Hate crimes and their aftermath - Mahir Ali - January 12, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

LATE last year, a 22-year-old by the name of Jared Lee Loughner walked into a store that sold hunting equipment and picked out a semi-automatic handgun.

A record of mental instability apparently did not stand in the way of that transaction in Tucson, Arizona. Last Saturday, Loughner took the weapon to where his local congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was informally meeting constituents.

He shot Giffords through the head, then turned his attention to the small crowd around her. By the time he ran out of bullets, six people lay dead or dying and another 14 had been injured. At the time of writing, Giffords was still fighting for her life. The fatalities included a federal judge and, most poignantly of all, nine-year-old Christina Taylor Greene. Christina was born on Sept 11, 2001. She had been elected to her school council, and her mother had arranged for her presence at the congresswoman’s public appearance in order to afford her a glimpse of democracy in action.

Recriminations have flowed freely in the wake of the bloodshed, with the Tea Party and associated politicians and media personalities being accused of contributing to random acts of lunacy such as Loughner’s through their bitter and twisted invective against the Obama administration and Democrats in general. The fact that Giffords’s congressional district was among those depicted through crosshairs as targets last year on one of Sarah Palin’s webpages has inevitably occasioned a great deal of comment.

Not even the vilest talk-show host in America, however, has thus far hailed Loughner as a hero or blamed Giffords for tempting fate by supporting Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation. Palin and various other prominent Republicans have issued statements saying they are praying for Giffords and her family. They haven’t apologised for their role in poisoning the political discourse, but hints of contrition could arguably be read into their defensiveness.

Nothing of the sort was on display in Karachi at the weekend when Maulana Fazlur Rahman — whose party until recently was a member of the ruling coalition in Islamabad, and who not long ago sought the US ambassador’s imprimatur as a potential prime minister — told a rally in favour of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that “Salman Taseer himself is responsible for his assassination.”

It would have been possible to ignore the odd unsound mullah, but a veritable confederacy of dunces has emerged in this particular context. Perhaps it still wouldn’t have mattered that much had it been only the mullahs. But a vox pop by the BBC on the streets of Karachi in the immediate aftermath of the Punjab governor’s murder last week revealed little or no sympathy for the victim. Outside a court in the federal capital, meanwhile, his killer was showered with rose petals by a crowd of seminary students and lawyers.

That’s right, lawyers. Who are supposed to have gained some sort of education in the process of acquiring that nomenclature. Who are supposed to have some sort of respect for the universally uncontroversial law against murder. In comparable circumstances in most parts of the world, it is sometimes a bit of a task to track down a legal practitioner willing to defend the perpetrator. In Obscurantistan, no public prosecutor could be found to grace the preliminary hearing.

Then there were all those Facebook pages that cropped up in support not of the fallen governor, but of the bigot who slew him, and the numerous users of the social networking site who switched their profile pictures to Mumtaz Qadri’s unpleasant visage. Compare that with the reaction to the massacre at a Coptic church in Alexandria in the early hours of New Year’s Day, which reportedly prompted a considerable number of Egyptian Muslims to change their profile pictures to the image of a cross within a crescent.

That wasn’t all. It has also been reported that a campaign based on the slogan ‘We either live together or we die together’ instigated thousands of Muslims to turn up at Coptic Christmas services throughout Egypt last Thursday night amid tight security precautions by the authorities. There is some cause for scepticism: virtually all references to this event are sourced to a single website, Ahram Online. One would have thought such an event would be much more widely covered. I nonetheless hope it’s substantially true, if only as a partial antidote to the increasingly toxic approach towards minorities in predominantly Muslim countries, most notably Egypt and Iraq.

And, of course, Pakistan, where Taseer faced a fusillade from one of the men assigned to protect him (while the latter’s colleagues — possibly confederates — evidently made no attempt to stop him), ostensibly for his very public support of Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman condemned to death on a blasphemy charge. It was a courageous stance to adopt in a clearly hostile milieu. Taseer’s designation of the blasphemy legislation as a black law apparently sufficed for the controversial governor to be portrayed as a blasphemer himself. That this ridiculous conclusion could be reached by such a large proportion of Pakistanis provides profound cause for despair.

There are, of course, vast differences between the political situations of Pakistan, Egypt and the US, and one would not expect hate crimes to provoke identical reactions in all three countries. Yet the revulsion deficit — not to mention the blatant triumphalism of fear-mongering fundamentalists — is extremely alarming indeed.

The likes of Imran Khan point most of the blame to the American military presence in Afghanistan and attacks on Pakistan’s northern areas. That isn’t complete nonsense: post-9/11 developments have undoubtedly exacerbated tensions and served as a recruitment tool for all manner of jihadist outfits. But let’s not forget that the latent fundamentalism was there to be exploited. Or that Gen Ziaul Haq found fertile soil in which to sow his noxious seeds, which were bound in time to bear a strange and bitter crop.

So let’s stop making excuses. External factors cannot be discounted, but Pakistan will sink or swim on its own strengths. And weaknesses. For the moment, the overpowering stench of fear does not bode well at all.


No comments:

Post a Comment