Archive for the ‘ All Pakistan Minorities Alliance ’ Category

A Pakistani American Celebrates July 4

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Thousands of Pakistani Americans celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with their friends and families across the United States today. As different as Pakistan and the United States may be as countries and societies, one thing they both have in common is that both countries were founded on religious reasons. Unfortunately, that is where their similiarites end as the religious freedom experience in these present day countries varies greatly.

The earliest settlers of these United States were in fact Europeans who felt persecuted in the old countries of Europe for their religious beliefs. Many of these Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom.  Their hope was to escape the religious persecution they were facing in their countries and so the United States was founded on religious grounds.

Pakistan too is a country that sees the basis of its founding for a religious purpose. The nationalist movement for an independent India from British rule also caused communal conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims as there were calls by many Muslim leaders for a separate country for the Muslims of India since many felt being a minority in a Hindu dominated country would come at the expense of their rights. So a separate country for the Muslims of India and for their right to practice their religion gained momentum and indeed on August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became independent, a country founded on religious freedom for the Muslims of India.

This is not to deny the fact that Muslims still exist in India and are free to practice their religion under a Hindu dominated country. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in present day Pakistan. However, many Muslims at the time of partition felt that they would be freer to practice Islam in a Muslim country rather than a Hindu one. It is an open debate whether people in Pakistan today have more freedom to practice their religion. If you are a member of either a minority Muslim group as Shiite or if you happen to be a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jew In Pakistan today, you have far less freedom of religion than a comparable religious group in present day India. There is absolutely a very low level of tolerance in Pakistan today for other religions or ways of life different than the majority group.

The promise of religious freedom that saw the founding of both Pakistan and the United States has seen the two countries go separate ways in realizing the dream of each countries forefathers. While the American Founding Fathers dream of a nation that respects freedom of religion and honors a separation between church and state held true, Pakistan unfortunately  has become a country that has become intolerant of other religions. Many religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and even Muslim Ahmadis are routinely persecuted or attacked by Muslims who see these groups as infidels and heathens and not merely as human beings with different religious beliefs. The influx of Taliban and religious extremists inside Pakistan has further made life difficult for anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. On many occasions, the police does not investigate or prosecute attacks on religious minorities by various extremist groups leading to a constant fear of their lives and properties.

As Pakistani as well as Muslim Americans across the United States today celebrate the the July 4 holiday, they are keenly aware  that their brethren back in their original countries are not as free to practice their religion, speak their minds, and or protest peacefully as they are able to do in the United States. For this nation indeed guarantees freedom and liberty for all and not just a certain religious or ethnic group.

That is why Pakistani Americans such as myself and Muslim Americans across the US are appreciative of the fact that in this, our adopted country, our religious and civic freedoms are safe guarded in that greatest of living documents, the US Constitution. I have long felt that after the three great religious books of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, the US Constitution is the next best thing that man ever wrote down on paper. The Founding Fathers of America were indeed some of the greatest minds in history for crafting a document that continues to make the United States the freest country in the world and one that stayed true to its founding of liberty and freedom for all. Happy Birthday America, May you have many more!

–Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American plans to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day with family and friends at a picnic with fireworks and by watching a parade.

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Deadly blasts hit Sufi shrine in Lahore

By Syed Shoaib Hasan for The BBC

Suicide bombers have launched a deadly attack on a Sufi shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. At least 35 people died in the blasts at the popular Data Darbar shrine late on Thursday evening, officials say. At least 175 other people were hurt in the blasts, believed to be the first targeting a shrine in Lahore. Thousands of people were visiting the shrine at the time, officials say. It holds the remains of a Persian Sufi saint, Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery.

Although no-one has yet said they carried out the attack, Taliban militants and their Punjabi jihadi allies have been involved in several such bombings in the northern Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The shrine is largely frequented by members of the majority Barelvi sect, who are seen as heretics by the Taliban. Most of the Taliban belong to the rival Deoband Sunni sect, which strongly disapproves of worship at shrines. Many are also allied to the Sipah-e-Sahaba, and its armed splinter group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which seeks to turn Pakistan into a Deoband Sunni state.

The shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year from both Sunni and Shia traditions of Islam. At least two attackers were involved, although police initially said three explosions had been heard.  The impact of the blasts ripped open the courtyard of the shrine. Rescue workers could be seen clambering over the rubble as they carried out the victims. Khusro Pervez, commissioner of Lahore, said two of the attacks took place in the main courtyard and one in the lower level of the shrine.

The first attacker struck in the underground area where visitors sleep and prepare themselves for prayer, he said. As people fled, a second bomber detonated his explosives in the upstairs area. Officials say they believe the bombers used devices packed with ball-bearings to maximise the impact of their attack.  A volunteer security guard at the shrine described scenes of devastation.

“It was a horrible scene,” said Mohammed Nasir. “There were dead bodies all around with blood and people were crying.” The attack is the biggest on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan since militant attacks began in 2001.  No group has said it carried out the attack, but correspondents say the attacks continue a growing trend among militants to target members of other sects as well as minorities.

Lahore has been hit by a series of bomb attacks, including a suicide blast at anti-terrorist offices in March, when at least 13 people died. In May, more than 90 people were killed in a double attack on the minority Ahmadi sect in the city.

Earlier, security chiefs had been congratulating themselves after what was the first month in two years in which there had been no suicide bombings in Pakistan, the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad.

They said it was proof the militant networks had been disrupted. Most Pakistanis knew the battle against militancy in this country was far from over, he adds. Last year Pakistan launched a major military offensive against militant strongholds in South Waziristan.  In December the military said they had achieved victory, but subsequent reports have suggested the militants remain active in the region.

Pakistan Set to Ban More Web Blasphemy and Monitor Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, Bing…

By Rik Myslewski for The Register

Pakistan announced Friday that it will monitor Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon, and Bing, and will block links and content that it deems anti-Islamic.

“If any particular link with offensive content appears on these websites, the [link] shall be blocked immediately without disturbing the main website,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokesman Khurram Mehran told the Associated Press.

In addition to the link-blockage of the seven named high-traffic sites, Pakistan web-watchers have also completely blocked 17 lesser sites, including, for example, Islam Exposed, which includes links to blaspheming articles such as “Muhammad, A Symbol Of Terrorism” along with over-the-top posts such as “Joe Lieberman Spews Excrement!”.

The monitoring and blockage comes in response to a court order, as did Pakistan’s recent ban on Facebook due to its hosting of an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” page — a page that was subsequently taken down, although Facebook officials claimed to have had no part in its removal.

The complete banning of Facebook was lifted after censorship official Najibullah Malik was satisfied that the site had lifted all all “sacrilegious material”.

In addition to the Facebook ban, Pakistan last month blocked, then unblocked YouTube for depictions of the prophet Muhammad, a practice that many Muslims find blasphemous.

“We decided that this kind of information was going to hurt people’s feelings. We have directed the [Pakistan Telecommunications Authority] to block all and any sites that display those caricatures,” Malik told The Guardian at the time of the YouTube ban.

The Guardian, reporting on internal controversy surrounding the YouTube ban, quoted one Pakistani tweeter as tweeting: “Way to go assholes. Why don’t you just cut us off from the internet and get it over and done with.”

Despite lifting the Facebook and YouTube bans, Pakistan hasn’t given up its censorship efforts. “At least 800 individual web pages and URLs have been blocked since the government’s orders to shut Facebook and YouTube,” Wahaj us Siraj, a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), told AFP.

In perhaps the most bizarre development in the country’s campaign to remove blasphemy from its interwebs, Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General recently launched a criminal investigation against Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his role in the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” dust-up.

Although no charges have been filed in the case, the Pakistani newspaper The News International reports that the law that prompted the Zuckerberg investigation, Section 295-C of the penal code, carries with it penalties of “death, or imprisonment for life”.

Not all Pakistanis, of course, are in support of their government’s draconian crackdown on what Section 295-C refers to as “Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet … either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly.”

“It’s absurd,” journalist and filmmaker Hasan Zaidi told The Guardian. “They haven’t thought this through. The logical conclusion is that we should shut our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ban the entire internet, even email.”

Nadeem Paracha of Pakistan’s Dawn news service wrote in his “Smokers’ Corner” column: “By continuing to tolerate a psychotic faith-based fringe for so long, we have actually helped it metamorphose into an unrestrained monster that has zero tolerance for what we think or do.” The problem, Paracha told The Guardian, is that “Anything to do with Allah, or the prophet, and everyone keeps quiet.”

And it must also be noted that the more extreme members of the Muslim world aren’t alone in taking angry offense at what they perceive as “blasphemy”. Remember, for example, the hue-and-cry that resulted from artist Chris Ofili’s elephant dung–encrusted The Holy Virgin Mary, or the attacks on the US National Endowment for the Arts over works such as Andres Serrano’s photograph, Piss Christ. But, to be fair, we must also note that neither Ofili nor Serrano were subject to a possible government-sanctioned death sentence.

–Editor’s note for Pakistanis for Peace- A true  democracy should  protect freedom of speech, no matter how hateful and unpleasant. Banning and censoring content on the interent is the action of communist states, dictatorships, monarchies or theocratic nations like Iran, not a democracy that Pakistan aims to be. There are certainly bigger problems in Pakistan than people visiting websites that are disparaging to Islam.  This is a clear indication of the power in the society still held by the mullahs~

Why Pakistan’s Ahmadi Community is Officially Detested

By Mohammed Hanif  for BBC

By Mohammed Hanif for BBC

When a Pakistani Muslim applies for a passport or national ID card, they are asked to sign an oath that no Muslim anywhere in the world is asked to sign. The oath goes like this: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad an impostor prophet. And also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.”

Like millions of other Pakistanis, I have signed this oath several times without giving much thought to exactly what Mr Ahmad stands for, or what the technical difference between Lahoris or Qadianis is. I want my passport, and if I have to sign up to a fatwa to get it, so be it.

But like millions of people from my generation I also remember that when I was growing up, the minority Ahmadi sect were considered just another Muslim sect.

When a Pakistani Muslim applies for a passport or national ID card, they are asked to sign an oath that no Muslim anywhere in the world is asked to sign. The oath goes like this: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad an impostor prophet. And also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.

Like millions of other Pakistanis, I have signed this oath several times without giving much thought to exactly what Mr Ahmad stands for, or what the technical difference between Lahoris or Qadianis is. I want my passport, and if I have to sign up to a fatwa to get it, so be it.  But like millions of people from my generation I also remember that when I was growing up, the minority Ahmadi sect were considered just another Muslim sect.

Like scores of others I had friends who were Ahmadis. We played cricket together, and sometimes, when our parents ordered us off to the mosque, we even prayed side by side.

Last month, when more than 90 Ahmadis were massacred in two mosques in Lahore, I remembered the precise moment in 1974 when it all began to change.  There were street protests by religious parties against Ahmadis demanding that they should be declared non-Muslims.

One day I saw some bearded activists standing outside a clothes merchant’s shop in our town, chanting anti-Ahmadi slogans and turning customers away, telling them that buying clothes from Ahmadis was haram – forbidden. At the time I was learning to memorise the Koran from a very kind, mild-mannered teacher. I asked him what exactly was wrong with the Ahmadis.  He explained to me that they didn’t believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the last and the final messenger.

I said OK, maybe that makes them kafirs, infidels, but who says that kafirs can’t sell cloth?  My teacher’s response was a full-handed slap, so sudden, so unexpected that it rang in my ears for days to come. That same year Pakistan’s first elected parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims.  Then in 1984 Pakistan’s military dictator and self-appointed guardian of the faith General Zia-ul-Haq inserted that oath in the constitution that we are all required to sign.  Because of the new laws, Ahmadis have been sent to prison simply for using the Muslim greeting Assalamu alaikum, or putting a Koranic verse in a greeting card.

Over the last three decades the hatred against Ahmadis has become so widespread that Pakistan is now embarrassed by the only Nobel laureate it has ever produced.

Dr Abdus Salam Khan won the Nobel Prize for physics and, as a proud Pakistani, accepted his award in national dress.  But he was an Ahmadi so there is no monument to celebrate him, no universities named after him.

The word “Muslim” on his gravestone has been erased. Even the town he is buried in has been renamed in an attempt to erase our collective memory. This hatred was evident in the reactions to the massacre. TV channels were more obsessed with making sure that in their broadcasts Ahmadi mosques were called “places of worship”.

When you refuse to call a place of worship by its proper name, you are implying that it’s not a mosque, it’s not a church, it’s not a synagogue, it’s a place where godless people do godless things. And all the various Islamic political parties, whose leaders often refuse to pray together, are united on this.

When Pakistan’s main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif used the phrase “our brothers” for the murdered Ahmadis, leaders from 11 political parties came together to condemn him and threatened to issue a fatwa declaring him a heretic.  Over the last three decades the siege has been so palpable that those Ahmadis who couldn’t afford to emigrate have taken to hiding their identity.

If you want to destroy someone in public life it’s enough to drop a hint that they are Ahmadi. In the 1980s, the former chief minister of Punjab and current federal minister didn’t attend his own mother’s funeral because there were rumors that she was an Ahmadi.  When the funerals of the massacred Ahmadis took place there were no officials, no politicians present 

Pakistan’s liberal bloggers and some English-language columnists did write along the lines that Ahmadi blood is on our hands.  Others were adamant that it was yet another Friday, yet another massacre by the Pakistani Taliban, and we should just fight this sort of terrorism and leave the sectarian debates alone.

Two incidents in the past week made me realize how pathological our response was. At a vigil to mark the massacre, where a handful of people had turned up, a passer-by asked me “Are you an Ahmadi?” My own loud and aggressive denial surprised me.

Then an Ahmadi friend whose father survived the Lahore massacre wrote to me saying: “You know we have been living like this for decades. Did something like this have to happen for you to speak up?”

–Editor’s Note- It is high time that this law be repealed and the Ahmadi community of Pakistan be given all the basic human rights and privileges enjoyed by all Pakistanis.

Pakistan’s Mosques, Media and Intolerance

By Zeeshan Haider for Reuters

Pakistan has been fighting Islamist militants for years, but tough measures are needed to overturn a system breeding religious intolerance after the long failure of authorities to confront mullahs and hardline groups.

Analysts say the notion of religious mistrust is deeply entrenched in the predominatly Muslim country — even in the school system — and it is now up to leaders to mobilise public.

Last week’s massacre in the city of Lahore of more than 80 Ahmadis – a minority religious sect deemed non-Muslim and heretical by the constitution – has generated a heated debate in Pakistan, a U.S. ally, on how to tackle the issue.

In a sign of how hatred is propagated, The News newspaper said one of the two surviving gunmen caught by security forces said he had been persuaded that Ahmadis were “blaspheming” Islam.

Identified as Abdullah, he told investigators that his mentors had him believe that Ahmadis were drawing caricatures of Prophet Mohammad during a recent online contest and “so their bloodshed was a great service to Islam”, the newspaper said. That raised alarm bells in a country combatting militancy.

“The nagging feeling that the government has already lost the battle against extremism has now acquired the force of conviction,” Zafar Hilaly, a former ambassador, wrote in The News last week.

After joining the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistan mounted a crackdown on militancy, outlawing several groups, arresting hundreds of suspects and warning hardline mullahs against delivering hate speeches and distributing hate literature.

The government also vowed to reform tens of thousands of Islamic seminaries, known as madrassas, many of which are considered as breeding grounds for militancy. Almost none of these measures, however, has been implemented.

Most outlawed groups have re-emerged under new names. Radical clerics still deliver fiery speeches against sects. The U.S. Embassy acknowledged the difficulties, given the importance placed on Pakistan helping Washington battle al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

“We recognise this is a problem,” an embassy official said, adding that the embassy encouraged Pakistanis to take part in exchange programmes to see a multi-faith United States.

Analysts say Pakistani leaders dating back to the 1970s, however popular, took no action to counter radicals. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political and security analyst said governments have lacked the stomach to implement reforms, particularly in school curricula.

“In textbooks used in government schools, Pakistan is equated with Muslims…They teach Pakistan is a country only for Muslims. They don’t teach that non-Muslims also live here,” he said.

Journalist and analyst Ahmed Rashid described school programmes as “the most sensitive issue. But it is an issue in which any attempt to change the curriculum would have a whole host of fundamentalist groups oppose you.”

In 1974, Pakistan’s first popularly elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, bowed to Islamic groups and won approval of a constitutional amendment declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. He also switched the weekly day off from Sunday to Friday.

But much of the upsurge in militancy occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s during the “Islamisation drive” by late military leader General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-baked Afghan jihad or holy war against the Soviet invasion which saw a rapid growth of radical groups and madrasas.

Haq introduced several laws, such as the notorious blasphemy law, which are deemed discriminatory against non-Muslim minorities and fuelled tensions between different Muslim sects. Subsequent governments did nothing to reverse the laws.

Military dictators, who ruled Pakistan for more than half of its existence, have also used militant groups to further policy objectives in Afghanistan and India and marginalise liberals.

“In earlier years, in order to pursue its foreign policy using the instrument of jihad, the state actively sought to create a religiously charged citizenry,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and analyst. “But, now that the Pakistani military and political establishments have become a victim of extremism, they are foundering in confusion.”

Former President Pervez Musharraf, a military ruler, though he espoused a modern and liberal version of Islam, repeatedly failed to get the laws reviewed while in office from 1999-2008.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a pro-West politician and a vocal opponent of the militants, was killed in December 2007 in a suicide attack blamed on militants linked to al Qaeda. Civilian leaders are made even more cautious now in tackling radical groups by the tremendous fear of militants who have unleashed bomb and suicide attacks across the country.

“Religious intolerance is getting worse in Pakistan because the political leadership lacks the will to fight this,” said analyst Rizvi. “They don’t want to face the wrath of mullahs.”

Pakistani minister promises to revise blasphemy law despite death threats

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 Islamabad, Pakistan- The minister for minority affairs of Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti,  promised to work to amend the blasphemy laws used to target non-Muslims in Pakistan such as Christians and Hindus and said he was ready to die fighting for this cause.

A Member of Parliament and head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), Shahbaz Bhatti was visiting Washington DC at the invitation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which awarded him a first-of-a-kind medal for championing the rights of minorities in Islamic Pakistan.

A Catholic member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s administration as a federal minister for minority affairs, he took over the job last year when it was made a cabinet level position in Zardari’s cabinet.

Bhatti said he has received threats for his work on numerous occasions. Earlier this month, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister was wounded in an assassination attempt in Islamabad that left his driver dead.

“I personally stand for religious freedom, even if I will pay the price of my life,” Bhatti said. “I live for this principle and I want to die for this principle.”

Pakistan’s law against blaspheming Islam carries the death penalty. While no one has ever been sent to the executed for the crime, activists say the law is used to exploit others out of personal vendettas by some in the Muslim community against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhist minorities in Pakistan.

A 25-year-old Christian jailed on blasphemy allegations earlier this week died in prison. Authorities said he committed suicide but civil rights activists suspect that he was tortured by the police.

The death came several weeks after an angry mob killed seven Christians in an arson attack that destroyed about 40 houses in the town of Gojra in central Punjab province.

Christians and other religious minorities have a long history of persecution and discrimination in all walks of life in Pakistan by the Muslim majority. This is a sad reality and a country such as Pakistan that was founded for religious freedoms for the Muslims of India in 1947, has to do a much better job at protecting the 3 to 5% of the population that does not share the Islamic faith.

Unfair, subjective and antiquated laws such as Pakistan’s blasphemy laws need to be urgently amended so that the non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan do not live in fear of an upset neighbor calling the authorities and falsely claiming an individual blasphemed the religion of Islam. Furthermore, if an individual is indeed ever guilty of blasphemy, the death penalty is a rather harsh punishment for simply stating one’s opinions, no matter how offensive to the faithful.

Although he may face strong resistance by some of the extremist and ultra religious members of Parliament in Pakistan, many moderate and enlightened Pakistanis support the minister for minority affairs and hope that he is successful in amending this archaic law.

Christian Pakistani Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reported by Manzer Munir for www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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