The U.N. Needs A Peacekeeping Force, Not Just Words, To Protect Myanmar’s Rohingya by Farahnaz Ispahani

As reports of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state pour in, one thing is clear: The international community needs to respond more robustly.

The United Nations refugee agency has reported that more than a quarter of the Rohingya in Myanmar — 270,000 people — have fled their homes so far. The horrors we’re seeing in Rakhine are similar to those we witnessed in the 1990s during the slaughter of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.

Rendered stateless because Myanmar refuses to recognize them as citizens, the Rohingya are being forced to flee as their villages are burned. Reports of rape, murder and arson have increased as refugees arrive by land or sea in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Rohingya refugees flee to Bangladesh. Sept. 10.
Rohingya refugees flee to Bangladesh. Sept. 10.

The horrors we’re seeing in Rakhine are similar to those we witnessed during the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

But the situation demands a stronger response than merely condemning the actions of the Myanmar government. The atrocities in Bosnia did not end without NATO’s involvement, and the genocide in Rwanda did not cease until the U.N. sent in a peacekeeping force.

Much of the world’s response to the Rohingya crisis has centered on well-deserved criticism of Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Public figures have penned newspaper editorials calling to revoke Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize. Two Nobel laureates, Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu, have criticized Suu Kyi’s role in the humanitarian crisis. Tutu came out of retirement to voice his criticism of a woman he described as “a dearly beloved sister” he has long admired but whose behavior he strongly condemns in the “unfolding horror” of this “ethnic cleansing.”

Tutu admonished Suu Kyi, saying it was “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead” a country that allowed such atrocities. “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” he said.

This situation demands a stronger response than merely condemning the actions of the Myanmar government.

Suu Kyi’s attempts to spin the violence against the Rohingya is ingenuous, at best. Reports of attempted genocide and mass exodus of the Rohingya, which began to surface in 2009, are based on eyewitness accounts and are documented on video. Refugees arriving in Bangladesh have recounted matching stories of children being beheaded and men and women being burned to death.

The Rohingya are unwanted in Bangladesh and other neighboring countries as well. With little economic or social standing and virtually no rights even in their homeland, these people have no voice. They are friendless under the might of military guns.

Although the history of the Rohingya can be traced back to the eighth century, Myanmar law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of its national races. The government’s attitude, as well as silence from the international community, reflects the mistreatment and marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities that have, unfortunately, resurfaced as a global phenomenon today.

It’s shocking. I’ve never encountered a situation like this. Linnea Arvidsson, U.N. investigator

The result of events like the tragedy in Myanmar is communal majoritarianism. As Linnea Arvidsson, a U.N. investigator who met refugees in Bangladesh, put it: “It’s shocking. I’ve never encountered a situation like this, where you do 204 interviews and every single person you speak with has a traumatic story, whether their house was burnt, they’ve been raped or a relative was killed or taken away.”

The U.N. Security Council must heed the advice of Secretary-General António Guterres to step up its response. “The international community has a responsibility to undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis,” Guterres warned. This might involve sending international forces to protect the Rohingya from Myanmar’s security forces and allied mobs intent on eliminating another minority.

But after the immediate issue has been attended to and international forces have intervened to save the Rohingya from being eliminated or permanently excluded from their homeland, there will remain a need to work on the larger issue of communalism. Majorities must not be allowed to attack minorities to create religiously or ethnically pure societies. Finding a mechanism to prevent future Rwandas and Rakhines will be the real test for our civilization.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/myanmar-rohingya-united-nations_us_59b695c3e4b0dfaafcf95e79?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004

Interview: ‘SK Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia. Farahnaz Ispahani

 

With Pakistan also celebrating 70 years of its independence Farahnaz Ispahani, Global Fellow at Washington’s Wilson Centre, former member of Pakistan Parliament (from Pakistan People’s Party) and former media advisor to the Pakistan President, spoke to Rohit E David on the political flux in Islamabad after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, its impact on Kashmir and the nefarious role of Pakistan’s deep state:

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Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani

Q. What is your view on the political prospects of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who has been PM of Pakistan after Nawaz Sharif stepped down?

Farahnaz Ispahani. PM Abbasi has been nominated by Nawaz Sharif from his own party and is seen by all as a loyal placeholder until the next elections, in which Sharif’s nominated prime ministerial candidate will run. Sharif remains the head of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and, as is the subcontinent’s tradition, control of the party is more important than who is officially PM. Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia Gandhi.

Q. What is your view on Pakistan Supreme Court barring Nawaz Sharif as PM?

Farahnaz Ispahani. The verdict came as no surprise. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has a long history of political decisions and acts directly instead of waiting for due process through lower courts. Now it has disqualified a three times elected prime minister from holding public office for life, in a corruption inquiry linked to the Panama Papers.

However, Sharif was not named in the Panama leaks, there was no trial, and it has yet to be proved that he abused public office for private gain. The judges disqualified him on what many unbiased observers consider a mere technicality. It is indeed sad that no Pakistani PM is allowed to be voted out by the people and SC judges or generals decide when a PM should be ousted.

Q. Why has no Pakistan PM completed a full five-year term?

Farahnaz Ispahani. It is because of what many call the permanent establishment in Pakistan. This is led by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies; closely emulated by the Supreme Court and, in many instances, the bureaucracy. This is Pakistan’s constant and consistent power base. They do not accept the right of elected leaders to change the nation’s course.  The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the five high courts have an extremely poor record of defending democracy against authoritarian interventions. The Supreme Court has legalised each one of Pakistan’s three successful military coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999.

Q. What impact will this have on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Kashmir policy, all regional policy and non-regional foreign policy has been directed by the establishment since Pakistan’s founding. Several civilian prime ministers – most recently Sharif – have tried to improve ties with India but the powerful ‘Kashmir first’ lobbies in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have destroyed all these efforts by the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan. India and Pakistan can normalise relations without resolving all disputes first, as many countries have done, but that is not acceptable to the Pakistani establishment. Kashmir policy, anti-India policy and the policy of strategic depth have caused Pakistan to be increasingly isolated in our neighbourhood and around the world. Proponents of that policy do not want to accept that.

Q. Will this make the civilian government weak forever?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Nothing has to be forever. But Pakistan’s permanent establishment and its stranglehold on Pakistan’s media have made it very difficult to stand up to it even as we see today for a hugely popular and elected leader like Nawaz Sharif. Judiciary has become an instrument of the establishment. It responds to media noise rather than sticking to law and legal process.

Q. How do you assess Imran Khan’s role leading up to this court case? Do you foresee Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan coming out with a third front?

Farahnaz Ispahani. Imran Khan has been in politics for decades but, until now, he has always been a bridesmaid who never made it to being the actual bride. He is thought to be growing more personally unstable and that is making some in the permanent establishment concerned about supporting him in the next elections against Sharif’s powerful PML-N party in the all-important Punjab province. That said, he has some following in urban areas among angry, hyper-nationalist youth and retired military personnel. And he remains a favourite of pro-establishment media.

Q. Do you feel that judicial accountability and judicial independence have become tools of a deep state?

Farahnaz Ispahani. I will only say that judicial accountability must be across the board and not selective to be credible. There is a reason why no general, judge or senior bureaucrat faces the kind of accountability inflicted on politicians. When the process is not transparent, it leads to suspicions about the deep state being at work.

Note; The Interview was published originally by “Time of India” , and can be read;  ‘SK Abbasi is to Sharif what Manmohan Singh was to Sonia … Pakistan’s SC has poor record of defending democracy’

Farahnaz Ispahani- Senior Fellow at Religious Freedom Institute

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: The History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2015, she was a Reagan-Fascell Scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, DC.  Ispahani was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center from 2013-2014. A Pakistani politician, Ispahani served as a Member of Parliament and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan from 2008-2012.  In Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, gender based violence, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. She was also a member of the Women’s caucus in the 13th National Assembly. The caucus, which straddled political divides, was instrumental in introducing more legislation on women’s issues than has ever been done before during a single parliamentary term. Ms. Ispahani spent the formative years of her career as a print and television journalist. Her last journalistic position was as Executive Producer and Managing Editor of Voice of America’s Urdu TV. She has also worked at ABC News, CNN and MSNBC.

Link: Farahnaz Ispahani- Senior Fellow at Religious Freedom Institute

Silent majority’s complicity in war on minorities- Egypt & Pakistan

The Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Tanta are still reeling from shock after Islamic State (ISIS) suicide bombers killed 45 people attending Palm Sunday services last week. Last Thursday, a frenzied mob lynched a student accused of blasphemy at a university in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Mardan. Thousands of miles apart, one was an act of well-planned terrorism and the other an instance of mob violence. But both represented growing intolerance and, in some cases, indifference towards religious minorities in majority-Muslim countries.

Non-Muslims as well as members of minority Muslim sects are under attack throughout the Muslim world. Muslim majority nations seem to have assimilated or normalised hatred

The victims of the Palm Sunday massacre in Egypt were Coptic Christians, an ancient sect established by St. Mark the Apostle. Easter is their most sacred holiday and their holiest feast. In recent years, Copts have been targeted with considerable frequency in Egypt. In late March, a bomb had been defused at the same Tanta church where 28 people died on April 9. In December, 30 churchgoers had been killed in Cairo.

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The victim of the Mardan University lynching was beaten to death after a debate on religion. As is common in Pakistan, accusations of blasphemy had followed allegedly because he questioned corruption of university officials. Although the deceased in this instance came from a mainstream Muslim family, many blasphemy cases involve Christians and members of the Ahmadiyya community. The latter consider themselves a sect of Islam but they are deemed non-Muslim in Pakistan. The sect was defined outside the pale of Islam by an amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in 1974 and has consistently faced persecution and mob violence with little protection from the state machinery. Since 1990, at least 65 people have been murdered in Pakistan over unproved allegations of blasphemy.

What ties the two seemingly unrelated incidents — one in Egypt and the other in Pakistan — is the apathy of most Muslims to the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities within their countries. Few Muslim Egyptians expressed horror over the Palm Sunday church attacks. In Pakistan, no one tried to save the victim under attack. Those who did not join the attacking mob just made videos of the lynching with their smartphones.

Pakistan had witnessed an attack on Easter festivities last year. A suicide bomber had targeted Christian families gathered at a park in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province. The killer exploded ten kilograms of explosives and metal ball bearings in the area between two rides designed for use of children. The attack was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. The attack killed 73 people, including 29 children. The youngest of these children was merely two-years old and the eldest was 16.

Other similar attacks reflect a pattern of ‘purifying’ majority-Muslim countries of minorities. In 2015, ISIS had beheaded 21 Copts in Libya and warned that it would target the “crusaders” — a reference to Christians — and the Coptic Church. ISIS claimed responsibility for the December 2016 bombings in Cairo and vowed to “continue war against the apostates.” In February 2017, ISIS murdered seven Christians in Sinai and described Copts as its favourite “prey,” calling for further killings.

In its statement claiming the Palm Sunday attacks, ISIS again spoke of Egyptian Christians as ‘crusaders’ even though the Copts are a community that predates any conflict between Europeans and Middle Eastern Muslims. After last year’s Easter attack in Pakistan, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesperson had said that the motive of the attack was to convey a message to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘that we have entered Lahore’ — the prime minister’s hometown.

Why attack an ancient indigenous community if the intended target is European ‘crusaders?’ What is the justification of killing Christian women and children to deliver a harsh message to the country’s prime minister?

That the stated objectives of terrorist attacks against religious minorities have little to do with their actual targets reflects how Islamist extremists view religious minorities as sub-human. Terrorists and orchestrators of mob violence alike know that at least within their own countries very few people will even raise a voice at violence against minority communities.

Non-Muslims as well as members of minority Muslim sects are under attack throughout the Muslim world. Muslim majority nations seem to have assimilated or normalised hatred. Islamist extremist groups operate with sympathy and support of extremist citizens, as others acquiesce in the resolve to eliminate religious minorities through their silence.

One measure of the rising tide of intolerance towards non-Muslims in the Muslim world is the declining Christian population in Arab as well as some non-Arab majority-Muslim countries. Before 2003, there were around 1.2 million Christians in Iraq. Within ten years, their number halved to around 500,000. The story is not very different in several other countries.

Attacks on Christians in Egypt or on Ahmadis in Pakistan do not prompt large scale protests by Muslims disassociating themselves from such intolerance.

The media in Muslim-majority countries does not go beyond a few critical comments and we do not hear parliaments resounding with impassioned speeches about the need to protect minority citizens.

There is a great need for Muslims in the West, who are feeling the effects of Islamophobia, to stand up and take on those in the Muslim world who attack those of minority faiths. It is not enough to demand protection in nations where laws protect Muslims thus far. There must be greater moral authority exerted by Muslims in non-Muslim majority states. These Muslims should lend their voice to the plight of minority communities in Muslim-majority countries.

And by far greater lies the responsibility of the governments in the Muslim world. They must take responsibility and stop hiding behind the excuse of public opinion while refusing to change or amend discriminatory laws. The promotion of religious bigotry through school curriculum and media must be put to an end as well. Recognising the precarious position of religious minorities would be the first step towards addressing the issue effectively.

The writer is author of Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford, 2017)

The Article was Published by Pakistan leading English newspaper “Daily Times” on April 17th, 2017

The link to article Silent majority’s complicity in war on minorities by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani book “Purifying the Land of the Pure” won a German Peace Prize at the Karachi Literature Festival 2017.

KLF German Peace Price Winners were announced by Ameena Saiyid

Ali Nobil Ahmad awarded the 3rd KLF Peace Prize for Masculinity, sexuality and illegal migration.

Farahnaz Ispahani’s “Purifying the Land of the Pure; Pakistan Religious Minorities” is slightly to win a German Peace Prize at the Karachi Literature Festival -2017 (KLF2017). Ms Farahnaz Ispahani has written a seminal book on the history of persecution and marginalization of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Purifying the Land of the Pure & author Ms Farahnaz Ispahani

The first prize goes to Anum Zakaria for Footprints of Partition.

The book weaves together her observations of contemporary Pakistan with memories of four generations of Pakistanis and Indians as they try to reflect and make sense of the past.

We need to talk about American values in a changing America by Farahnaz Ispahani

I felt I could breathe here, in America. I was born in Pakistan, but US citizenship freed me from the burdens of religious tests, dictatorship and the absence of human rights. As I went about my work, I never felt that I was a woman, a person of color, a Muslim or an immigrant.

But more than a quarter-century after becoming an American citizen, I admit I feel a little vulnerable. There is a racial consciousness around me that I did not feel before. I feel Muslim. A woman. Of color. An immigrant. And my female friends are worried their right to choose what they do with their body will be taken away.

America has always been an optimistic country, a place that seemed to feel assured of its greatness. That so many people in this country embraced pessimism, and that the country needs a political novice to reinvent America’s greatness, is disturbing. The hatred and bigotry unleashed in the course of this campaign will not easily be pushed back into the Pandora’s box of stoked resentments.

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I became a US citizen at a time when the country of my birth was suffering under a dictatorship. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, a US ally, was “Islamizing” Pakistan by force, denying human rights to the country’s citizens. Sharia-based Hudood laws enshrined misogyny, while previously afforded rights and safeties for women were curtailed.

Farahnaz Ispahani says that so many people in this country embraced pessimism during the presidential campaign is disturbing

While a student at Wellesley, my Pakistani passport expired and I learned that applications for a new passport required a religious affirmation. Muslim citizens of Pakistan could get a passport only after signing a declaration that we disavowed members of the Ahmadiyya sect as non-Muslims. To me, signing such a declaration felt like being complicit in the marginalization of Ahmadis.

I decided I couldn’t. But fast forward to today, and too many minorities feel they now are being singled out and marginalized.

While working in television news, I traveled the length and breadth of this great country. I covered political party conventions, presidential debates and inaugurations, and even the controversial Florida recount of 2000. I have voted for Republican candidates and Democrats. In America, my sole identity was American.

If Donald Trump is going to make America great again, he will need to be genuinely inclusive of all Americans- Farahnaz Ispahani

More recently, as I campaigned for the Clinton-Kaine ticket, connecting with voters throughout the country, I met Muslim immigrants, Hispanic and black Americans — upstanding citizens, some with family members in the military — who said they feel scared. They feel “otherized.” They wonder what their neighbors think of them.

After it became clear that Donald Trump had been elected, CNN commentator and activist Van Jones spoke of “a nightmare,” describing the fears of Muslims and of families of immigrants. He described the results as, in part, “a whitelash against a changing country and a whitelash against a black president.”

As an optimist, I can only hope the rhetoric we heard will gradually subside now that the campaign is over. But, if Trump is going to make America great again, he will need to be genuinely inclusive of all Americans, especially those who did not vote for him and who do not agree with his vision.

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Speaking at Woodrow Wilson center for the rights of religious minorities of Pakistan

More fundamentally, we need to start a discussion on American values in a changing world. Blacks, Muslims and others were not necessarily part of the original “idea” of America. But we are here, and we contribute to America’s greatness.

The reality is that America needs reconciliation and healing, something that both major political parties must contribute toward. Unfortunately, a Democratic Party that veers further to the left will only aggravate the people who elected Trump. The party might consolidate its base, and even win some elections, but it will not bring out the best in this great country. The Republican Party that I voted for in the past, meanwhile, is now unrecognizable. Until it stops being the party of angry white men, there won’t be room for people like me.

Holding on to outdated ideas about American values — and insisting on seeing American greatness through the prism of white men who resemble our Founding Fathers — will only lead to the disintegration of the fabric of our nation. Similarly, a vision of a social-democratic paradise backed primarily by minorities, also won’t work.

I became an American because of the good — and inclusiveness — of this country. I can only hope that America can move past this divisive campaign and ensure that future Americans feel they are exactly that — Americans, and not outsiders.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “Purifying The Land of the Pure: A history of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities,” Pakistan Parliament 2008-12, Adviser to President of Pakistan 2008-12 and Foreign Policy Global Thinker.

The article was Published by CNN and the link to original article is We need to talk about American values in a changing America – Farahnaz Isaphani

Farahnaz Ispahani’s book review Pakistan’s Beleaguered Minorities by Abubakar Siddique:

Countries adapted to celebrating their religious, racial, ethnic, and linguist diversity are typically stable and prosperous and face fewer domestic and external threats.

But states obsessed with imposing a militarized uniformity on their diverse societies are prone to instability, secessionism, mounting extremism, violence, external interference, and intolerance.

Former Pakistani lawmaker Farahnaz Ispahani’s book Purifying The Land Of The Pure: A History Of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities is an in-depth analysis of how Islamabad’s policies toward minorities have devastated their fortunes, exacerbated extremism, and hold the country back from realizing its full potential.

Seventy years ago, Pakistan was heralded as a safe haven for South Asia’s largest minority, Muslims. Since then, the country has proved itself to be anything but.

In 1971, a quarter-century after its creation, the numerical majority of Bengalis in Pakistan’s eastern wing seceded to form their new country, Bangladesh. Meanwhile, its other ethnic and religious minorities continue to languish.

Ispahani, a former journalist and current fellow at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center, masterfully captures how Pakistan’s small religious minorities — now estimated to be only 3 percent of the country’s more than 200 million predominantly Muslim population — continue to suffer from escalating violence and discrimination both from the government and private groups.

At the outset, Pakistan was warned of such an eventuality.

“Now you are raising the cry of Pakistan in danger for the purpose of arousing Muslim sentiments and binding them together in order to maintain you in power,” Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, a Bengali politician who later became the prime minister of Pakistan, warned in 1948.

He called on Pakistan’s founding leaders “to be fair to the minorities” because intolerance and discrimination would boomerang on the new country’s Muslims majority.

“Those lawless elements that maybe turned today against non-Muslims will be turned later on, once those fratricidal tendencies have been aroused, against the Muslim gentry,” he predicted.

Sadly, his prophesies proved true. While Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and other non-Muslim minorities still face discriminatory laws, lynching mobs, and forced conversions, the country’s Shi’ite Muslims now bear the brunt of extremist violence. A plethora of jihadists and militant groups are now determined to purify the “land of the pure” (the literal meaning of the name Pakistan) from anyone deviating from their puritanical Sunni Muslim doctrines.

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Within five years of Suhrawardy’s warning, two eminent jurists had a damning verdict. After riots against the Ahmadiyya sect, justices Muhammad Munir and Muhammad Rustam Kiyani noted in 1954 that after listening to scores of clerics in nearly 100 hearings they concluded that “no one who has given serious thought to the introduction of a religious state in Pakistan has failed to notice the tremendous difficulties with which any such scheme must be confronted.”

Indeed, the country’s subsequent history proved them right. After riots and a campaign in the eastern province of Punjab, the Pakistani Parliament enacted a law in September 1974 to declare the Ahmadiyya a non-Muslim minority.

Ispahani says the development was a tragedy as it undermined both secularism and tolerance in the country.

“It was a greater tragedy that this had happened under an otherwise progressive and pluralist government,” she wrote, referring to the administration of the Pakistan Peoples Party populist firebrand founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

She notes that such intolerance toward religious minorities hastened after military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq assumed power in 1977. His regime promoted hard-line Sunni Islam at the expense of other Muslim sects and religions. It also actively encouraged and bankrolled its proponents to militaries by forming militant factions.

Decades later, tens of thousands of Pakistanis are paying a heavy toll with their lives and properties while reeling from discriminatory laws. Every year, scores of Muslims and non-Muslim Pakistanis are lynched or imprisoned under the blasphemy laws under which people accused of insulting Islam or religious figures can be sentenced to death.

On September 16, a Christian man in eastern Pakistan was sentenced to death after being arrested in 2016 on blasphemy charges. While no one has officially been executed on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, blasphemy is an emotive issue, and outraged mobs often choose to take justice in their own hands against the accused, who are often from religious minorities.

Precise, well-researched, and eloquent, Ispahani’s Purifying The Land Of The Pure is a must read for policymakers, scholars, and general readers trying to understanding the roots of intolerance and violent extremism in Pakistan.

https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/pakistan-minorities/28739489.html

‘A Champion of Minorities’ A review of Farahnaz Ispahani’s book by Ambassador Akbar S. Ahmed

On Easter Sunday last year a Taliban suicide bomber detonated ten kilograms of explosives and metal ball bearings in a park full of Pakistani Christian families in Lahore, killing 73. The bomber had chosen a spot between two children’s rides. 29 of those killed were children, the youngest only 2 years old.

It is with this heartbreaking story that Farahnaz Ispahani introduces her book, Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities.The grim figures continue. After the Lahore attack we are reminded that the previous year twin suicide bombings in churches in Lahore killed at least 15 people and sparked Christian outrage and protests across the city.

Again and again, guiding us through the harrowing journey of Pakistan’s minorities, Farahnaz takes us back to the example of the Quaid-e-Azam, Mr Jinnah, the towering father of the nation. She quotes in full Jinnah’s historic first address to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947 with this defining sentence in it: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”She quotes Jinnah’s earlier speeches promising religious freedom with sentences like, “Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. …They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed.”

Here it should be noted that Jinnah himself argued, as Farahnaz states, “[Pakistan] was not intended to be an Islamic state nor was Partition aimed at creating permanent hostility between Hindus and Muslims.” As early as 1947, Muslim leaders like Nawab Chhatari from the UP in India, had warned Pakistan’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, that if Pakistan moved toward a theocratic state, then Muslims like him in India would face a Hindu India and Ram Raj.

Farahnaz mournfully explains, “Jinnah — himself a Shia — nominated a Hindu, several Shias, and an Ahmadi to Pakistan’s first cabinet. Now, non-Muslim representation at the cabinet level is limited to symbolic appointments, while Shias face smear campaigns from Sunni Muslims that declare them non-Muslims. And the Ahmadis — who were some of Jinnah’s most ardent supporters in his quest for a Muslim homeland on the Subcontinent — are completely unrepresented; they live as virtual outcasts within modern Pakistan.”

The minorities have suffered the most but there has been a general deterioration of law and order in Pakistan. Tragically, Shia, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians are targets but the horror is universal: schools and even shrines representing mainstream Sunni Islam have been targeted
There is one looming villain in Farahnaz’s book and that is the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq who in her words “forced Islamization” and “his bigoted worldview” onto her beloved Pakistan. He had seized power from the popular elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and imposed a strict martial law. It was his period in which madrassas proliferated and Blasphemy Laws and Sharia Courts were instituted. Pakistan, according to Farahnaz, lurched towards extremism.

In telling us that when Pakistan was first founded, 23 percent of the population came from non-Muslim minority religious groups and now only three percent of the population is non-Muslim, Farahnazhas fallen into a common statistical error.On the creation of Pakistan,West Pakistan had a tiny Hindu population as most of the community had already fled to India, but East Pakistan still had a substantial Hindu population. After the breakup of Pakistan, the tiny Hindu population of West Pakistan, now constituting Pakistan, is all that is reflected in thecurrent low percentage.

In the general deterioration of law and order in Pakistan, not only the minorities are suffering the violence. Tragically,Shia, Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians are targets but the horror is universal: schools and even shrines representing mainstream Sunni Islam have been targeted. Who can un see the video of the savage lynching of Mashal Khan in Mardan?

Farahnaz’s bleak picture is somewhat balanced by the many examples of well-integrated and devoted Pakistanis from the minorities. She herself, a Shia, and her distinguished family are good examples. Of the many at hand, takeJimmy Engineer, a Zoroastrian, who is one of Pakistan’s most famous painters and widely loved. Dr. Ruth Pfau, a Christian missionary doctor battling leprosy, was held in such high esteem that upon her recent death, the President,along with the Commanders-in-Chief of the armed forces, attended her funeral. Another Christian Pakistani, Dr. James Shera,the first Asian Mayor of Rugby, England, and himself widely loved among the Pakistani community,shared his passion for Pakistan in a moving obituary to Pfau, calling her “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”:

“As I watched on television, as the state-run and private television networks of Pakistan broadcast live footage of her funeral, this sight of an exceptional measure for a foreign Christian in this Muslim country overwhelmed my heart and soul.”

Farahnaz expresses gratitude to those who inspired her, including her distinguished grandparents, Hassan Ispahani and Begum Ispahani, close associates of the Quaid. Her book pays tribute to three leading Pakistani figures assassinated in the cause of religious freedom–Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian federal minister.

Farahnaz has held many important positions in her career including that of a member of the Pakistan National Assemblyand a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Perhaps her greatestachievementis this book, in which she emerges as the champion of Pakistan’s minorities.Whether you agree or disagree with her, there is no denying the courage, clarity and passion with which she reminds Pakistanis of the need to live up to the high ideals of the Quaid.

The writer is an author, poet, filmmaker, playwright, and is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, DC. He formerly served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. He tweets @AskAkbar

http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/02-Sep-17/a-champion-of-pakistans-minorities