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.


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

Religious Fanaticism Prevails Over Pakistan’s Court by By FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI & NINA SHEA

The country’s Supreme Court dodges a decision by adjourning a high-profile blasphemy case.

The fate of an illiterate berry picker on death row for blasphemy has gripped Pakistan in a furor of religious fanaticism. Few examples better illustrate the misplaced priorities of the Pakistani government and the country’s Islamist ideologues.

Asia Bibi was scheduled to appear before Pakistan’s Supreme Court last week. She was arrested in 2009 following an angry dispute with her fellow field hands over whether she, a Christian, was too impure to sip from a cup of water she had fetched for them. The mother of five denies that she blasphemed, and has testified that she was merely professing her Christian faith.At her initial trial, Ms. Bibi’s inexperienced lawyer failed to cross-examine the two witnesses or object to errors in the proceedings. Ms. Bibi was convicted under Pakistan’s 1986 blasphemy law and sentenced to death by hanging.

Since then, Ms. Bibi has been on death row and placed in solitary confinement, ostensibly for her own protection. Though Pakistan has never carried out the death penalty for blasphemy, some defendants in prior cases were murdered by cellmates and guards. Ms. Bibi’s was the first capital blasphemy conviction against a woman to be affirmed by a Pakistani appellate court.

In this photograph taken on Sept. 27, Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman facing death sentence for blasphemy, points to a poster bearing an image of his wife Asia at a living area in Lahore.

When one of us met with Ms. Bibi’s husband,Ashiq Masih, at a New York conference in April, Mr. Masih said through an Urdu translator that the family was hopeful Ms. Bibi would soon be exonerated. He said that a court official told him her appeal would be heard as soon as things “cooled down” after the judicial execution in February of Mumtaz Qadri.

Qadri, a bodyguard for Salman Taseer, who was at the time the governor of Punjab, was convicted in 2011 of murdering Taseer for publicly defending Ms. Bibi. After Qadri’s execution, mobs rioted in Islamabad for four days, calling for Ms. Bibi’s blood.

That fanaticism returned to full boil last week as the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Ms. Bibi’s case. Perhaps that’s why one of the three judges recused himself for a conflict of interest, waiting until the last minute to explain that he had also presided over the Qadri case.

“Many Sunni Muslim groups in the country have jointly held mass demonstrations across Pakistan, chanting slogans and displaying signs that read ‘#HangAsia,’” the Catholic outlet AsiaNews.it reported. Some praise Qadri as a martyr.

Among them are the Barelvi Sunni sub-sect, which the media has described as relatively moderate due to its association with the syncretic Sufi tradition. But there seems to be little moderation when it comes to the blasphemy law, which is wielded as a weapon, particularly against minority faiths, whether Ahmadiyas, Christians, Hindus, Shiites or even Sunni reformers.

The protests have even called for anyone who rescues or assists those accused of blasphemy to be viewed as blasphemers and executed too. This is a view shared by preachers at the notorious Red Mosque in Islamabad and one that has led to the murders of defense lawyers, journalists and human-rights advocates. In addition to Taseer, victims include Shahbaz Bhatti,Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs, an outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws who was assassinated in 2011.

Ms  Farahnaz Ispahani’s book “Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities”

The clerics of the Red Mosque, the scene of a pitched battle between its militants and the Pakistani army a few years ago, have threatened “dire consequences” if Ms. Bibi is spared. Its spokesmen vowed to lay siege to Parliament, and one reportedly threatened to issue a fatwa against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The affiliated Shuhuda (Martyrs) Foundation warned that its supporters would take to the streets and become “a centre for the anti-government movement.”

In the past, the judiciary has thrown out charges of criminal conduct against the Red Mosque leadership, validating the leaders’ belief that they—and their religious interpretations—are above the law. The blasphemy code is empowering them and their ilk to spread extremism.

Saif-ul-Mulook, a Muslim lawyer braving death threats to defend Ms. Bibi before the Supreme Court, has said it could take months for the appeal to be rescheduled. But if Pakistan’s government remains paralyzed in the face of blasphemy-law vigilantism, the decision will be between the judges’ lives and Ms. Bibi’s. Realistically, she may never get her day in court. And Pakistan would take a step closer to the edge of political and cultural chaos.

Ms. Ispahani, a former member of Pakistan’s Parliament, is the author of “Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities” (HarperCollins India, 2016). She is Global Fellow,  Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,  Washington DC.

Ms. Shea is the director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, and co-author of “Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide” (Oxford, 2011).

The article was published by Wall Street Journal on Oct. 20, 2016 and the link to the original article is Religious Fanaticism Prevails Over Pakistan’s Court

Book Review: Purifying the Land of the Pure ByHurmat Ali Shah

Purifying the Land of the Pure by Farahnaz Ispahani

When Muhammad Ali Jinnah stood before the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, he had no idea that his words as to the future of political identities informed by religion in the new state of Pakistan would come true, albeit in reverse. Hindus have ceased to be, and Muslims have also ceased to be, except the Sunnis. Jinnah in his envisioning of Pakistan as a non-ideological state, appointed Jogendar Nath Mandal, a Hindu, as law minister and Sir Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadi, as foreign minister.

However, efforts to put Pakistan on the road to being an ideological state had already started in Jinnah’s lifetime. Malik Ghulam Muhammad and Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, in pursuit of their obscurantist agenda, tried to muddy Jinnah’s clear vision for the state by orchestrating the suppression of the founding father’s outstanding August 11 speech. In that speech the founding father stated that he had envisaged the country as one that guaranteed equal status and protection to all, regardless of caste, creed and faith, and even went on to say, “I don’t know what a theocratic state means.” Meanwhile, Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman and Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan were dubbing Pakistan as the land of the pure.

What made Jogendar Nath Mandal – a symbol of Jinnah’s pluralistic vision for Pakistan – leave Pakistan after only three years of its existence? What made the population of Hindus in East Pakistan dwindle from 20 per cent in the 1951 census to 12 per cent in the 1961 census? And what made the minorities shrink from 23 per cent of the population on the eve of independence to a paltry three per cent now?

Purifying the Land of the Pure by Farahnaz Ispahani

Scholar and former parliamentarian, Farahnaz Ispahani, in her scholarly book Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities, has explained the disastrous turn of policies regarding minorities, which answers the questions raised above. She has delineated the undercurrents and forces that were at work from the inception of the new state and which translated into actual policies to define Pakistani citizenship based on faith and excluding minorities from the polity.

Ispahani has pointed out that, in order to distract attention from their resistance to the creation of Pakistan and to carve out a space for themselves, the religious parties affiliated with the Deobandi school of thought capitalised on the rhetoric of the Muslim League in the struggle for Partition. They made the exclusion of minorities from state institutions and reducing their status in the land, their rallying cry. Official and semi-official newspapers further fanned the flames of division by declaring Hindus to be the vicious ‘other’ and labelling them traitors.

The clairvoyant call of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy with which the book opens – “Now you are raising the cry of Pakistan being in danger for the purpose of arousing Muslim sentiments and binding them together in order to maintain you in power. This must go. Be fair not merely to your own people whom you will destroy but be fair to the minorities” – was discounted and Pakistan continued on the path of Islamisation which had been set by the Objectives Resolution of 1949. Ispahani goes on to say that in order to cement his power base, Liaquat Ali Khan tried to appease the clerics by passing the Objectives Resolution. However, this only further emboldened the clergy which presented a plan for dealing with the minorities in 1950, sanctioned by 31 clerics. This ultimately resulted in the 1953 anti-Ahmadiyya riots which claimed 2000 lives.

According to Ispahani, the state of religious intolerance reached its nadir with the Islamisation drive under Zia. The religious rhetoric, which had been challenged vociferously by the secular and progressive politicians of the 1950s, was now the official policy of the state. From inculcating young and gullible minds with prejudice towards the minorities through falsifying history, to institutionalising instruments of legal oppression, the Zia regime put the last nail in the coffin of intolerance towards the minorities.

Representational diversity can, in some cases, heal material inequality. But the minorities in Pakistan have been unfortunate that through the introduction of the system of separate electorates, any chance for them to raise their voice against injustice has been taken away. Further Islamisation by the Nawaz Sharif government, coupled with state-sponsored militancy, which targeted the minorities – both non-Muslims and other Muslim sects – resulted in horrific crimes against the minorities. Pervez Musharraf made some overt gestures of fighting sectarian militants but his avowed support of the jihadis in Kashmir and the Taliban in Afghanistan, made a farce of his half-hearted attempts at ameliorating the fate of minorities in Pakistan. Now, even with the democratic government in place, the instruments of intolerance against minorities can be challenged only on pain of death, as was the case with Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

One theme is constant in this sad story of state- perpetuated intolerance and institutionalised bigotry towards minorities: ‘Otherize,’ them (minorities) to reinforce the confessional identity of the state. The writer has diagnosed the futility of Islamism as, “the pursuit of religious purity is not an attainable goal. It has hindered Pakistan’s progress and rendered it insecure … Instead of allowing bigotry to cloak itself in the garb of a state religion, Pakistan would advance better as a non-confessional state.” The process of reform, according to the writer, can begin with, “dismantling the constitutional, legal and institutional mechanisms that have gradually excluded minorities from the mainstream of Pakistani life.”

The power elite must realise now that the exclusionary process of ‘otherisation’ is a consuming one and, like the monster that it is, it constantly needs tributes. It always looks for some group of people to be consumed as a whole! Pakistan has to move towards a civic identity of a nation-state based on shared citizenship from the militarist conception of a confessional and ideological state. This book, with its detailed analysis and exhaustive facts, helps in better understanding the trajectory of the confessional state and presents a well-articulated case for Pakistan to move towards a non-confessional and inclusionary state.

Book Review by Newsline magazine September 2016.

 The link to original story : Book Review: Purifying the Land of the Pure by Farahnaz Ispahani