THE LEGACY WE LIVE WITH

The treatment of minorities in the judicial system, under the blasphemy law, has become the most profound human rights crisis facing Pakistan in 2016. SC’s failure to hold the pressure of religious fanatics and refusal to Asia Bibi’s final appeal hearing not only undermines any progress that we have made in ensuring NAP but also calls into doubt our faith in the rule of law.

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In practice, the blasphemy law has become an instrument of rivalry, personal vendetta and maleficent motive. Mostly, the accused has never even committed any blasphemy and it’s just the violent extremism that’s being justified in the name of fighting blasphemy. This practice reviews the effects of unequal treatment on the religious minorities in particular and on the criminal judicial system generally.

Today, the stories of minorities being mistreated are so frequent and the loss of a human life at the hands of fanatics acting under the name of honor, religion and blasphemy is so steady that we know the next one is as sure to come as Monday will follow Sunday.

I am bringing up this story to press the point that we are living with a legacy. The legacy that sets the stage in for Pakistan’s most prolific Test spinner Danish Kaneria utter the words, “Every avenue has dried up for me in Pakistan; I seem to have no takers for my appeals from the PCB. I am dying. It is because I am a Hindu, a minority in Pakistan. It is because I refused to admit my involvement in spot-fixing when the England and Wales Cricket Board charged me. I want to be heard, is it very difficult to hear me out?”

Now if you think I’m painting the picture too dark, just last year, when the world of physics applauded the discovery of the ‘God-particle’, CNN’s report said:

“Imagine a world where the merchant of death is rewarded, while a scientific visionary is disowned and forgotten. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, the first Muslim to win the Physics’ prize helped lay the groundwork that led to the Higgs Boson breakthrough. And yet in Pakistani schools, his name is erased from the text books…”

—more evidence of this legacy.

The callous disregard for human life is part of the legacy I’m talking about. The pervasive lack of empathy for the people who don’t share the same faith as a particular group of extremists or—in contemporary times—for the lives of people like Salman Taseer Shahbaz BhattiDr. Chaudry Abdul KhaleeqSuleman Hadayat MasihKhurram ZakiTanzila Amjad & Shazia Murtaza lead me to believe no amount of policy changes will make a major difference if we don’t address the underlying cause that is at the heart of this behavior-lack of empathy.

As I read the heart-wrenching stories of people falling victim to this legacy, it occurred to me that the cruel overseer and the countless other masses who witnessed all manner of brutality and unjust treatment, yet did nothing, are to be blamed equally. Heartlessness does not come naturally; it has to be learned and a culture of heartlessness is one of the legacies that seem to linger, still today.

I don’t think that the indifferent masses, sadistic overseers, unfair judges and the brutal police were born this way—but I do believe they all were conditioned to be so. Same goes for those who don’t directly participate in inciting violence and doing harm to others yet knowingly look the other way and do nothing to stop it. Extremism itself and the callous disregard for the victims of extremism are both the part of this legacy that was handed down to us.

The peculiar institution of fanaticism did more than taking lives; it also conditioned a nation of deaf and blind to lack empathy— to demonstrate the callous disregard for human suffering. That legacy is still with us and it has to be addressed if we are ever to come to terms with our issues regarding peace and interfaith harmony.

At this point, any reader will likely be thinking that I have lost all the hope. And, to be completely honest, there are times I come pretty close. Today, when I read that Supreme Court has adjourned hearing of the final appeal against the execution of Asia Bibi, I began to feel that hopelessness again. But something usually happens to change my perspective.

This time, what gave me hope is the amount of support I’ve seen for Asia Bibi from the Pakistani youths who are not a religious minority themselves. While not reaching the level that’d be indicative of coming to terms with our past, the educated youths are doing a lot more than the previous generations did, or so it seems to me.

THE MODEL TOWN MASSACRE – NEVER FORGOTTEN

The third anniversary of Lahore massacre of 14 civilians, including 2 pregnant women, in Model town, Lahore, draws our “civil” society once again to gather together, move through the motions of protest, and raise voices to plea for justice for the victims and their surviving family members.

On June 17th, 2014 a tragedy unfolded at Minhaj-ul-Qura’n International which remains the most heinous crime in the Pakistani history of state terrorism. This atrocity was carried out by Punjab police, which acted at behest of the government, against the innocent, unarmed and peaceful workers of Minhaj-ul-Qura’n. The final death toll of 14 citizens included 2 pregnant women, youth and elderly. Punjab police’s brutality injured over a hundred people and left most of them disabled for the rest of their lives. We commemorate this date, remembering the victims of that terrible event.

According to Minhaj-ul-Qura’n International’s website and the live stories shown by Pakistani media, it was around 1:30 p.m. on Monday night on June 16, 2014 when the hundreds of police officials laid a siege to the central secretariat of MQI and the residence of PAT chief Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. The police launched this operation without any prior warning presumably in the name of removing security barriers. They had heavy machinery at their disposal. Only basic security officials were deployed at the central secretariat and residence of the PAT leader at that time. The Police officers commanding the operation were shown the circular issued by the Model Town Police in which MQI administration had manifestly been asked to make security arrangements in line with the court’s orders in view of possibility of terrorist attack. They were further told that these security barriers were erected under the supervision of police officers of Model Town Police Station but they refused to accept the circular. The discussion about the issue was also held between central leaders and police officers but the police did not seem to relent. Rather, they became more aggressive as time went on and ordered baton-charging of the staff members living in the central secretariat and students of the Minhaj University. These unarmed people braved the police action throughout the night. 

With the rising of the Sun of June 17, the news of state terrorism on the central secretariat of MQI spread like wild fire to every nook and corner of the country. Upon getting the word, the workers, members of civil society and the people at large started reaching the central secretariat. The police deployment also increased as things began to heat up and reinforcements came from all across the city of Lahore. Defending themselves against the brutal police action, the workers warded off the officers from removing security barriers for many hours and they suffered severe baton-charging and pelting of stones by the police in the process. At last, the police resorted to shelling of teargas, aerial firing and even started live firing at the protesters. People started to die. The bullet-riddled bodies could be seen lying on the roads. The people started shifting the injured people to the hospitals on their own. It was after 15 hours of continuous action that the police took control of MQI Secretariat.

stateAfter occupying the central secretariat, the police moved forward to the residence of PAT chief. They fired live bullets at whosoever came their way and removed the security barriers placed in front of Dr Qadri’s house. People started dying there as well. Police also made an attempt to gatecrash into residence of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri. The lady workers present there became shield before the police. Paying little heed to presence of women and showing little regard for the human lives, the Police opened fire at them. Two lady workers were killed on the spot while numerous  others were injured. As a result of this Police attack and state terrorism, seven people including two women died on the spot where as7 more succumbed to their injuries later in hospitals. More than 90 people sustained serious injuries. The hundreds of workers were arrested, thrown into jails and shifted to undisclosed locations. (Source: minhaj.org )

But as the tragedy of model town ended, the mourning of a nation had only begun. News of the massacre soon spread. There wasn’t an eye devoid of tears. The gruesomeness of the massacre was beyond belief. It defied explanation. As children looked at their elders and asked for answers, their elders could only respond with misty eyes. They had no answers themselves, only questions regarding this uninstigated brutality.

I can never forget that day when at her mother, uncle and aunt’s graves, young Bisma cried until she had no more tears. She felt she had nothing more to live for. The pride of her life was gone. The mother she loved and the aunt she adored will never be around her to put a spark in her worried eyes. She can no longer hold her mother’s hands or ask for her advice. Ayesha (younger daughter of Tanzeela shaheed) cried uncontrollably as the body of her mother wrapped in MQI’s flag was lowered into the grave. She will never see her mother again. In the morning she had held her briefly and now, she wished to have held her back tightly and never let her go.

Today, three years after one of the bloodiest day in Pakistan’s history, there are more questions than answers. But, since then, though not like Model Town Massacre but there have been more killings. And the more killers escaped justice without a strong national reaction, the more emboldened it became. Injustice and lawlessness has now become a routine practice that the Sharifs exercise as a method of governance. The 14 victims of Model Town, the victims of Qasoor Rape scandal, the blind and handicapped protestors who were beaten to death, the nurses and young doctors on strike who were humiliated, tortured and even killed, Mashal Khan who was lynched by a mob of religious fanatics for alleged blasphemy, bloggers and social media activists who were illegally abducted, held against their will and tortured for holding pro-humanity views, Asia Bibi and my fellow countrymen who are still in jail for alleged blasphemy just because they are religious minorities, my Ahmadi brethren who are being persecuted for their faith, and I have lost the count of members of Shia community whose lives this regime has so cowardly snuffed out, will never be forgotten until justice for them is done. We will stand for nothing less than full justice for the dead and their families.

I cannot understand how a crime that took place in the view of cameras, where the whole world saw how the innocent civilian citizens were massacred mercilessly, can pass like this without any criminals held to account.

To date, nothing has been done to avenge any of these barbarous acts, especially the model town massacre. On this day of mourning, I call upon the people of Pakistan to remember the victims of Model Town Massacre. I also call for increased awareness of the ongoing suffering of Pakistani Shia community, and a renewed impetus towards finding a solution to this intractable problem, according to the tenets of international law.

NATION SO DIVIDED OVER SEHWAN TRAGEDY; HAVE THE TERRORISTS WON ALREADY?

This is the most unfortunate thing that we now live in this world to see death alone—a normal phenomenon. Used to seeing arson, people burned to death, killed brutally by terrorists, and butchered in the name of religion and race, numbness has anesthetized our senses—“as of hemlock we have drunk”.

Humanity is so little left on this planet of humans that these images hardly shake our conscience. But the haunting image of a baby’s feeder bottle covered in (probably his own) blood left me traumatized. I’m quite able to take a lot of sad images but I found it difficult to move on with this one.

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Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine is certainly not the first and already not the last, but like so many of my friends, this tragedy just took a more personal feel than it already was. Mainly because just after the blast a certain group of people, who have no regard for a human life, started blaming the victims and justifying the tragedy. They seemed to be less bothered by the fact that a suicide bomber killed hundreds of people and all they could talk about was their issues with the Dhamal – A Sufi practice where Sufi Muslims dance and listen to Sufi music to meditate and connect to God.

According to these people, since the Sufi Muslims were practicing a wrong version of Islam, their massacre was justified or not to be mourned in the least. They tweet like robots with no compassion or empathy. Their priorities are all messed up and their rigid self-righteousness always trumps humanity.

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This guy, with picture of a terrorist on his display, says, “We’re tolerating your infidel practices for 762 years, you (the victims) should also tolerate a terror attack.”

Then, there is another group of people who love to “condemn terrorism” with a lots of “ifs and buts”. They are the worst kind of hypocrites I’ve ever came across in my life. Throughout the year they’ll continue to call others infidel and wajib-ul-qatal (one who must be killed) and when someone (sharing their thoughts and beliefs) will kill them, they’ll start tweeting their condemnations to act like some ambassador of peace. They can’t and won’t even wait for the families of deceased to process their grief/loss and will start calling them (the victims) infidels again.

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Classical dancer #SheemaKermani performing Dhamaal at Sehwan shrine.

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A so-called Twitter feminist labeling other women as thots because they don’t share her sect.

It’s hard to pull myself up after a tragedy like today’s. It’s even harder when public responses to such tragedies are so misguided and insensitive. It’s time we critically examined some of our knee-jerk reactions for what they actually imply, and especially how they would sound to those directly affected by such tragedy.

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He’s fine with terrorism being associated with Islam but hey! Don’t you dare associate dance and music with Islam. A self proclaimed authority on Islam.

Apart from this one particular group that shares the ideology of the terrorists and thus always blame the victims, the others have equally misguided opinions. Some shrug off responsibility by saying ‘No Muslim can do this’ while the others thank God as ‘damage could have been more’. This rhetoric needs to change — even one life lost is one too many, and we’re talking about hundreds here. Lastly, the patriots love to blame India (even when Pakistani Taliban claims the responsibility).

Being Pakistanis, we don’t have to look far to be reminded of the evil that exist in our society, and at times, it threatens to consume us. And yet, as we mourn, I am reminded of some other important truths. Though it feels that the evil is winning, we still hope for a different end of this story. Because we still rest easy in the knowledge that there are some sane voices out there. Though weak and less in number, but seeing people standing against the terrorist’s ideology is a hope.

LAL QALANDAR – RED FROM THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS

At least 100 people were martyred today (more casualties are expected) when a suicide bomber attacked the crowded Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, injuring up to 250 others. The powerful blast took place inside the premises of the shrine as a dhamaal (a Sufi practice) was taking place, with a large number of women and children said to be among the casualties. Large crowds of people from different parts of the province were gathered at the shrine when the blast took place.

Source: Geo

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It wasn’t the first time when a Sufi shrine was targeted. In July 2010, militants attacked the revered Sufi shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, claiming 41 lives and injuring over 170 people. On October 7th, two suicide bombers attacked the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi. A similar attack at Baba Farid Shakarganj shrine in Pakpattan, Punjab followed a few weeks later, continuing the never-ending legacy of militant attacks against places of Sufi worship.

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Majestic Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar before the terror attack.

I’ve every reason to believe that this spate of attacks on Sufi shrines is an indication of a shift in terrorist calculus. What kind of person would desecrate the sanctity of a saint’s sepulcher and turn its holy grounds into a battlefield? The answer is, ‘the other kind of Muslim – Khawarij.’ Extremists who don’t value a human life and the pain of human suffering.

The visits and worships at Sehwan Sharif are halted and the lights that once spread an exquisite glow – symbolic of spiritual insight – have faded into the gathering darkness.

They (the terrorists) say, “One must submit to God’s will.” But God’s will does not lie in the growth of fundamentalism and sacrilege.

MODEL TOWN MASSACRE – IS THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE ELUSIVE?

 

It was a massacre that shook the nation. On 17 June 2014, 14 political activists of Pakistan Awami Tehreek were shot dead by police at Minhaj-ul-Qura’n secretariat, Model Town, Lahore. This illegal and unannounced operation was carried out by Punjab police before Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s arrival and the only agenda behind this midnight operation was to harass the people and keep them from joining Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s antigovernment movement. Police tortured elderly, women and children which was live broadcasted on all national and local TV channels. They opened fire on the unarmed and peaceful workers and killed 14 people including 2 pregnant women and leaving hundreds of youth injured and disable for the rest of their lives.

PMLN and Sharifs bear a long legacy of state-sanctioned police brutality against their political opponents and model town massacres on 17th July 2014 and police brutality against the unarmed and peaceful protestors on 31st August 2014 are testimony to that.

PAT continued to demand justice for their martyrs through ATC and kept protesting on roads as well. But after two and half years, ATC finally broke the silence by refusing to try Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and eleven others, including some federal and provincial ministers, for killing of Pakistan Awami Tehreek workers during the 2014 Model Town incident. And so, the ugly truth of our country is once again in dead bodies littering the ground. The truth of PMLN’s rule is that people asserting their rights and dignity have been brought down in a hail of bullets.

PMLN and Nawaz Sharif promised their voters and citizen a Roshan (bright) Pakistan. But how can something so reminiscent of the country’s most violent apartheid past happen in a democratic “Roshan Pakistan?” Two and a half years on – all the questions remain unanswered. Families of the martyrs are still denied justice and their search for closure goes on.

Back in 2014, in response to intense public pressure in the sit-in, a commission of inquiry was announced to investigate who had given the orders that day to open fire on PAT activists. Justice Baqir Ali Najfi’s commission report directly held Punjab Govt. and CM Shahbaz Sharif to account. Realizing that they’ve been nominated and held directly responsible for the bloodbath in Model Town, Sharifs did not let the report get published.

ATC, yesterday, refused to try CM or any other person nominated by PAT because of “lack of evidence.” This, despite evident that the decision to disperse and disarm the political workers would not have been taken without guidance from the Chief Minister of Punjab, the Punjab Govt. was also absolved of any responsibility.

Spokesperson of Pakistan Awami Tehreek said that they will announce their next course of action after deciding and discussing all the possible options in their executive council’s meeting. But what option do they have? They will protest, their workers and lawyers will go for some other legal course, Sharifs will eventually find a way to get themselves exonerated (like they always do) but what about the martyrs and the families of those killed?

Shamefully, our judicial system remains silent on their fate – the issue of compensation is ‘beyond its remit’. Not only that it is a feeble offering to those left without their loved ones, and still shattered by the violent manner of their deaths but also because the families refused to take any money as compensation. All they want is Qisas (blood for blood) and already deprived of their breadwinner, their struggle deepens.

As ever, anger and frustration lie at the heart of a voter. What happened at Model Town Lahore was a tragedy; the investigation that followed a travesty. Yet still the tragedy continues as the families of victims are denied justice.

I’d like to quote Bishop Rubin Phillip to sum it up:

Has nothing changed in our place, when its truth remains that the armed might of the state acts for the elite of powerful and wealthy, and against our people? No self-righteous declarations of “tragedy”; no insisting on “complexity”; no obfuscating “commissions of inquiry” are enough to hide that truth.

 

CYBER STALKING AND HARASSMENT OF WOMEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA

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As the internet and technology becomes an increasingly important part of our lives and social media becomes a critical space for us to make our voices heard, they are also being used as new dimensions of violence against women. Cyber harassment and violence against women has emerged as a global problem with serious implications for society. Millions of women around the world are subjected to online harassment and deliberate violence yet the problem of online violence and harassment is often overlooked in discussions of violence against women.

While women are seeing some success in their fight for empowerment offline, cyber bullying is a crucial battle that has to be won as well. The misogyny and bigotry of men becomes more prominent when they are hiding behind a computer. Cyber harassment includes a variety of online actions: harassment, spreading rumors, impersonation, trickery or exclusion, cyber stalking, bullying, trolling, blackmailing, non-consensual pornography, threatening and the invasion of privacy. These activities are usually performed through text messages or using social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Cyber violence against women is reaching to alarming proportions. Still it is accepted as a routine part of our daily lives and is shrugged off because the harassment did not occur in the ‘real’ world. In truth, harassment both online and offline can lead to psychological intimidation and emotional distress. Cultural norms and the idea of “honor” may be a reason for victims not to speak about it. Pakistani women usually don’t have much of a choice. If they reply, they’re feeding the trolls. If they ignore, the bullies won’t stop and the society won’t appreciate them taking the matter to courts and cops. They usually find themselves stonewalled by community attitudes. They have to face difficult procedures when it comes to reporting such issues.

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This attitude needs to shift. We must focus on the perpetrators of these crimes instead of putting the onus on the victim. Usually when a woman complains of cyber stalking she’s asked to quit, to shut down her social media accounts or to make them private but that’s not the solution. Most importantly, for women who are prolific bloggers, tweeps, instagrammars, facebook users and have a strong online following, shouldn’t go offline. Asking a woman to quit social media just because a bully has got access to internet is the most horrible thing to say. Not only because by saying so you are penalizing the victim but also because you’re asking for leaving the internet to cyber criminals and bullies. It’s not the women who need to quit, it’s the perpetrators who need to change their actions.

Law has failed to keep up with technology. The gaps are getting wider as technology advances ever more rapidly. Some abusive tactics are not illegal even when they violate a social media platform’s guideline. Others are legal even when they’re allowed by a social media platform. Law can’t fix these problems but a cultural change can. Beginning in the early childhood, social mores are in desperate need of reform. A moral collapse is destroying the foundations of our society. It’s a social problem and it needs a social response.

It must be acknowledged how online abuse can affect people and protocols must be developed to help the victims and prevent the online abuse. We have to expand freedom of expression and ensure fair public engagement. And to do so a fundamental shift is required in how we think about free speech, gender, mutual respect, moral values, self-respect and ‘honor’.

A LIST OF MY FAVORITE QUOTES BY SHEIKH ABDUL QADIR JILLANI

Abu Muhammad Muhiyuddin Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (ra) was a Sufi Sheikh and the founder of the Qadri Sufi order. He was born in the month of Ramadan in 470 AH (1077-78 AD) in the Persian province of Jilan (Iran), south of the Caspian Sea. His contribution to Sufism are so immense that he became known as the spiritual pole of his time, al-Ghawth al-A’zam.

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Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani’s tomb. Place: Baghdad, Iraq

This list of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (ra) Quotes will share with you his amazing wisdom and spirituality.

  • Look towards that person who looks towards you. Love that person that loves you, listen to that person that listens to you and give your hands in his hands that are prepared to grasp it.
  • A mans position in life is such that though he is mortal he is reborn with pleasure in the winds of afflictions. It is that very same life whose consequence is not death. It is that very same comfort which has no extreme anguish.
  • Many wealthy people because of greed are poor and needy, in reality the brave person is he who wrestles and defeats the devil of greed and thereafter becomes independent and without want of need from this material world.
  • The person who backbites and speaks ill of us are actually our success because they pay homage to us by writing their good deeds into our deed books.
  • Look carefully at the previous graves lying in ruin. How the sands of beautiful people are turning bad.
  • If you do not find the sweetness of doing a good deed then be aware that you have not done that deed.
  • Among the creation, silence is not bravery but rather impatience.
  • The person who cannot educate his own soul, then how is he going to educate others.
  • To adopt anonymity and unwholesomeness relative to it is peaceful.
  • Until you still possess arrogance and anger you cannot classify yourself amongst the learned.
  • That sustenance whose extent is expansive but no thanks is given for it and that means of livelihood which is difficult but no patience is shown for it become a source of revolt and mischief.
  • Always hold the best opinions about others and think ill of yourself.
  • Your speech will tell what is in your heart.
  • To start something good is your job and to see it completed is the work of your creator.
  • A wise person first question his heart thereafter speaks with his mouth.
  • Suspicion closes all the benefits to be accrued.
  • An understanding person finds no joy in anything, for it has accountability, for being lawful or a punishment for it being unlawful.
  • First there is ignorance, thereafter knowledge, then follows practice upon your knowledge, thereafter sincerity upon that action and finally comes understanding and wisdom in the heart.
  • If you do not have patience then poverty and sicknesses become a misfortune and if you adopt patience then it becomes nobility and graciousness.
  • To gain the happiness of Allah SubHanuhu wa Ta’ala is impossible if you cannot make a poor person happy.
  • To make a poor person happy makes one the inheritor of and undisclosed amount of reward.
  • People do not regard you with respect because you are proud and vain but rather they look up to you when you are polite and hospitable.
  • To remember death is the best treatment for all ailments.
  • The person who wishes to tame his soul should bridle it with silence and good etiquette.
  • The sum total of all the essence of good is to seek knowledge, practice upon it and teaching it to somebody.