“Why do they pick on us Pakistanis?”

A brilliant and brave answer from one of the country’s leading academics.

The news of the death of Salman Taseer, the secular Muslim governor of Punjab Province, came as a profound shock. Not because of the killing itself, as such acts of murder and violence have tragically and depressingly become part of daily life in the self-proclaimed "Islamic Republic" of Pakistan, but because he was slain by one of his own bodyguards.

As the Guardian's Declan Walsh notes, the killing has exposed:

. . . a vein of deep-rooted extremism that has infected even the senior security forces.

Taseer was shot 27 times yesterday by one of his own bodyguards, who was reportedly enraged by Taseer's opposition to Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws.

The Quilliam Foundation's briefing on the assassination observes:

Taseer's murder by a trusted member of an elite counterterrorism unit (who believed that he nonetheless had a divine duty to kill the governor for criticising Pakistan's blasphemy laws) shows that extremism in Pakistan is driven by ideology as well as by organised militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban. Extremist takfiri ideology, a relatively modern import to Pakistan, has now affected many aspects of Pakistani society and culture and continues to spread through schools, mosques, universities and television channels. Similarly, the belief that any Muslim individual can spontaneously take violent action in order to "protect Islam" is also becoming ever more widely accepted in Pakistan – independent of the activities of jihadist groups.

This is a worrying trend. Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't always agree with the Quilliam Foundation but I do believe, on this occasion, that Muslims can no longer do their best impressions of ostriches and keep their heads in the sand. Denial is not an option. That such murders have become regular occurrences in the world's second-largest Muslim country is sickening and appalling, and needs regular and repeated condemnation from Muslim groups and, in particular, Muslim ulema (scholars) across the world. What on earth are thousands of so-called Muslims doing joining up to a Facebook page supporting Taseer's killer? How can the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan group, representing the mainstream Barelvi school of Sunni Muslims, justify telling people not to offer funeral prayers for Taseer?

I've long believed that we British Muslims must be at the forefront of campaigns against takfiri and jihadist violence, against killings, shootings and bombings in the name of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam. To borrow a line from Robert Kennedy (or was it Rabbi Hillel?): if not us, who? If not now, when?

My advice to the Muslim Council of Britain, for example, would be to get a "not-in-my-name"-style press release out to domestic and foreign journalists as soon as possible. Silence is not an option. As I argued in a blog post in August 2009, we Muslims expose ourselves to the charge of double standards when we bleat about killings of innocent Muslims at the hands of non-Muslim armies in Palestine or Afghanistan or Chechnya, but then keep schtum when Muslim crazies start shooting and beheading non-Muslims, as well as other Muslims like Salman Taseer, and do so in the name of God and His prophet. And, above all else, where is our humanity? As I wrote back then, "Islam is a humanitarian, not a sectarian, religion and so selective outrage will not do."

On a related note, as more gloomy news emerges from inside Pakistan, I spotted, via Twitter, a piece by the brilliant and brave Pakistani physicist and commentator Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy; in fact, it's a transcript of remarks he made at a recent talk in Washington, DC to Pakistani professionals settled in the United States of America, entitled "Why do they pick on us Pakistanis?"

Hoodbhoy argues:

If Pakistani Americans wish to feel welcome in the country they have chosen to live in, then, they must judge the west and Pakistan using exactly the same criteria, and expose three popular falsehoods.

First, it is a lie that American Muslims are victims of extreme religious prejudice. Certainly, no country is free of religious discrimination. But, the secular west is infinitely less discriminatory than any Muslim country. How many churches are there in Saudi Arabia? Yet Muslims have built hundreds of new mosques in America – with Saudi money – and many after 9/11. New churches or temples are impossible in Pakistan; even old ones are burned down by rampaging mobs.

In America, Muslims successfully use the legal system to seek damages if there is discrimination in matters of employment, housing, or access to public facilities. But in Pakistan, if you are a Christian, Hindu or Ahmadi, you simply accept your fate.

Second, it is a lie that US Muslims are physically endangered. In fact, Muslims are far safer in the US than in Pakistan. Does one see Kalashnikov-toting guards during Friday prayers outside a mosque in the west? Yet if you are a Barelvi or a Shia in Pakistan, your life may end at your place of worship. Scattered body limbs and pools of blood at Data Darbar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi and the Pakpattan shrines testify that the cruellest of Islam's enemies come from within.

While Pakistan's terrified religious minorities live in fear of an intolerant majority, American Muslims get protection both from its people and the state. A personal example: the day after 9/11, I was appalled by the wild joy among my students. Worried about my former students, now studying in various US universities, I emailed them. Their return emails were reassuring. White American students had formed defence committees; no Muslim student was ever harmed on any campus. So even though George W Bush – a religious zealot – was preparing to invade Iraq, ordinary Americans were largely decent.

Third, the nauseating hypocrisy of Pakistan's radicalising west-hating, west-baiting leaders needs to be exposed. For example, Imran Khan – who speaks of the west as the fountainhead of evil – prefers to keep his family in London and New York, owes his fame to a game invented by British colonialists, and employs real doctors rather than hakeems for his cancer hospital.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.