Black Goats vs Human Responsibility


*Originally published on The Nation Blogs.

Pakistan may have a plethora of problems, but it definitely has no shortage of a peculiar set of solutions to deal with those when the need arises.

Recently, photos emerged of a black goat being slaughtered at the airport tarmac in Islamabad right beside a Pakistan International Airlines plane. PIA has now reportedly launched an investigation into how and why a goat and butcher’s knife were brought to what was a restricted zone.

While at first it seemed that the chief national policy, Allah de hawale, was in action, it was later revealed the slaughter was done as “a gesture of gratitude” in light of ATR operations being resumed.

It is reminiscent of what a sessions court judge in Karachi said in 2015 when dismissing a plea filed against the Sindh government regarding incompetence and apathy in the face of the devastating heat wave that struck the city:

“Climate change is in control of Almighty Allah…Due to climate changes the season of monsoon also has been effected and rather delayed and for all this we being Muslims have to pray before Almighty Allah to extend the relief to the human being by showing His kindness.”

Religion pervades ever corner of Pakistani society and culture. And the state’s ample usage of religion has a long and vivid history which thrives even today. Therefore it is hardly a surprise that references and supplications to the divine feature at all levels in the country, from Pakistani courts to airport tarmacs.

What is unsettling, however, is the conception of religion in this regard. Divine power and fate are frequently invoked, but to what purpose? Often to shift the burden of responsibility that is tied to human agency.

Perhaps the slaughtering of the goat was a well-intentioned act by some PIA employees, and genuinely a gesture of gratitude or a prayer for safeguarding flights against further accidents. And its occurrence certainly does not mean that normal security, safety and upkeep procedures were not being followed, however the symbolism of the act is striking.

The late Ardeshir Cowasjee’s scathing attacks and timeless critiques of the malaise residing and pervasive among the Pakistani people resonate in this regard:

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 “Gutter bana nahi saktay aur atom bomb banatay hain, cement main bajri ziada mila dete hain aur imarat pay Masha’Allah likh dete hain kay ab inhe khuda bachaye ga” – Cowasjee

No number of goats will be adequate for slaughtering to save PIA from its problems, which lead force such expressions of relief and gestures of gratitude in the first place, if a thorough inquiry and reform is not conducted pertaining to the airlines’ lengthy list of problems and inefficiencies which have made the national airlines the subject of numerous jokes and a source of constant embarrassment to the public, and a source of constant fear to those who chose to fly with it.

In short, the exercise of human agency, effort and diligence is wholly necessitated – that God has given precisely for its application.

Perhaps people in Pakistan need to be acquainted with the message given by Professor Mehmet Gormuz, head of Turkey’s official Directorate of Religious Affairs in 2014, to muftis after the tragic Soma Mine incident which took the lives of 303 workers in Turkey. Professor Gormez’s message was also a response to then PM Erdogan’s statement that such accidents were matters of fate and nature:

“Producing excuses about ‘divine power’ for human guilt and responsibility is wrong. The laws of nature are the laws of God. God has given us the ability to understand these laws and asked from us to act accordingly. What is suitable for God’s will is to take the necessary precautions against the physical causes for disasters. The strength of the believer against the consequences of disasters is important. But similarly important is the believer’s comprehension of the causes.”

The importance of Gormez’s message resonates: ‘divine power’, ‘fate’ and hopes for “divine intervention” and “protection” should not be used as exculpatory devices; as escapes from and substitutes for human responsibility; as excuses for indifference, inaction, and as excuses for the pandemic of human incompetence which we parade all over Pakistan.

-Hafsa Khawaja

 

 

 

The Bill and the Need for Cultural Currency


*Originally published in The Nation.

There has been much outcry and uproar. JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman has called it an instrument for victimization of husbands, and suggested that the government should’ve just declared the ‘husband as wife and wife as husband’. Muhammad Naeem of Binoria has lamented it and linked it to the Nawaz Sharif’s promises to the West for bringing a ‘liberal nizaam’ in Pakistan and an attack against our ‘culture’ and ‘values’. There have been protests and condemnations.

Such has been the reaction elicited from the conservative and religious right in the country by the passage of the Bill for Protection of Women against Violence 2015, which criminalizes violence against women and carries comprehensive remedies and recourse for victims of violence, in the Punjab Assembly.

The vehement opponents of the Bill are proponents of an idea that not only trivializes the occurrence and prevalence of shameful ills and stains on Pakistani society, such as domestic violence, but also believe that it is actually the uncovering and exposition of these ills that really brings bad name to Pakistan and its ‘culture’. They would rather that women be beaten and assaulted in their homes, acid thrown on their faces, buried alive in the name of honor, than let their cries be heard or their wounds be healed.

Yet this reaction is symptomatic of a larger malaise within Pakistan’s culture and society that the Bill has merely managed to reveal. It is a malaise that considers violence against women a legitimate and acceptable force to maintain the stability, sanctity and honor of the family and home; violence as a ‘natural’ instrument of exalted masculinity to ‘straighten a woman up’ or ‘put her in her place’. This is cemented by the presentation of the malaise as a matter that strictly belongs to the private sphere, to the degree that even to speak on violence inflicted upon women is considered a breach of the so-called sanctity of the private. Thus, it may be that the izzat of the home is by a woman, but the woman herself has no right to her own izzat.

Only recently it was reported that a man in the village of Lakha Luddan divorced his wife after she got him arrested for inflicting torture on her.

In light of the existing situation, the fervid opposition to the Bill among certain groups and segments in the country underscore something much greater: the need to create cultural currency for change and reform in Pakistan. Since laws cannot operate in a vacuum, legal strides on issues such as those of domestic violence must be accompanied by efforts to conjure cultural acceptance and traction of the ideas underlying the laws to complement and enforce their strength.

Nazish Brohi sharply captures the predicament confronting women in the country: “Women across Pakistan, meanwhile, continue to face an old ultimatum: they can either claim citizenship of the state or membership of the community. Appealing to the former means expulsion from the latter. Once you go to the police or courts or shelters, there is no going back into the family fold.” This separation between the sphere of the state and the sphere of the private defines a great segment of opposition and anger directed at the Bill by many groups which consider it a breach of space and an encroachment of the exclusive rights such a separation bestows upon the private space i.e dealing with women. This division of spheres aids the aforementioned argument of the sanctity of home and family, an argument that Ammar Rashid of the Awami Workers Party was quick to point out was an “age-old misogynist ruse; used to deny women the vote hundred years ago”, which is being invoked by those targeting the Bill as a dangerous device that can potentially trigger the disintegration of families and its eventual disappearance in society.

One wonders what exactly goes on in the cherished institution of family that such a bill threatens by threatening to expose and punish.

It may perhaps well be true that ideas embodied in legal initiatives, of violence against women being a crime, percolate through to larger society but a top down change must be augmented by the creation of congruent values below in order to render it effective and powerful. After all, a woman brought up to believe that to remain silent in face of violence is to maintain honor would seldom think of appealing to laws. And it is this silence that men make their power and impunity. Therefore, as important as it is for the government to ensure the momentous passage and implementation of the landmark bill, it is equally, if not more, important to undertake a serious and concerted campaign to culturally diffuse the value held at heart of the bill and overturn existing toxic ideas and perceptions centered on the acceptability of violence against women. Such a campaign will have to involve the state and government’s engagement and collaboration with the civil society; and the utilization of means and mediums which resonate with the larger public, such as films, dramas, advertisements, lectures, educational activities, and even religious authority.

To stand its ground against the blackmail and bluster of the religious right protesting the bill, and to dispel ideas that incite and justify violence against women in the first place, are both arduous and uphill tasks for the government but tasks necessitated by the realization that such regressive groups and abhorrent ideas have held the country hostage for too long, and Pakistan must be freed from their shackles if ever to move forward.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Youhanabad and the Language of Prejudice


*Originally published in The Nation.

Less than four months since the Peshawar tragedy and Pakistan has seen the Shikarpur bombing, the Peshawar Imambargah and Youhanabad attacks.

Blood does not seem to stop flowing in this land.

Much has been said about attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan, and it is often that the violence against them is explained by brushing it into the general epidemic of terrorism afflicting the nation and country; violence that raging yet indiscriminate. Certainly, attacks on religious minorities do add to and reinforce the plague of violence in Pakistan yet they are not one and the same thing. The danger of this explanation is that it is a narrative which blurs a gory reality; that religious minorities face fatal focus from terrorists and extremists; specially targeted and massacred. From the Shia Hazaras in Quetta to Shikarpur, from Kot Radha Kishan to Youhanabad, there is a cold-blooded calculation behind this blood-letting, and these are truly besieged communities.

Ali Sethi’s recent article in The New York Times on the Youhanabad attack states:

‘According to one estimate, in the last two years there have been 36 targeted attacks on Pakistani Christians, 265 Christian deaths from suicide bombings and 21 “persecutions” of Christians under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

What we have, then, is the peculiar despair of a people who are unable to articulate their real grievance, a people who have no political parties or voting blocs of their own, who have only churches and pastors and the eternal motifs of suffering and deliverance to see them through this dark period.’

Moreover, although Youhanabad falls in Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif’s constituency; he hasn’t visited it once since the attack. This does much to demonstrate the crass neglect and disregard prevalent in the ruling party’s leadership on the issue, aggravating the spiralling state failure at the cost of numerous Pakistani lives.

The extremist intolerance and hate that set off bombs in Youhanabad also bred further violence as two men were burnt alive by the resulting angry mob in broad daylight to the glare of photos being snapped and videos being captured through mobiles by the perpetrators.

As gruesome and reprehensible was the lynching, it is important to view the incident clear of the inevitable and intense emotions clouding it. Waqqas Mir, writing for The News on Sunday, offered the needed perspective:

“A mob is a mob and its violent actions need to be condemned for that reason alone. The religion to which violent individuals belong is not helpful in explaining the violence or, more importantly, controlling it.”

Religion can certainly not be held culpable in cases such as these which are clearly not specific to certain groups in the society if we are to recall that the savage lynching of two brothers in Sialkot happened not long ago.

However, the violent turn of events after Youhanabad revealed an equally important aspect contributing to the dismal position of Christians in the country: cultural and social.

The Youhanabad bombing and the mob that horrifically took the lives of two men spurred a rush of reactions. Soon some sentiments morphed into degradation of the Christian community in Pakistan.

Many expressed shock, outrage and despair at the incidents, yet a flurry of tweets and comments also ran along the lines of “chooray chooray hi hotay hain”. The attachment of choora as a disparaging and condemnatory label for the entire Christian community is neither new nor uncommon, and this was put to ample display during the ugly turn many comments took as the news of the mob murder emerged. Such is the extent of its use and commonality that choora rings synonymously with the Christian community in the country for many.

Language is the vehicle of culture, and inevitably, cultural prejudices.

Choora, a pejorative to belittle and degrade Pakistani Christians, is rooted in the utter lack of respect and recognition associated with those who have menial occupations in the society. The comments sought to shamelessly demean the Christian community by way of the label since socially and culturally, little respect is lent to the work of those who toil after the dirt and filth we leave in our wake, not quite different from this filth spouted at the Christian community; a religious minority whose members included illustrious individuals like Cecil Chaudhry, Mervyn Middlecoat, Justice Cornelius and Samuel Martin Burke who lived their lives for Pakistan.

The application of choora in its cultural context therefore ‘others’ Christians by degrading them as some sort of second-class citizens who are unequal to the rest. This is similar to the linguistic treatment of khawaja sira or khusras which is reflective of our societal treatment of them; in the form of exclusion; subjection to humiliation and jokes.

While to some these may ring only as mere words, they are nonetheless expressions of the deep-seated beliefs prevalent in many segments of the Pakistani society; cultural crutches for the bigotry that perpetuates prejudices against the cornered Christian minority. These reflect and reinforce prejudices that manifest as apathy towards their problems, grievances and pleas, and in the most extreme of cases, as bloody sores as in the form of Joseph Colony, Shama and Shehzad’s cruel murder and the Youhanabad bombing.

The white in our flag is soaked red and it is time it is reclaimed; but for that the state and society must work and change in unison; the latter must rid itself of cultural beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that sustain and perpetuate prejudices against religious minorities in Pakistan.

And for a start, we can all begin by challenging and changing the language of prejudice.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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Mob Insanity or Justice? Save Pakistan From Itself!


 The basic structure of a society consists of laws and their regard which help to make it civilized. A society where the people take the law and process of justice into their own hands is in plain words : Chaotic and barbaric.

 

On August 19th, a video surfaced of two brothers Hafiz Mugheez Sajjad and Muneeb Sajjad being mercilessly beaten by batons to death by villagers in front of area police and a mass gathering in Sialkot. Their bodies were then hanged upside down with poles and then paraded in the back of a tractor trolley around the city which is known as ‘Shehr-e-Iqbal’.

 

Both brothers Mughees who was 19 and Muneeb who was 17, were Hafiz-e-Quran. It is being said that :

“At the early morning of 15th August 2010, the two brothers set of on their motorbike to play a cricket match. whilst on their journey, were distracted by a group of people who were looking for robbers who open fired on two people. The two brothers were wrongly accused of robbery, and without a fair trial, the police let angry mob of people kill the two innocent brothers.

They were murdered ruthlessly during the holy month of Ramadan. At the time of their death, both brothers were fasting whilst beaten to death viciously.”

Dawn News writes :

“On the the very day newspapers reported the Sialkot double-murder, they also carried a news item about the awarding of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz to the DIG Gujranwala, Zulfiqar Cheema, for “maintaining law and order”. The police officer, in whose jurisdiction Sialkot also falls, appears to do his job in a manner that is condemnable.

Meanwhile, SHO police, alleged mastermind of killing of two brothers, has fled away and is still at large, police sources said.”

  
This is not a case first of its nature in Pakistan, mob justice has been a routine practice especially in our country. Many incidents as such emerge from time to time. From catching alleged robbers and burning them, to killing non-Muslims on account of ‘blasphemy’  to stripping the sister by a family of whose girl the woman’s brother fled with.

When the general public, mostly which is uneducated begins to to play judge and executioner, it is time that the Government and Judiciary wake up.

 

One is left shocked and appalled after viewing the gruesome video leaving one wondering as why none of those who were present at the time of this incident including the eight policemen did not stop the barbarians committing this crime? Not one in the many who witnessed this spoke a word of protest! This clearly evinces the crumple down of our society’s moral framework and the virtual absence of the rule of law.


People are giving mixed reasons as to why the two brothers were battered to death ; while some say they were involved in crime, others say it was a petty rivalry.

However, even if they were (as alleged) guilty of committing a crime they should have been brought to the courts. No civilized society of the world or sane human would do what had been done to them.

Pakistanis proudly procalim to be a Muslim nation, yet what recenlt happened clashes with the saying of Propeht Muhammad (PBUH) :

“Whoever of you sees wrong being committed, let him rectify it with his hand, if he is unable, then with his tongue, and if he us unable, then with his heart, and this is the weakest of faith — or in another version: beyond this there is not a single mustard seed’s weight of faith (iman).”

Those who silently watched the teenagers being dragged into the mouth of death are equally blameworthy and censurable for the bestiality for them being  acquiescent to the cruelty.


Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has already taken Suo Moto Notice of the savagery and summoned the police officials while in the same vein Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also ordered an investigation while vowing to hang the culprits in the same place.

Indeed, those who had played a part in this should be dealt the same way.

As Islam says “An eye for an eye.”

The videos uploaded of the gore happening shows the faces of those who killed the boys as identifable and with the aforementioned commencements, the whole nation expects the matter to be solved and those behind it to be strictly and severely retributed rather letting the reality of this brutality to fade out .

The culture of sheer mob madness churned with naked atrociousness, masked under the name of ‘Mob Justice’ must be completely spurned by the iron hand of justice.

 

 After 63 years, this is what we have come to as a nation? Devoid of even a smidgen of compassion, humaity and conscience! Neither are we a civilized society nor a we a nation worth following. This is not the Pakistan Jinnah and Iqbal has thought of. Majority of Pakistanis believe and talk of Pakistan needing a revolution but revolution means change which we only deserve after evolving from being such animals into humans that reform the society. What we have today is what we are worthy of because the heart of this nation is rotten. With such occurences that slightly expose the ugly face of our society, one must say Allah has still been very kind to us as a nation.

 

I would only quote what Iqbal had once beautifully written :

 

“Ya Rab Dil-e-Muslim Ko, Woh Zinda Tamana De,

Jo Qulb Ko Garma De, Jo Roh Ko Tarpa De”

May heart bleeds for them,

May the soul of the brothers rest in eternal peace!

And Allah save Pakistan from itself!

– Hafsa Khawaja

The Burqa and Burqini Threat


 

 

So the French Parliament finally passed the law against the burqa, igniting many controversies and anger from the Muslim community. France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim minority but the sight of fully-veiled women remains rare. Only 1,900 women wear a niqab, 90 percent of them under 40, according to interior ministry estimates.President Nicolas Sarkozy set the tone in June when he declared the burqa “not welcome” in France.
 
The French government is concerned over the burqa as they believe it is threatening their ‘values’. The point lies, isn’t France supposed to be secular? Tolerant of all religions and the people who follow the prescribed practises of their faith?
 
Even some Muslims second them,  they acknowledge the Quran preaches modesty, but they believe that it doesn’t say that you have to cover your face. This is not a requirement of Islam or the Quran according to them, also believing that the burqa is giving birth to radical Islam.                   

                                                                                                                                         
How can one determine whether all women who wear it are forced to wear it?
Though it can not be denied that many women are forced or dictated by their husbands or men of their house and their society to wear the burqa but every woman who wears a burqa anywhere in the world can certainly not be classified as one being oppressed to wear it. Muslim women do have the free will to decide what they want and alot of women who wear the abaya, burqa or niqab, wear it on the basis of their free will.                                                                                         

                                                      
The second point given by those Muslims in regard of their support for the ban is that the Quran preaches modesty but it isn’t in the Quran or Islam to cover the face or wear the burqa. One of the major reasons that they feel the burqa should not be considered related to religion is that it is not among the 5 pillars of Islam. This is absolutely absurd.. The 5 pillars of Islam are indeed an integral part of a Muslim’s life but so are Hadith and Sunnah. Why are Muslims  forbidden from committing adultery or ordered to help the destitue ? These may not be part of the pillars of Islam but part of the Quran.                                                                                                                                       

Islam may not preach the covering of the face but as there are 72 sects in Islam so are there numerous schools of thought in it. Each follows practices and traditions that they have derived from their interpretation of the Quran. Some consider the burqa as a necessity and entwined with the sacredness and sacrosanctity of religion.
Such sects and schools of thought can not be ignored in any country.

Wearing a burqa does not mean that one promotes radical Islam or the ‘Islam’ of the militants. This is sheer bias and discrimination.
How is France threatened by the burqa which is worn by a mere 1,900 women of the Muslim majority that resides there.

Columnist Masooda Bano once wrote an article in ‘The News’ that how would we feel if French women came around our streets and roads wearing mini-skirts, wouldn’t we ban them from this? For it will destroy our culture. This made me muse but after alot of pondering, I came to the conclusion that mini-skirts are fashion accessories not associated with religion as in the case of the burqa, which is considered a symbol of religious holiness.

Leaving alone the ungraspable problem of France with the burqa, it has already banned the hijab from being worn in schools etc in 2004. In regard of that the Human Rights Watch stated that the law is “an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice”.

Exactly what threat or fear does the wearing of hijab cause?
The leader of Sarkozy’s right-wing party in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, has already presented draft legislation that would make it illegal for anyone to cover their faces in public on security grounds.

The Netherlands and Austria are considering a ban on the full veil, while Denmark said it would limit the use in public of the burka and niqab although stopping short of an outright ban.

The question is not only about the burqa but religious tolerance. It’s about all other forms of practices that are associated with religion. The veil exists both in Christianity and Judaism. Is that a ‘threat’ to French ‘values’ too? Will they be banned too?

Ironically, freedom of religion was one of the 17 points in the ‘Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen’ demanded and formed after the French Revolution stated as:

4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

5. Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

10. No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.”

As in Point no. 4,  any action which does not harm anyone is free to be practised by anyone. So on what grounds of harm or threat is the hijab or burqa?

Point no.10 is the most significant for the arguments in favour of the hijab and burqa, that no one shall be shackled on the basis of their religion in case it does not disturb public order.

It should be known to France, that the burqa is not a tradition or merely a culture but part of the religious culture of the second largest religion of this world, Islam. Religion is a matter of paramount importance, respect and sacredness.  And Islam is not just a religion but a way of life.

Freedom of religion is also enshrined in the French Constitution. The question arises? Where is the implementation of this?

 One can not force someone to draw a veil and neither can someone force someone to abandon it.

 

Moreover, France also seems to disrelish the ‘Burqini‘ , wearing which seems in no manner as threatening, an act of defiance or transgression of French values. It is a mere dress that Muslim women chose to wear to preserve and maintain their circle of decency that they must. 

“It was described as the perfect solution for Muslim women who want to swim but are uncomfortable about “revealing” bathing suits.”

The afore-mentioned lines are the only reason behind the Burqini. In what way does it affront the French? Why are those who wear it, disgracefully thrown out of pools or reprimanded?

Isn’t it usual for a person to have his reservations, aversions or opinions about certain things? If indeed some women do not wish to wear the Bikni or expose their faces and head by wearing the Burqa and Hijab to guard and follow their Islamic values, why is it deemed anomalous and shunned?

 

 

Had it not been for Islam being associated with these two dresses, one is left to think if the Burqa and Burqini had been show-cased at the Paris Fashion Week as an adornment for beautification or style , would they have still been banned or become the vogue? It is without any doubt, that this ban is a strangulation of freedom and an instrument for alienation.

 

France must remember that any proposed ‘liberation’  (that they base these bans on : stating that they are ‘liberating’ Muslim women ) can never be imposed on people. It is an oppression in its own right.

 

The French banned the burqa, the Swiss the minarets. It is even reported that some countries are musing over banning halal food.  These countries claim to be the torch-bearers of tolerance, human rights and freedom and development but what we see from the mind-set of their Governments is the portrayal of narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy and arrant ignorance of the basic rights of humans and disrespect for cultural and religious diversitywhich has sprung from their misunderstanding and wrong interpretation of Islam. Not only are they closing in on a peaceful practise but displaying discrimination and prejudice against a religion and the Muslims community. It is a shame and an out-right example of the growing Islamophobia in European nations.

– Hafsa Khawaja