Thursday, July 1, 2010

HELLO, and a very good morning to you. I wish I could begin by saying “may peace be on you” in Arabic but unfortunately, I’d risk being thrown into jail besides having to pay a very heavy fine. So we’ll drop that idea for now.

Within the boundaries of this land, as per the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I am not by any definition a Muslim. I am a member of the community that came under intense attack by armed zealots on Friday, May 28. And yes, I witnessed the entire tragic episode firsthand.

It was a normal Friday morning, just like all the other Fridays that come and go. I woke up unusually early by my standards, at 10am. Had a decent breakfast, read the paper, took a shower and was off to pray. That was 1:20pm. Fifteen minutes later, I and four or five others were frantically trying to break the lock to a small room. That achieved, I was holed up in a tiny cabinet with an older gentleman beside me, listening to gunfire and hand grenades exploding while praying to God and furiously dialling the emergency helpline 15 again and again. I won’t go into the details of what happened because you already know them by now. I’m going to tell you what you may not know.

One, threats of violence have been being hurled at us for a very long time. Just recently Amnesty International released a report on minority issues in Pakistan and urged the government to take strict corrective action. Two, the government, whatever it may say, did not provide adequate security even though it was aware of the seriousness of the situation. Three, we — Ahmadis — are not agents of the CIA, Blackwater, Israel, RAW, Mossad or any other organisation or network. We are a religious community without any political affiliations, with no history of violence and are engaged in charity work throughout the world. Our official motto is ‘love for all, hatred for none’.

Let’s get back to what happened that black Friday. I witnessed the Model Town carnage and can testify that there were three, maybe four, policemen in all who had been stationed there for many months. I saw them in their dhotis and slippers, smoking their hookahs, whenever I went to pray. That is what the state saw as ‘adequate’ security. What is the point of policemen being there when all they are going to do is smoke and chew paan? We were offered a false, token sense of security.

Most of the security cover on the day of the attacks was comprised of unarmed volunteers from our own community. Friends and relatives who were outside tell me that the police and the Elite Force, on their arrival at the Model Town site, did not even attempt to go inside and showed signs of fear (last time I checked, weren’t all Elite Force jawans wearing shirts inscribed with ‘no fear’?). Seeing this, members of the community who were outside tried to convince them that they had to enter the premises: the clock was ticking and lives were at stake. On the law enforcers’ refusal, some Ahmadis tried to take their weapons so that at least they could go inside themselves and try to deal with the gunmen.

It was only after the worshippers inside had subdued two of the attackers that the law-enforcement personnel found the confidence to go in. The terrorists, by the way, had an easy passage of entry: they came through the cricket ground which is directly in front of what is called Bait-ul-Noor. Five gunmen. Fully armed. Two with suicide jackets. Do unarmed people in their teens and twenties stand a chance against them? You decide. I hope the honourable khadim-i-aala of Punjab takes note of what I’m saying here. Sir, I’ll be direct for your convenience. There wasn’t enough police and please don’t give us lectures on police bravery.

And yes, you need to dial 15 literally 40 times before you get through. And by the time you do, you’re probably on your way to heaven along with the suicide bomber — or in our case, hell. If news channels can reach the spot 15 minutes earlier than the law-enforcement agencies, then I wonder where the billions of rupees set aside for the police force go.

If we are to revisit the history of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan, numerous events and occurrences expose the deep prejudice and discriminatory attitude that the state and religious extremists hold against them. 1953: anti-Ahmadi riots with the call to oust Sir Zafrulla Khan, the country’s first foreign minister and a prominent Ahmadi. 1974: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the country’s first elected prime minister, ensures the passage of a resolution declaring the community non-Muslim. 1984: Ziaul Haq promulgates an ordinance that specifically prevents them from calling themselves Muslim and from using Muslim descriptions and titles. In a nutshell, they cannot refer to themselves as Muslims.

Say the Islamic greeting, publish your books or give out the call to prayer and you’ll be incarcerated in the blink of an eye. Eid-ul-Fitr last year: yahoos try to disrupt the offering of Eid prayers in the very same prayer house in Model Town. And please take note that these prayer houses cannot be called ‘mosques’ under the law (it’s a shame that it’s even called a law), which is why anchorpersons and other journalists use the word ibadatgah (place of worship).

So, on the one hand, we have the constitution and Article 20 which guarantees the right to freedom of worship and the propagation of one’s religion. And on the other hand, you have the Ziaul Haq ordinance. Notice any contradictions? The state first tells us we are allowed the freedom to pray openly. Then it tells us it’s a crime to do so. Oxymoronic? Moronic as well. Honourable chief justice, if the anti-Ahmadi ordinance does not violate the said article and the very basic structure of the constitution of the country, then what does?


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