The acceptance of intolerance

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[By Ammar Zafarullah]

In the aftermath of the Airblue plane crash some zealot scribbled “kafir” (non-believer) on the coffin of Prem Chand, one of the six members of the youth parliament who died in the tragic accident. It reminds me of the hospitality we extended towards Dr Abdus Salam, the only Pakistani to have ever won a Nobel prize. The epitaph on his tomb rightly read “First Muslim Nobel Laureate” but, due to his adherence to the Ahmadi sect, the word “Muslim” provoked the religious sentiments of “pious believers” and was erased on the orders of a local magistrate, leaving behind the inaccurate proclamation of “First Nobel Laureate”!

The state of minorities in Pakistan is deplorable as the infamous 295-C clause of the blasphemy laws are often used as a tool for persecuting minorities and, in many cases, to settle personal vendettas. Statistics substantiate that around 50 per cent of those accused in blasphemy cases hail from minority communities who constitute merely three per cent of Pakistan’s population. Either the minorities in Pakistan are hostile and intolerant or they are being victimised. The punishment under 295-C is death but no death sentence has been officially carried out, perhaps because around 20 of those charged have been murdered during their trials, the most recent case being when two Christians accused of blasphemy were shot dead after a court hearing in Faisalabad. Acquittals in such cases are rare as members of the judiciary are often apprehensive of a backlash from the clergy.

Why is the law only considerate to sentiments of Muslims? Hate speech against minorities is a common and accepted phenomenon — derogatory remarks against Hindus, Ahmadis and Jews are even prevalent in the mainstream media. Zaid Hamid repeatedly ridiculed Hindus by calling them impure and a coward race while another host, Aamir Liaquat, blatantly provoked religious sentiments against Ahmadis. Not long ago, a chief justice of a high court said that Hindus are responsible for acts of terrorism in Pakistan. While he may have been referring to India it shows how we question the allegiance of Hindus.

Religious extremism is a manifestation of intolerance and bigoted views disseminated by a clergy that aspires to consolidate its power by creating rifts. The Taliban have capitalised on this by persecuting minorities in Swat and Malakand and even Lahore. Our tolerance for such acts boosts the morale of nefarious outfits that certainly do not have the goodwill of Pakistan at heart.

Interfaith harmony can only materialise when the state shows no tolerance towards those who incite violence against minorities. If the blasphemy laws cannot be repealed, legislation needs to be passed so that at the very least it provides greater protection to the minorities. Until then, the Prem Chands of Pakistan will continue to be mocked in the Land of the Pure.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2010.

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