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5 January 2011

“Why do they pick on us Pakistanis?”

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

By Mehdi Hasan

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.

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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.

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