening when we all congregated perchance, it was a melee of writers, poets, doctors and journalists of Pakistani origin. This was also the weekend when the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) was holding its annual convention.

Far from home

Pakistani American doctors hold a huge festival every year where they congregate, network, vent and even make matches for their hybridized children.

This year’s event was dedicated to hundreds of doctors who have been killed for their ‘wrong’ faith in Pakistan

I was invited to speak at a panel organized by Karachi’s Dow Medical College Alumni (formally known as the ‘Dow Graduates Association of North America’) that attempts to raise the unpopular issues of extremism and progressive change in Pakistan. This year’s event was dedicated to hundreds of doctors who have been killed for their ‘wrong’ faith in Pakistan. Most notably, Dr Mehdi whose assassination did not even invite a simple statement of condemnation from Pakistan’s so-called ruling ‘democrats’. The panel was great: Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, poet-writer-journalist Hasan Mujtaba and the bold columnist Dr Taqi. Haqqani amused the audience with his wit and exceptional command over Pakistan’s history. Only a few bilingual speakers can match his erudition. (more…)

The tragic floods in Kashmir and Jingoism

14 September 2014

Not being dead is a victory for Balochistan’s journalists

14 September 2014

 

Why, one would ask, is killing the only answer for disagreement?

Why, one would ask, is killing the only answer for disagreement?

 

To say that Pakistani journalists are under attack is an understatement. They are lucky if not assailed or killed.

Beyond the veneer of prime time television shows that many think constitutes ‘journalism’, there are thousands of media workers at risk. They are endangered and pressured by state agencies, political parties, militant networks and mafias, which share a common goal: suppressing information and muzzling those who dare to dig facts.

Comrade Irshad Mastoi and his two colleagues join the ranks of slain journalists who were targeted for their profession; this is unacceptable in a country that is ostensibly governed by a constitution.

I never met Mastoi but followed him on social media and occasionally, we communicated. His views were ‘dangerous;’ and he never refrained from expressing them.

Mastoi was a working journalist for 14 years and before his murder was also the Secretary General of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ). The killers, who remain at large, shot him dead along with an intern Abdul Rasul and an accountant of the news agency bureau that Mastoi was heading in Quetta. Mastoi was also affiliated with the ARY News and frequently wrote for vernacular and English papers.

That the murderers could enter into a news agency office located in a busy area of Quetta speaks volumes for the impunity with which such attacks are carried out.

Mastoi was 34 and his associate Rasul was a student at the Media and Journalism Department of the University of Balochistan.

What is the message for journalists and those who aspire to adopt this profession?

Pretty dire.

(more…)

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