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A nation of hate robots

The Pakistani nation must be awakened to the corrosive effect of hatred across the divisions of religion, sect, ethnicity, caste and tribe on the political and intellectual foundations of the society. There is no reason why Pakistanis should be doomed to be like this forever

A nation of hate robots
Protests: killings in different parts of the country are a regular feature.

People of Pakistan love to hate others from across the fence. Perceptions of shared hostility against others shape the mainstream narrative as a formidable variable for defining nationalism. Indeed, both the state and society feel dependent on negative feelings about other societies, communities and identities in order to cultivate and sustain the nationalist sentiments. This is contrary to the idea and practice of promoting and adopting a positive and constructive view of the nation as prevalent in mature societies.

Partition of India that was massively characterised by communal violence left a deep scar on the psychology of the two countries. It left a greater impact on Pakistan because its two most populated provinces Bengal and Punjab — which accounted for 80 per cent of the population of the new state after partition — were brutalised along the lines of religious hatred.

As opposed to India which got a third of the two partitioned provinces each — that together accounted for less than 10 per cent of the country’s total population — Pakistan’s politics was destined to be comprehensively shaped by the phenomenon of violence accompanying partition.

Those areas and regions that were not directly hit by partition and its horrors — west, north and, especially south India, and the two trans-Indus provinces of KP and Balochistan in Pakistan — kept their social fabric largely intact. These relatively less brutalised and therefore less bigoted regions accounted for three fourths of India but only one fifth of Pakistan, even though Western India later emerged as the Shiv Sena territory in Mumbai and the BJP stronghold in Gujarat.

In Pakistan, hatred for the Hindu ‘other’ symbolised by India became the cornerstone of the nationalist vision underscored by nostalgia for Muslim ascendency in Delhi for hundreds of years. In Feroz Khan Noon’s words soon after partition, Hindus had been ‘our slaves for 1,000 years’, and they were indeed ‘a subject race’. He castigated Mountbatten for becoming a ‘servant of the Hindus’ in his capacity as Governor General of India. Such hatred became a necessary part of the national thinking during the following decades.

Anti-Hinduism turned into anti-Indianism, as the direct experience of interaction with the Hindu community of India became history and the Kashmir issue made the two countries permanent enemies of each other. Anti-Indianism has served as the foundation of Pakistani nationalism and a source of legitimacy for the state for three generations. Any conciliatory move towards India raises the question: why did we get Pakistan in the first place if we were to offer a hand of friendship to Hindu India. Hatred for Hindus and India is mandatory for a bonafide and patriotic Pakistani.

Nawaz Sharif’s policy of opening up to India by way of trade and diplomacy in 2013 was drowned in the cacophony of a sell-out and treachery to the national cause. The surprise visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore on Christmas was quite typically criticised by the hawkish elements as conspiratorial and tricky. The Indian media reaction to the terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase implicating Pakistan in turn led to hostile propaganda in this country.

Anti-Hinduism turned into anti-Indianism, as the direct experience of interaction with the Hindu community of India became history and the Kashmir issue made the two countries permanent enemies of each other.

Just as many Pakistanis hate Hindus without ever meeting, much less interacting with, a Hindu in their whole life, many of them hate Jews without ever coming across one. Obviously, the clue lies with a deep sense of solidarity with Palestinians who were deprived of their land and political power by Israel and with the latter’s continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza along with its brutal suppression of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. The informed section of the society in Pakistan is unable to distinguish between the state of Israel and its Zionist project on the one hand and Jewish men, women and children on the other. Jews have been de-humanised in public perception as the devil incarnate and as an accursed community inhabited by an evil spirit rather than made of flesh and bones like us.

While hatred for Hindus was transformed into hatred for India after partition, the reverse is true about Jews. It is the emergence of Israel in 1948 that spread hatred for Jews first among Palestinians, then among Arabs and finally among Muslims everywhere. In political and diplomatic terms, anti-Jew attitude has served to provide a strident religious cause to Pakistanis. As opposed to this, the pro-Palestinian feelings of many Americans, Europeans, Africans and Chinese as well as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Jews in the Western and non-Western world are not tainted by religious hatred.

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There has been an increasing trend of anti-Christian violence, physical, social, legal, economic and cultural. Often religious zealots mobilise the violent groups to attack Christian communities, villages and churches. Names such as Gojra, Shantinagar, Yuhannabad, Shahdara and Peshawar among other localities and cities are stuck in the memory of human rights activists and the liberal sections of intelligentsia as symbols of communal violence.

How not to hate Christians and still be good Muslims remains a thorny question for some. Courts in several cases of blasphemy have set the accused free on the basis of wilful implication of Christians. One does not see any prospects of decline in hatred against Christians. There are various sources of religious bigotry in this case. Indian and Pakistani Christian population is generally understood to be the product of Christian missionaries operating under the wings of British imperialism. This process of conversion lacked legitimacy in the eyes of anti-colonial nationalists.

A majority of Christians have a profile of originally belonging to the lower castes. Sometimes, they are considered agents of Western imperialism because of their Christian faith. The memory of Crusades also continues to surface. Incessant identification of the state with the religion of the majority casts aspersions on patriotism of Christians and other non-Muslims.

While Hindus, Jews and Christians are hated for what they are, Ahmadis are despised for what they are believed to be doing to Islamic faith. Anger against them is rooted in the contention that they directly hit the deeply cherished belief of Muslims about the finality of the prophet and still claim to be Muslims. Ulema of various persuasions have steadily grown more active against the Ahmadi community after the 1953 anti-Ahmadiya riots, dotted by their success in declaring the community out of the pale of Islam in 1974 and debarring it from claiming the Muslim status for itself and its religious practices and holy places in 1984.

Human rights activists within and outside Pakistan have persistently struggled to stop the persecution of Ahmadis. While the election system was amended under Musharraf to remove separate electorates for various religious communities, a subsequent move revived it for Ahmadis. An obvious consequence of persecution of Ahmadis is their migration to Western countries. Two years back, attacks on two Ahmadi places of worship led to a mass murder.

Discrimination against Ahmadis for jobs, renting out houses or doing business is rampant. Public display of hatred came to light recently when the police arrested a shopkeeper from Hafeez Centre in Gulberg Lahore for barring Ahmadis from entering his premises.

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Religious hatred has been accompanied by rising sectarian hatred in the country. It has progressed from spasmodic and erratic incidents to a regular pattern of violent behaviour. Its scope has widened from locality to nation to the Middle Eastern region as a whole. Over time, the Sunni rhetoric against Shia has become ideologically elaborate and lethal. Organisations such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have spearheaded anti-Shia violence. Target killings of Shia doctors in Karachi and massacres of Hazaras in Quetta and Ismailis in Safoora Goth area in Karachi as well as the Shia-Sunni conflict in Jhang and Gilgit-Baltistan are reminders of religio-sectarian hatred threatening the political order in the country.

In the aftermath of execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia in January, the Shia-Sunni hatred is expected to rise.

The maxim that the more religious you are, the more sectarian you are is fully played out in Pakistan after decades of projection of transcendental goals of state policy.

The recent massacre of Ismailis in a bus, ostensibly carried out by university-educated professionals, points to the extent of radicalisation of the institutions of higher learning. Ismailis were at the hit list of Jamaat-i-Islami’s hate campaign some time back for their alleged role in seeking to reform the educational curricula. The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in Gilgit-Baltistan has similarly evoked negative feelings. Indeed, there have been attempts to change the demographic preponderance of the Shia-Ismaili combine in Gilgit-Baltistan by providing facilities for Sunni Punjabi and Pakhtun entrepreneurs to settle in that region.

While hatred against Shias encompasses large areas of the country, hatred against Zikris is limited to Balochistan because this community of the followers of Syed Mohammad Jaunpuri is generally not known outside the province. The JUI-F led a hate campaign against Zikris, within and outside the framework of their annual pilgrimage to Turbat. If the trend continues, Zikris might meet the fate of Ahmadis whereby they will be declared infidels and their places of worship will be debarred from being named after the mainstream Islam.

Ideologisation of hearts and minds in Pakistan has often resulted in self-indulgence in faith-based insularity that led to de-humanisation of the ‘other’. Some of the state functionaries in various departments and institutions ranging from security forces, bureaucracy and especially judiciary have been sucked into behavioural conservatism and religious extremism, initially at lower levels but increasingly at higher levels. This does not bode well for harmonious relations among religious and sectarian communities.

At the other end, the two sub-sects of Sunnis — Deobandis and Barelvis — have been similarly engaged in a fratricidal war of words, expressed from the pulpit of the mosque in a so-called battle of loudspeakers. Some Deobandi extremists of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat variety have launched a series of attacks against shrines ranging from Data Darbar in Lahore to the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi.

The attack on Data Darbar took place at a time and age of ‘enlightenment’ in the 21st century after its unproblematic existence as a holy place for a thousand years.

Hatred in the name of religion and sect has operated as a sacred barrier to national integration. It is unimaginable how Jinnah emerged as the supreme leader of predominantly Sunni Indian Muslims even though he belonged to the Shia minority sect and previously to the Ismaili minority group that was even more vulnerable to charges of heresy. As a stout believer in separation of religion and politics, Jinnah championed what was essentially a political cause far more than a religious cause, especially as the leading ulema opposed him and supported the Congress instead.

After three generations, the state has completely failed to see the process of degeneration of its institutional authority caused by the ascendency of the rival forces imbued with a divine message.

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But people of Pakistan do not only hate the religious or sectarian ‘other’, be it a community, a state or a civilization, ethnic ‘other’ is as vociferously and brutally hated as any ‘other’. In this context, one can safely claim that Pakistan’s only metropolis Karachi is the world capital of ethnic hatred. Here collectively, if not individually, and at the time of conflict if not as part of the daily routine, Mohajirs hate Sindhis and Sindhis hate Mohajirs. Mohajirs hate Pakhtuns and Pakhtuns hate Mohajirs. Punjabis hate Sindhis and Sindhis hate Punjabis. Smaller communities such as the Baloch and Seraiki-speaking people among others have their own patterns of hatred against their respective rivals at the level of community, city and district.

The hate speech of the Mohajir party MQM against all other parties in the city and the latter’s equally contemptuous attitude towards the former are symptomatic of a deep malaise in Karachi rooted in an unbearable use of a sectional approach to public interest.

Quetta, Multan and Hyderabad among other cities reflect ethnic hostilities on a permanent basis. Many from the minority communities of the four provinces — Urdu-speaking, Seraiki-speaking, Hindko-speaking and Pashto-speaking communities — want to move away from their respective majority communities Sindhis, Punjabis, Pakhtuns and the Baloch, and carve out new provinces for themselves.

The agenda of national integration has gone down the drain in the midst of hydra-headed ethnic hatred. There are various unresolved conflicts among provinces and between provinces and the centre, e.g. water distribution, definition of joint ownership of minerals, pricing of natural gas, holding the census, full implementation of the 18th Amendment, the Kalabagh Dam project and recently China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, among others.

Being an ethnic federation like India, Pakistan continues to grapple with issues of institutional pluralism, especially the quantum of provincial autonomy. As Punjabisation of the state progressed, alienation of other communities on ethno-linguistic and ethno-cultural grounds reached new heights.

Negative profiling has been dexterously cultivated and projected by those who control the means of communication such as the media and education. The political message of difference and distance from other communities flows from the educated and articulate sections of the population downwards to the masses at large. As opposed to various analyses that hold the poor and the destitute at the lower level responsible for hate crimes, a major carrier of hate message of religious bigotry is the educated middle class.

The conservative and ideologically-driven educationists write text books infested with hatred for Hindus, Jews and Christians as well as India, Israel and the US. At the other end, the working classes are generally positively inclined to other nations, communities and classes till they are exposed to the lethal propaganda dished out by the former.

In Pakistan, the more educated you are, the more bigoted you are. This applies to many doctors, engineers, accountants, professors, journalists, lawyers, architects, artists and literary writers. The basic human instinct is love and affection. But, hatred draws on a conscious effort to introduce hostile images and profiles of others to the younger generation. Religious parties and groups in Pakistan, no less than elsewhere, express monopoly over truth and point to falsehood across the fence. Ziaul Haq eminently represented the radical conservatism of various middle and lower middle class sections that contributed to cadres and workers of religious and jihadist outfits.

The Punjabi establishment casts aspersions on patriotism, integrity, sincerity, goodwill and genuineness of other ethnic communities. Ethnic entrepreneurs from provinces other than Punjab in turn articulate and rationalise the hate message for their followers. Punjab’s answer to ethnic demands of fair play in distribution of resources, provincial autonomy, local control over mineral wealth, and judicious allocation of funds is the projection of nationalism, sermons on unity and demand for complacency and sacrifice. The two sides do not see eye to eye with each other. The gap of trust breeds hatred in the end.

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Geographical apartheid in the form of separate habitats for religious or ethnic communities is a direct outcome of hatred across primordial identities. In Hyderabad, the two localities of Latifabad and Qasimabad represent the two communities of Mohajirs and Sindhis respectively. In Lahore, Christian localities such as Yuhannabad stand aloof from its neighbourhoods inhabited by Muslims. Rabwa has a large Ahmadi concentration. In Jhang and Gilgit-Baltistan, the post-conflict settlements of Sunnis and Shias approximate this model of separate neighbourhoods for communities. Love unites but hate divides.

The state seems to be clueless about what ought to be done to revive the agenda of national integration by eliminating hate message of all kinds through a policy of cultural, economic and political transformation of the society. This policy should be based on: protection of individual and community rights; acknowledgement of the need for compromise and accommodation instead of suppression and hostility against ethnic opposition; a fundamental change in the content of ideas and thoughts communicated to the public through education and media; and most of all separation of religion from politics.

The nation must be awakened to the corrosive effect of hatred across the divisions of religion, sect, ethnicity, caste and tribe on the political and intellectual foundations of the society. There is no reason why Pakistanis should be doomed to being a nation of hate robots forever.

2 comments

  • Brutal article but then Truth is often brutal, is it not?

  • Simply brilliant essay. The writer is very wise and a master. My salutations to him. I have posted this on my Facebook page with my commentary.

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