Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Ahmedi Killings: Time For The PPP To Step Up (Updated With Taliban Statement)

Before I put down my thoughts, let me urge you to go and read two great posts on the tragic killings at Ahmedi MOSQUES yesterday. The first is at A Reluctant Mind and the second is at Cafe Pyala. I basically agree with everything both of them say on the killings of MUSLIMS at MOSQUES.

I want to concentrate on a different facet of the tragedy, namely the absurd laws that remain on Pakistan's books, decades after political expediency (in Bhutto's case) and downright bigotry (in Zia's case) that have allowed things like this to happen.

Actually, I think some people may take issue with that statement in and of itself. So let's back up for a second. There are basically two ideal-type views on the relationship between laws in a society, and that society's existing mores and preferences. The first would be that laws really matter, and change the way we think about things, as well as the things we do. The second is diametrically opposed to this, and would argue that laws are epiphenomenal. Laws, in this view, merely reflect what we already think and do and have no independent effect on anything. Put differently, the first view says laws determine our actions and thoughts, and the second says that our actions and thoughts determine our laws.

This distinction is important because it forces us to consider what types of actions we should take when we oppose a particular social practice. Let's take honor killings. If you are with the first group, you think that if you make the laws against honor killings more stringent -- by, say, punishing the entire family responsible for the killing -- then you can slowly but surely eradicate it. If you are in the second group, you think changing the law is pointless; the thing to do is to change the education standards and the social norms that govern our interactions and actions in society. These prescriptions are very different, and so the views we have on the law-norms relationship have very real consequences for how we go about reforming things.

I think most reasonable people would fall in between the two ideal-type views on average, but privilege one or the other on a case-by-case basis.

On the Ahmedi issue, however, I'm most definitely in the first camp. Why do I believe this? Well, the main reason is that the only reason we even have these laws -- especially the Bhutto laws from the 70s which declared Ahmedis non-Muslims -- is because of agitation from the religious right. Now, we all know that the religious right has no real political power; they've never won anything worth winning in elections. They are at most a nuisance, a bunch of mosquitoes and flies who need to be brushed away when they start buzzing around. They don't represent "average" Pakistani norms and never have.

The problem is that because of short-term and ill-advised considerations, non-religious leaders have given into these goons repeatedly. Whether it's something serious like declaring Ahmedis non-Muslims (Bhutto), or something unserious but still incredibly annoying like a religious column in the Pakistani passport (Musharraf), leaders have found it convenient to give in to them, hoping it'll shut them up. But it never does. All it actually does is leave draconian and bigoted laws on the books for people to take advantage of. The Zia laws are similar, in that they allow and sanction people to explicitly discriminate against an entire group of Pakistani citizens. Let me say that again: under Pakistani law, we are supposed to discriminate. Not discriminating is illegal.

What ends up happening is that because of the existence of these laws, cultural and social practices change as a result. Anti-Ahmedi sentiment has spread from being the sole purview of the religious right to a much more mainstream position in the last couple of decades. Judging by online comments and some Tweets I've read, hating Ahmedis and being glad about yesterday's events is perfectly normal. My feeling is that these laws are a big reason for that.

Anyway, all this is a long preamble to my actual point: this is the next big thing the PPP must do. The Hudood laws, the rape laws, and the anti-Ahmedi laws. Gone. Done. Dusted. Am I crazy? Can this happen? Mostly yes, and mostly no, respectively, but bear with me.

If you examine the PPP government's record in power, there's been a great bifurcation on the issues on which they've done well versus the ones they've done badly in. Think about their greatest successes: the autonomy package for Gilgit Baltistan. The moving forward -- if fitfully, in stops and starts -- on Balochistan and Balochi rights. The 18th amendment. Inter-provincial harmony. Now think about their greatest failures: electricity. Water. The war. The economy.

Can you see what's going on here? On the issues which affect the everyday lives of ordinary Pakistanis, the PPP government is either unwilling or unable to do anything that makes a difference. On the other hand, on "big" political/constitutional issues, whose importance tomorrow will outweigh their importance today, they've actually done an excellent job.

Well, this should be right up their alley. The anti-Ahmedi and Hudood laws are a disgusting blot in our penal code. It should be their next target. The tragedy of yesterday should serve as a focal point around which reform can coalesce. Recall that the PPP was the only party to support Musharraf's Women's Rights Bill back in 2006, when his own coalition partners (the Q) weren't really for it. They are, purportedly, the secular, liberal party of Pakistan -- or at least they advertise themselves as such. The numbers may not work in the Assemblies -- I see only the MQM helping them out, and even combined those two don't make for a majority, let alone a two-thirds majority. But I'd still like to see them make an effort, if for no other reason than forcing the PML-N and PML-Qs of the world to come out in the open and explicitly say they favor the current discriminatory legislation (and they will, don't worry).

This is what governments are elected to do: tackle the big issues which individuals can't tackle on their own (like, say, garbage collection). This is the PPP's chance to make history...again. It's time for them to rid Pakistan of these laws. It's time for the PPP to step up.

UPDATE: Here's the Taliban's statement in reaction to the killings. Let's just say it's not exactly like reading NFP:
Congratulations for the whole nation. What the brave Mujahideen did yesterday in Garhi Shahu & Model Town, Lahore. We greet them whole heartedly how well they have done with best of their expertise. As a whole we do like to encourage the nation for increasing this kind of activities like target killings of Qadianis, Shia, supporting political parties, Law enforcement agencies, Pakistan Army, racist parties and many more. MQM is an acting political and terrorist wing of Qadianis & jews. They are responsible for destruction of the country & nation. We are confirming the very near future assassination attacks on everyone who is with MQM. Simultaneously we advise the realistic people to take initiative and kill every that person who came in their range. There is no specific need of detonators, bombs or explosives. Just kill them either by means of just crashing them under their cars. Qadiani & Shia are the enemies of Islam and common people. They disrespect Muhammad (Salal-Lahu-Alaihi Wasallam) and Sahaba (Razi Allahu-Anhum). They have no respect for anyone. MQM is their terrorist wing which is involved in target killings in Karachi.

19 comments:

AKS said...

Excellent post. Don't hold your breath on this one though.

Umair J said...

We tend to think that the average Pakistani is not overtly religious because he/she ends up ignoring the religious right (electorally speaking). But that by no means suggests that society itself is not religious. It just means that in the list of electorally relevant goods for the average citizen, religion and its regulation in the public sphere falls someway short of being the top-most priority (which in most cases is jobs, social security, and other material concerns). If religious parties started guaranteeing these things, they'd end up getting a lot of votes. The JI is a party of losers because they dont have influential land lords or industrialists in their ranks.

In a nutshell, what this means is that modernizing societies with open spaces for contestation will provide fertile ground for identity based mobilization. Religion can be for religions sake or it can be for the sake of secular material goals. And it is used across the country by every party at the grass roots level (including the PPP). My biggest fear is that if a large enough portion of our society manages to escape poverty, and increases the size of the middle classes, they'd all end up being Jamaat supporters or Muslim League supporters because, empirically, thats the point where religion becomes priority number 1.

What's the way out of it? The responsibility lies with political elites in informing their electorates that a state that determines their religion for them is wrong. Will our political elites ever do this (regardless of whether they're Leaguers or PPP politicians)? Of course they wont. Reason being they don't want to alienate any part of the electorate or give ammo to their opposing candidates or they just feel real strongly about religion themselves.

To oppose religion's role in the state, any movement (PPP or otherwise) would have to appropriate religion for this larger purpose. I.e. it would have to present itself as the real guardian of religion in our society. This is what Bhutto was trying to do with Islamic socialism. It was expediency of the worst kind, but this is what you get in infantile democracies (India is another case-in-point).

In summary, its just real hard being a progressive/liberal in a society like Pakistan.

Misanthrope said...

good post and some thoughtful comments. However, Ahsan, you also have to keep in mind that it is the Middle Class that is able to punch above its weight in any kind of debate on legal/political issues and it is the middle class which is most likely to adhere to right wing views about religion/national identity etc. As a professional group, lawyers, judges, bureaucrats, journalists are going to be hellbent against any such change in the laws - and it is over this group that the PPP have the least influence over. I just don't see what you are asking for as possible. The only party that can mobilise middle class opinion to make these kinds of changes is the PML-N and I kind of doubt they are bothered enough to do it. Of the other parties which boast middle class support, MQM is content to play in its ghetto and JI and PTI will probably want to extend the laws to other sects,

Rehan Qayoom said...

All those who signed the form against Ahmadis when renewing their Pakistani passports should hang their heads in shame at the blood that is on their hands. It is now time to act in protest and end the extermists’ hold upon the government to ransom. Otherwise, tomorrow it will be other groups that will suffer. Don’t let all those lives go to waste, let’s do something about it.

mehreenkasana said...

Excellently written and substantiated.

Pablo Kisggernati said...

They don't represent "average" Pakistani norms and never have.

I stopped reading there and condescendingly smiled at the academic naivete, dude.

I ask (not-so-innocently), what then are the "average Pakistani norms", if the phrase is not an oxymoron itself.

Your "average" is ultra conservative, super-orthodox and outright bigot (created - not his/her fault.)

It's the "above average" internet-enabled commenters like us who desperately want our ignorant back-home peasants rise up to modernity fast, so that we can salvage some pride on being from a civilized society ourselves.

Not that there's anything wrong with wanting it. :)

Rawal said...

Firstly, great job with the blog guys, really helped me understand some of the core issues with Pakistan [as an ex-overseas Pakistani].

Secondly, I don't understand this whole issue with Ahmadis. After conducting some research, I found out that this issue has been prevalent for a while now. What baffles me the most is, how the hell can any human being with a half a brain categorise them as "non muslims". As stated on Wikipedia (yes) :
"Ahmadiyya shares beliefs with Islam in general, including belief in the prophethood of Muhammad, reverence for historical prophets, belief in the oneness of God (tawhid)."

That in itself should establish a muslim according to me, but alright, if that isn't enough, here you go :
"They accept the Qur'an as their holy text, face the Kaaba during prayer, accept the authority of Hadiths (reported sayings of and stories about Muhammad) and practice the Sunnah"

To me, that hands them the right to identify as "muslims". Now, I am aware of the fact that there's virtually no education in some our poorer areas, and obviously, I wouldn't be expecting them to stumble upon my post. Okay, but are they really that selective with their vision? It's fairly obvious when a muslim is a muslim. An Ahmadi isn't branded, is he? They are persecuted on the basis of knowledge.

Lastly, as a Sunni muslim, I find the act of terming another person a "non muslim" extremely arrogant. I mean, who decided Sunni-ism is the "truest" form of Islam?? I mean no disrespect to Sunni-ism, but just generally speaking, this "war" to see which sect is headed in the right direction is really frustrating at this point. How stupid do you have to be to exhume all your resources fighting over sects [all praying to one Allah, no?] when the actual unbelievers are probably celebrating their "muslim-less" future.

P.S. - I like to think there isn't much of a purpose to my rant, just thought I needed to let out some of this shit before it consumed me whole. God bless us all.

Anonymous said...

What a despicable place Pakistan has become. The extremism of the fanatics, their bestial brutality, the pathetic inability of the state and its citizens to meaningfully reverse course is well and truly amazing.

What Pakistan had unleashed on its neighbors is well and truly consuming its own living self. I'm afraid Pakistan is closer to the brink than many of us realize or would frankly care to admit.

Amjad said...

"Now, we all know that the religious right has no real political power; they've never won anything worth winning in elections."

No real political power?? r u kidding me. Ahsan, once again u have fudged ur historical facts; I mean how else can u ignore the outright MMA victory in former NWFP in 2001. Add to this the center-right coalitions of early nineties and noughties where the right wielded heckuva clout over policy-making (read: Sharia laws of 2002 in former NWFP). Dude seriusly r u living under a rock or something??

"the main reason is that the only reason we even have these laws -- especially the Bhutto laws from the 70s which declared Ahmedis non-Muslims -- is because of agitation from the religious right."

wrong on this account as well. There were in fact two resolutions: One of the resolutions was sponsored by the Government (yes the PPP!) and tabled by the then Law Minister, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada. The other resolution was sponsored by the opposition (Ahsan's agitated religious right) and moved by Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani, Secretary Parliamentary group of the Opposition.

If this issue was just a religious right Achilles heel surely there would be only one resolution that would pass the house with a narrow margin amid much disdain....NOT! The bill passed unanimously as the whole house approved of it with 'desi style' desk thumping. Doesn't sound very religious right to me?

let's be brutally honest here, first, there is no evidence that the majority of Pakistanis would support the repeal of this bill (I know u like hard facts so put up or shut up) and second, the bill only disgusts a small left-leaning minority that is far less likely to VOTE in elections!

PS I would love for u to argue ur way out of this one!

Ahsan said...

Umair J: Some good points, especially about the modernizing/getting rich bit. I basically agree with what you say, but with a couple of qualifiers. First, the MQM is a good example of an alternative story of a middle class narrative that doesn't involve overt religiosity. Second, while I agree most of the country is religious, that's different from saying they support religious parties electorally.

Misanthrophe: I agree with you that it's not really possible. But I'd really like to see them try, if for no other reason than to force its opponents to come out into the open.

Rehan: Yes, you should read Tazeen's post, it makes a similar point to yours.

Mehreen: Thanks!

Pablo: You're right, I should've been clearer. I agree that the "average" Pakistani, such as it were, is conservative. But what I would say is that when these laws were first enacted, they were pushed by a fringe(ish) element of society. Now the rest of the population has moved toward that fringe, which I intimate in the post. I probably should have just left out the line on the religious right "never" representing Pakistanis; it was sort of besides the point anyway.

Rawal: Well, it wasn't really people from "poorer areas" who categorized them as non-Muslim. It was Zulfi Bhutto himself.

Amjad: On the "not winning anything" point, you're right, I should've been more careful in my formulation. What I should've said was that they've never been a national phenomenon. The 02 elections were sui generis because (a) it was the first and only time all the religious parties united under one banner, (b) it was still by and large restricted to one province, and that too for only one election cycle, and (c) it is widely acknowledged that those elections were at least partly rigged to give Musharraf a "reliable" governing partner. But they've never been nationally relevant.

The idea of center-right coalitions is different; I was referring only to the hardcore religious parties. But you're right in the sense that in practice, the two may not be all that different.

On the actual law itself, I agree with you (and other commenters above) that the majority would not support the repeal (I said as much in the post if you read it carefully), but my point was only that the PPP must still try for it, if only to isolate the opponents publicly. In a way, this is the best chance they will have in a long time. That was all I was trying to say.

beyond said...

i want to respond to rehan qayyoom.i dont live in pakistan and i am not ahmadi.if i want to have get my paaport renewed or what ever i have to sign the whole damned thing.what else do you want me to do.not come to pakistan.stay where i am.ok when i will get my new nationality may be then i can do something.but not at the moment.i am heart broken about what happened.where i live,ahmedis are in majority but non ahamdis pakistanis who live here despise them.i dont but it is what it is.really very sad.

Amjad said...

"What I should've said was that they've never been a national phenomenon. The 02 elections were sui generis because (a) it was the first and only time all the religious parties united under one banner"

I disagree. Religious parties have all united under one banner before albeit under center-right coalitions. IJI was one example and PNA was another with its explicit 'Nizam-e-Mustafa' agenda.

Furthermore, the religious right (i.e. MMA) does not adhere to any particular creed or sect and is rather an amalgamation of different religious flavors from the bitter Ahle Hadith Wahabis to the zesty TJP Shias. so next time ur barelvi friend goes ballistic on the Hudood Ordinance and the Blasphemy Laws, kindly remind him that most Sunni/Deobandi, Shia, Barelvi and Wahabi scholars are strictly against repealing its various provisions and have used their political muscle before when MMA threatened to resign from the Musharraf coalition after the passage of the Women's Protection Bill. So really there are no religious basis to repeal these laws unless Pakistan goes completely secular which, we both know won't happen anytime soon.

I think it's fair to say that MMA and its predecessors were always envisioned as political platforms for scholars and their followers to stem the secular tide and stop the left-leaning governments from running riot in NA. I think this agenda alone helps qualify the religious right as a national phenomenon..

To get back to your point, Pakistan's religious right exhibits three key characteristics:

(i) A rainbow coalition with a religious axis
(ii) The coalition has been created periodically during election cycles starting from 1977 and in all likelihood may be created once again for the next election cycle.
(iii)It can potentially represent 90% of Pakistanis.

Add to this the remotest possibility that someday this coalition might morph into something resembling the AK party in Turkey. Either way please explain on what basis u call the religious right a non-national phenomenon.

a_known_mouse said...

ahsan, good post, it would be a brave step in the right direction, for sure.

a quick question, though:

does saudi arabia have any role to play in the placement and/or removal of this provision?

I think their position on the issue is essential in this construct (given that they have strict laws that prevent who they may consider to be "non-muslims" from travelling into mecca).

Hypothetically, even if this provision were to be removed, I think SA may hold issue with it.

takhalus said...

The greatest right wing turn out was 15% in the 1970 election while its best electoral performance was in 2002..common factors in each period was the splintering of the PML ..the natural home for the conservatives.

I'd argue one reason that the right wing did not have much influence from 1947-1970 was the role of the Bengalis. The far left was amajor bigger player because of its support in East Pakistan, that's a major reason why the 2nd amendment passed.

Mashall said...

I appreciate that the Taliban thinks the MQM is our terrorist wing in Karachi. If this were the case, I'd be able to get a hell of a lot more done around here.

Nabeel said...

With regards to the two approaches on law and society, I think it's fair to say that both views are partially correct and that laws and society reinforce each other - they aren't exactly mutually exclusive. The famous vicious cycle...

I have a question - has the PPP been able to pass the anti-women's harassment bill? I know it was tabled, and am pretty sure that it was passed, but if so, it represents the first step towards repealing the Hudood Ordinance and anti-Ahmadi laws (in the sense that it represents the defeat of the religious right in parliament).

Akhila said...

Contrast this to my country .. wherein minorities are the most favoured and pampered lot .. be it SCs & STs, jews, christians or muslims .. Any law is bent to support them ..
I have no issues living with people of other sect, caste or religion .. in fact I value unity as Indians in diversity .. but mindless minority favouring just to grab votes is disgusting ..

Aditya said...

@akhila - oh c'mon, you're veering off the topic here. but if you need to know - don't just sit there in your comfort zone and say that. go to any indian village and ask a dalit how his/her life is. you'll know where we stand. the number of dalit killings and massacres almost go unnoticed, let alone cases of discrimination.

So here we have a system where all laws of the land prohibit discrimination and persecution, but how effective have they been is anybody's guess.

Smci said...

This Ahmedi issue defines the troubled head-scratcher that is the role of Islam in Pakistani Governance.

If it's an Islamic Republic, shouldn't sects that clearly defy crucial aspects of the creed of 90+% of Muslims be openly deemed "non-Muslim."

On the otherhand, if it's truely a Republic that grants inalienable rights to all of its people, included among which is the freedom to worship as one sees fit, then who gave the Government the power to declare someone a "non-Muslim?"

Clause 20 of the "Fundemental Rights" chapter of the Pakistani Constitution grants that:

(a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and

(b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

But it also says that these rights are "Subject to law, public order and morality."

So what happens when the vast majority of the population find it morally reprehensible that someone claim to be a Muslim, and yet openly challenge the creed of the finality of Prophethood?

No Pakistani ever claimed that this was a thoroughly secular Republic.