ISLAMABAD: “The day after the Peshawar attack, Jibran and I were at a candlelight vigil in Jinnah Super Market. There, he announced that he wanted to do the same outside the Lal Masjid, as a response to the divisive statement issued by the cleric Abdul Aziz, who had refused to condemn the attack on Army Public School,” recalled Ali Ahmed.
One of the two activists who initiated protests against the Lal Masjid cleric, Mr Ahmed recalled that on the first night, only three women joined them and together, the five of them lit candles in front of the Lal Masjid. “That day, the road was not barricaded and there were no policemen around the mosque” he said.
On their way home, he said, the two discussed continuing the vigil outside the mosque. “That’s when Jibran decided to let the world know through social media.”
The civil society protests outside Lal Masjid that culminated in the registration of an FIR against the mosque’s controversial chief cleric were closely followed on social media. Demonstrators appealed to their friends and followers to come out and despite freezing temperatures, the cause managed to pull a sizeable number of people.
How one man turned a five-person vigil outside Lal Masjid into a demonstration against Taliban apologists
Sabeen Mahmud, a seasoned activist and social worker in her own right, was in Karachi when she saw Jibran’s posts. Having worked with him before on the #PakistanForAll campaign in the wake of the Peshawar church attacks, she said, “When I found out about Jibran’s initiative, I called him and asked him what the plan was. When he told me they would go back the next day, I hopped on a plane to Islamabad and came to join them.”
The next night, as a group of people arrived outside the Lal Masjid, they found the road barricaded, which forced them to gather at the entrance to Masjid Road. Politicians, activists, students and ordinary citizens all stood abreast, chanting slogans against Abdul Aziz’s statement in particular and Taliban apologists in general.
“The mood was charged and we decided to march towards Aabpara police station to file a First Information Report (FIR) against the cleric who had threatened the protesters through a press release,” Sabeen said.
The protesters staged a sit-in outside the police station, which bore fruit. “It was a historic occasion; an unprecedented grassroot movement that had brought together people from various segments of society. When movements snowball like this, it is often difficult for them to have a unified stance and there you sometimes wonder if these are people you want to stand next to. Jibran is one person who I would gladly stand behind. He is fearless and has the unique ability to galvanise people,” she said.
But Jibran Nasir is no stranger to worthy causes. In the 2013 general elections, he stuck out his neck when he ran as an independent candidate from the hotly-contested NA 250 in Karachi, offering himself as an alternative to the traditional political actors that usually swept elections in the constituency. He may not have won the election, but he did win the admiration and support of many across the country for daring to take a stand.
A lawyer by training and a rights activist by choice, Jibran has also been a journalist. Perhaps this is what prepared him for the threatening phone call that he received from Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesperson for the Taliban splinter group known as Jamaatul Ahrar, following the registration of the FIR against the Lal Masjid cleric.
He admits that he was alarmed by the directness of the threat, but told Dawn that it was not new. “Extremism is a clear and present threat for every citizen of Pakistan.”
The twenty-something says he is strictly non-partisan. “I stand for coexistence and human rights. I have never held any position in any party” he said.
“I don’t see myself as a lone soldier. The real heroes are the 400 brave people of Islamabad who decided to join me in taking on people like Abdul Aziz,” he said.
Ahmed Ali describes Jibran as “an agent of change”. His multitudes of adoring fans and followers on social media seem to agree.
Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2014