“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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Mister Lizard is not at home to bailiffs – he is eating salmon pâté by the river

Why is it that when people answer the question “What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?” in the Guardian questionnaire they never say, “You’ve been served”?

Summer’s nearly over. I look at the angle of the sunlight as it strikes the back terrace of the Hovel. I have been here long enough to use the terrace as a gnomon marking the passage of the year. I need, like the protagonists of Withnail and I, to go to the countryside to rejuvenate.

Last week when the Perseids were meant to be in full flow I asked frantically on a social medium for people to chum me along on a midnight walk on Hampstead Heath. In the end my new friends A— and her husband, C—, together with his new friend (whose initial I have forgotten, but he is Australian, if that helps), stepped up to the plate and after a couple at the Flask we went on a wide-ranging tour, which was a bust as far as seeing meteors – or my favourite tree – went, but was still hugely enjoyable. At about 2 am they packed me into an Uber and I went home happy, but I still felt as if I could do with more countryside.

The next few days made me even more anxious to get out of London. There are ominous signs that some serious roadworks are going to be taking place outside my bedroom window any day now. A bailiff came and rang the doorbell and I didn’t have the heart, or the nerve, to say that Nicholas Lezard was not at home at the moment and, is, in fact, on a walking tour of Patagonia now I come to think of it, due back some time next year. I just took the piece of paper into my hands as if it were a chicken come home to roost.

The previous day, presumably the same bailiff had come round and asked if Mr Lizard was in, and my housemate gallantly – and quite truthfully – said “no”. (Why is it that when people answer the question “What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?” in the Guardian questionnaire they never say, “You’ve been served”? Maybe it’s because they haven’t ever been.) In addition, as I said last week, the cleaning lady is on holiday and the Hovel is starting to look distinctly seedy.

So, then I get a call from a person who once featured quite prominently in this column, some time ago. This person is bored and wants me to go to his or her town and alleviate his or her boredom. This person and I parted company in circumstances that were far from ideal some time ago, and only recently have diplomatic relations been resumed.

It is too late, I say, for me to get on the train now; but when I have reviewed the book I am meant to be reviewing, I will hop on the train tomorrow around noon. And so I do, despite some monkey business from the departures board at King’s Cross, which tells passengers the 12:44 has been cancelled, then hasn’t been, then has, then hasn’t after all, while the 12:14 has slipped away like a thief in the night without telling anyone it was doing so.

I wonder if my return to the town of ——— is wise. As a dog returneth to its vomit, so doth a fool return to his folly. And the burnt hand fears the fire. Look, I say to myself, all we’re doing is going to have a picnic by the river. As we buy our supplies, the stallholder at the market asks if I am my companion’s husband. “No, he’s my picnic buddy,” he or she replies. “Never heard it called that before,” says the stallholder.

And the day passes perfectly pleasantly. We have two bottles of wine, cheese and smoked salmon pâté with crusty bread. People in punts drift past us, with varying degrees of competence. I remember it is A-level results day and call the eldest boy to ask how he’s done. He’s done well enough, it turns out, to get a place at university, though he feels obliged to point out that his results came in exactly a year ago. This is the kind of thing that happens when the number of children you have exceeds your mental bandwidth.

Later on, a porter from the college behind which we are picnicking asks me if I am a member, or an alumni. “Alumnus,” I correct him gently, hoping that this should establish my credentials. He asks for my name, and he radios the porters’ lodge to check my veracity. For some reason it takes him several goes to get my name right.

One of these goes is “Lizard”. We offer him some cheese, but he refuses, on the grounds that he has just had a banana and a cup of tea. I could live in a guest room here, I reflect, at not much higher rent than one pays in London. And the beauty of it is that the police, and presumably bailiffs, have to ask permission to go through the gates. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser