Spate of murders

22 Nov 2020

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THE bloodletting in the name of faith continues, and the silence from official quarters on this needless loss of life is deafening. On Friday, Tahir Ahmed, a 31-year-old Ahmadi doctor was shot dead inside his home in Nankana Sahib, Punjab, by a teenager armed with a pistol. The attacker had knocked on the front door and started firing when the young man opened it. Other members of the family who were gathered there for prayers were also wounded, including his father — who remains critically injured in hospital — and two uncles. This is at least the fourth faith-based murder of members of the Ahmadi community since July. Last month, Prof Dr Naeemuddin Khattak was gunned down in a targeted attack in Peshawar; in August, Meraj Ahmed, a trader was shot dead in the same city; and in July, an American national named Tahir Naseem was slain by a 19-year-old in a Peshawar courtroom. Mr Naseem was an under-trial prisoner accused of committing blasphemy. Also, in September there was a near lynching in the same city; the targets of the mob were rescued by police, though one of them was later charged with having committed blasphemy.

In a country where preachers spewing hate and bigotry can acquire the status of superstars, where shrines are raised to venerate those who commit murder in the name of religion, minorities cannot but live in a perpetual state of fear. Certain minorities even more so. Prejudice against them is so deep, so visceral, that acting on it is celebrated as a virtue by sections of society. As Friday’s killing shows, it pursues them even into the privacy of their homes. However, murder is but the most extreme manifestation of this hatred; every day must doubtless bring with it a myriad indignities, too many to count — in the marketplace, in educational institutions and in the workplace. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that our society has dehumanised the Ahmadi community to a point where they are defined only by their religious belief, rather than being seen as what they are: citizens of Pakistan who have an inalienable right to the protection of the state. But the state has been found sadly wanting, indeed absent. Until every minority community, without exception, has confidence that the state will punish those who incite and commit violence against them, Pakistan cannot be considered a safe place for minorities.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2020