Our selective solidarity with the Ummah

The brutal treatment of the Rohingya community by Myanmar has attracted international indignation. Thousands have fled Myanmar and have been entering neighbouring Bangladesh. Aung San Suu Kyi, the ignoble laureate, who was once a heroine for many across the globe, stands exposed by her silence on the persecution of this minority group. In Pakistan, there have been protests and calls for government intervention. Mainstream and new media depict the outrage and anger that Pakistanis feel at the treatment of fellow Muslims. Similarly, in Bangladesh, there have been public protests in support of Rohingya urging the country’s reluctant government to help Rohingya refugees.

When it comes to bittersweet ironies, nothing beats our selective outrage. At the outset, it should be clear that Rohingya persecution must end and Myanmar should recognize them as citizens with basic rights. But when one compares the reaction to killing and displacement of Rohingya with that of Pakistanis (95 percent of whom are Muslim by faith), the protests seem a bit farcical. Islamic militants have targeted the civilian populace, urban centers, military personnel and installations across Pakistan. From 2002 to 2017, 460 suicide attacks took place across Pakistan; no one was spared. Approximately 22 thousand civilians have lost their lives in terrorist attacks, and more than seven thousand security personnel were also killed during the past 16 years. Yet the state and religious right displayed an utter lack of clarity in identifying the threat, condemning it, and remain unable to implement a long-term plan to rid the country of terrorism.

The media has failed to hold the religious right and state institutions to account, while advancing a state-manufactured narrative on national security and the war on terror. And now they want the Myanmar state to be held accountable?

The clergy and vernacular media have argued that terrorist attacks are reaction against US led War on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Furthermore, a sizeable segment of the religious clergy in Pakistan has not condemned suicide attacks on innocent Pakistani Muslims. Right-wing forces in Pakistan contributed to the faith-based ideological narrative constructed since the 1980s toadvance Pakistan’s ‘security interests’. Faith-driven nationalism has obfuscated the clear writing on the wall for the religious right and mainstream media. The media has failed to hold religious right and state institutions to account, while advancing a state-manufactured narrative on national security and the war on terror. And now they want the Myanmar state to be held accountable?

Speaking of ‘Muslims’ and their mistreatment, let us not forget how conveniently the Hazara Shia – a tiny minority within our fold – have fared. While religious groups were protesting for Rohingya rights, gunmen killed four more Hazaras on the streets of Quetta. In the past decade or so, more than 2,000 Hazara Shias have lost their lives to sectarian violence. Militants – particularly those belonging to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – have targeted Hazaras, mostly in Balochistan. Since 1999, 190 targeted attacks have killed and injured thousands. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, in Quetta, every family within the Hazara community has lost a member to militant violence. Those with access and resources have migrated from the country. Such has been the desperation that many tried to illegally emigrate; 600 such people have been caught in accidents while trying to flee persecution.

Yet the majority’s silence is shameful. Federal and provincial governments also turn a blind eye towards persecution of Hazaras. Authorities only get into action when Hazaras sit with dead bodies in urban centers, putting Greek tragedies to shame. In January 2013, a twin bomb blast killed more than 86 Hazaras. Families refused to bury the dead for days in protest. In the extreme cold weather, they staged a sit-in for days. In Islamabad, a small group of civil society activists – contemptuously called the ‘mombati mafia’ or ‘rented liberals’ these days – sat outside the Super Market. Eventually, the federal government moved into action and decided to replace the provincial administration. The mainstream Pakistani (Sunni) religious parties now shedding tears for the Rohingya didn’t protest against the persecution of Hazaras. Let us not even talk about the Ahmadis; for calling them Muslim is unlawful in Pakistan.

The mythical Muslim brotherhood articulated day and night in Pakistan is hardly affected by how the Muslims of China’s Xinjiang province have fared in recent years. The Communist Party of China prioritises nationalism over any religious and ethnic identity. The Muslim population of Xinjiang – Uyghurs of Turkic ethnicity – is in a tense relationship with the Chinese government. Violence has taken place sporadically, and Beijing retaliated with enhanced security measures and by placing curbs on citizens in the province. Authorities confiscated copies of Holy Quran published before 2012 on suspicion of ‘extremist content’. Moreover, authorities have banned ‘abnormal beards’ and ‘face veils’ to counter extremism in the region. The list goes on. Not a word by either the state or the right-wing, Taliban-extolling, guardians of the Ummah. Ironically, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is meant to develop this region and connect it to Pakistan.

Our silence is on Yemen is even more tragic. In March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition decided to intervene in the Yemen civil war to defeat the Houthi rebels who had succeeded in toppling the government of President Mansour Hadi. Saudi forces led a bombing campaign to target Houthi strongholds in Yemen. During the past 30 months, nearly 8,400 civilians have been killed so far, and more than 47,000 injured in Yemen, which also experienced a deadly outbreak of cholera. More than 2,000 people have died due to the disease, while thousands need urgent medical attention. The World Health Organisation has warned that nearly 17 million people are facing food insecurity; out of these, nearly 7 million people are one step away from famine, while 10 million people are suffering from food crisis. If Pakistanis are truly moved by excesses against Muslims, Yemenis may have received a bit of attention; but Saudi Arabia is an important ally, and our former Army Chief is leading an Islamic Coalition against terrorism set up the Saudi kingdom.

In Bangladesh, the Urdu speaking community (known as Biharis) has been stranded for decades due to the negligence of Bangladeshi and Pakistani governments. For decades, they have lived in camps that were set up in 1971 for ‘stranded Pakistanis’ during the bloody civil war that led to the creation of Bangladesh. We had promised to take them back, but never did. For decades, Bangladesh refused to give them full citizenship rights until the Courts intervened. These ‘Muslims’ hardly figure in our national conversations.

The so-called love for the Ummah is selective and frankly hypocritical. ‘Solidarity’ with the Ummah will be real the day our public will denounce those who kill our own citizens as well as Muslims in neighbouring Afghanistan. Targeting the ‘Hindu’, ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Jewish’ killers of Muslims is political opportunism and feeds the besieged Muslim mindset. Nothing else.


Published in Daily Times, September 17, 2017: Our selective solidarity with the Ummah

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