GIVEN the current climate of intolerance, it is a bold stance — and the right one. Opining on the recent detailed judgement of the Islamabad High Court authored by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, which stipulates that a declaration of faith is compulsory for joining the judiciary, armed forces or civil services, the caretaker minister for information and law, Syed Ali Zafar, said that such a court order must be challenged as it is invasive, discriminatory and contrary to fundamental human rights. Indeed, the implication that being able to discharge the duties of one’s public office is contingent on one’s personal beliefs, rather than the relevant qualifications and experience, works to the disadvantage of practitioners of minority faiths. To hold office, “it is enough [that] you are a citizen of this country”, Minister Zafar rightfully argued, yet the truth is that in practice we have strayed far from the constitutional ideal of equality before the law. It is a slippery slope from enforcing ways to ‘distinguish’ between religious groups to outright demonisation and targeting of minorities — and as a country we are arguably hurtling towards the point of no return.
The question of why, in a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority, a country that our founding fathers fought so hard to create so that we may practise our faith freely, are religious minorities perceived with such suspicion and hostility has never been satisfactorily answered. There is no evidence of attempts to ‘betray the state’ by defrauding the public on the question of one’s faith, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest why minority communities would want to shield themselves from persecution by not practising their faith too publicly. The list of crimes against them is endless. Yet a false narrative of besiegement, perpetuated by the far right, is motivating a reactionary tendency to weaponise religious sentiment — and stoking a paranoia that, if history is any guide, cannot be satiated by appeasement. No one ought to be under any illusion that they are somehow immune from this inquisitorial mood; even the powerful have been attacked for trying to defend minorities. Yet such individuals are outliers; in large part, our political class either have their heads in the sand or have taken part in hate campaigns themselves. This nation needs not one but a thousand brave voices to speak up and reaffirm the words of the Quaid: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018