The mob, we are told, was calling for them to be burnt alive. Thousands of people broke open the gates to enter their home and did their best to kill the parents of my friend. The couple managed by the skin of their teeth to make it out alive. A business built up over decades and providing many families a source of income was also torched.
This was Jhelum, till last week a place of happy memories but now a painful reminder of the bigtory that plagues this society.
The mob acted after allegations of blasphemy were made. As is usually the case, the allegations were vague with no initial evidentiary backing. But mobs don’t care about that. How dare a bunch of Ahmadi citizens prosper in Pakistan? Something had to be done. A lesson needed to be taught to the community. Hence, a home, a factory and a mosque was vandalised and reclaimed in the name of purity.
Keep in mind that the mob didn’t just act out of blind rage. It first looted the properties in question: taking away even children’s clothes from the cupboards. Once the assets of the enemy had been secured, it was time to burn the structures to the ground.
I will never forget my friend’s words over the phone: “they burnt our home”. Say that to yourself a few times — Humara ghar jala diya.
We the constitutionally privileged Sunni Muslims of this country will never know such fear — a debilitating fear that only a persecuted minority will know. We can claim not to care about identity since we wield the power to define and exclude others. We can demand that Pakistan should be ‘united’, even as we carve out violent divisions. We can tell ‘them’ who is the boss here. Through language and actions we further an apartheid that secures our existence.
Burning “the other” alive, hearing shrieks of fear does not offend us since they are coming from the wrong quarter. But a couple of Arabs being removed off a plane in the US reminds us of Islamophobia and stands out as an affront to human dignity. How can a human being who is offended by a Hindu mob killing a Muslim man for eating beef not be offended when a Muslim mob destroys lives and property?
What is the more important issue here? Religious identity or actions that insult and offend human dignity? Does a ‘universal’ religion only care about suffering of those who fit a description based on our prejudices?
Related article: Manufacturing consent
Instead of condemning violence, a large number of people asked, “what are the true facts regarding Jhelum?” — suggesting, most repulsively, that a given set of facts could explain or justify attempted murder, arson against residential and industrial premises. The violence didn’t end there — as a mosque of the Ahmadi community was attacked the next day, journalists called it “a place of worship”. Language of exclusion.
Police and even the army stood by as the mob wreaked havoc. National papers reported two days later that “normalcy was returning to Jhelum”. Sure, normalcy could return, except if your home and property had been destroyed. What kind of citizenship do we expect from a community when its children grow up under the shadow of such hatred? When people die in accidents in Makkah, we mourn deaths but not if ‘our’ mob deliberately attacks with murderous intent.
We rationalise creation of terrorists in Islamic countries citing oppressive foreign policies of other states but would we ever stand for an argument that terrorism by Pakistan’s minorities would be a rational response to the humiliation we subject them to? What version of humanity, if any, do we believe in?
The videos of the incident display revolting apathy towards human suffering. You can see people torching things then taking out their smart phones to film it all. That’s not rage, that is taking pleasure after destroying another’s world and dreams. Why is it that videos of abuse of power by armies of other states offend us but lacerating bodies in our country in the name of religion makes us look for explanations of violence?
The truth is that very few people actually care about human rights or human dignity. Most are just using it to further an agenda in this country. We proclaim to be followers of a religion that promotes humanity, yet our children are taught not to mix too much with Ahmadis. All the Ahmadi community friends I’ve had will testify to this. Do we think we are doing Allah a service by letting people live at our pleasure?
The next time you protest any supposed human rights violation against a Muslim anywhere else in the world, just imagine that the party discriminating was Muslim/Pakistani while the victim of discrimination a religious minority. Would your reaction change?
I never imagined that I’d live in a country where my friends’ homes and property would be burnt down by mobs drunk on bigotry. I never realised as a kid that faith would determine whether you live, die or are afforded legal protection. All of that naivety has been destroyed. I’ve never been more ashamed to be Pakistani.
How do you look your friends in the eye after such incidents? And this isn’t a line that you and I cannot cross — or even be on the wrong side of. People like you and me aid and abet such violence through our silence and our language. Apparently, all it takes is one unsubstantiated allegation of blasphemy before we destroy lives and livelihoods.
There is no explanation for this violence. It must be called out for what it is: absolute bigotry. And shame on the government if it refuses to take a stand against this while citing the excuse that they don’t want a law and order problem. This isn’t a law and order problem, it is an existential disaster — an insult to everything that makes us human.
I can’t shed enough tears or mourn enough for what this country has come to. We, ourselves, have burnt our home. Apna ghar jala diya.