Finding Our Own Narrative

Published in Daily Time on August 28, 2012

The Holy Quran has zero references to the punishment of blasphemy. Hegemonic to the extent of being demonic, Pakistani Muslims are blasphemy-obsessed. Not a single voice from the Muslim clergy community has been raised on the issue of the 11-year-old born with Down syndrome girl, accused of burning pages of the Holy Scripture, and her consequent jailing. She now could face the death penalty although according to law no citizen with mental disability can be tried, let alone jailed. Moreover as a minor, she is supposed to be dealt with as a juvenile.

When it comes to matters of blasphemy, Muslims feel threatened by a disabled girl, who is suspect because she is a Christian. Had the girl not been taken into police custody, she would probably have been set on fire by the mad mob ready to protect the honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who needs no such favours. Theirs is a love that borders on paranoia. Muslims consider themselves minorities in a global world that labels them pariahs, a world that drones them, wages war against them and humiliates them.

The grand narrative of the persecuted Muslim minority — our Muslim ‘us’ to their western/Christian/Jewish/Hindu ‘them’ — now flourishes not just with suicide bombers who strap explosives to their chest but also with talk show hosts on network TV, Urdu press columnists and middle school teachers in both public and private schools through a vitriolic curriculum. We are the underdogs — Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir — and they have the stock market, the Pope and the White House. Recent events have only reinforced this victim mentality, be it the Raymond Davis issue or the Salala incident that eventually led to the NATO supply blockade.

This narrative will grow as media blows it into a monster. It grows in the complete absence of our own narrative. To make matters worse, Pakistan’s imagination as a nation-state is as wild as it is colourful. Instead of looking at the particular politics of Punjab and Bengal as well as the role the Indian National Congress played in driving out the Muslim League from an all-India embrace, we trace Pakistan’s genesis in Muhammad bin Qasim’s horses.

The imagery of conquest from West and Central Asia is played over and over again in our so-called history books. Invaders, soldiers of fortune and plunderers are transformed into glorious heroes of Islam marching into India with the sword in one hand and the Holy Quran in the other, even though Islam in South Asia spread through Sufi sages who adapted themselves to the syncretic traditions of the subcontinent. The biggest casualty of Pakistan’s nationalist mythology is Jinnah, the man. Instead of being known as the fervent ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, that cold logician of courts and parliamentary democracy is presented as a formidable fanatic out to divide India, come hell or high water — a sort of an emblem for Muslim exclusivism that Jinnah could hardly dream of.

It is no wonder that with skewed narratives that we have adopted, which stretch believability, we have become a menace not just to our peace-loving minorities like Christians and Hindus but also sects that are deemed to be heretical by the majority such as the Ahmedis and the Shias. The strategy of the state is to exclude where possible — Sir Zafrullah’s Ahmadi faith has denied him his rightful place as a founding father of this state — and to distort where necessary — Jinnah’s Shia roots are covered up and he is made into a Deobandi by certain ‘historians’.

Thus commences the open season on Christians, Hindus, Shias and Ahmadis. So warped is the frame though which we base our sense of self that we forget the basic tenets of religion that teach compassion, forgiveness and tolerance. Pakistan cannot, in even a decade or two, adopt the magnanimous fortitude our religion demands of us, for the roots of suspicion and malice run deep. What we can do is tactfully ally two and two with those who support reason and logic, and say no to this madness; to say that no minor girl child who is a minority and mentally disabled will be tried in the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), who was a prophet of mercy for all mankind. And if this happens in Pakistan, in our name, in our religion’s name, then this not our Pakistan and not a Pakistan worth fighting for.

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