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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Xenophobia and Bigotry is Closer Than We Think

Now I do not want to take on the title of being an opportunist here, but this does feel like the right time as well as the ideal opportunity to get my message across. Something I have been wanting to write about and communicate to readers for quite some time. You know what they say, better late than never. Just late last evening, a journalist friend of mine brought to my attention through his Facebook status update the shooting of a member of the Ahmadi faith in one of the urban centers of the Punjab Region. It coincids with the day when on this day in history back in 1974, the Pakistani parliment had the Ahmadi sect declared non muslims in order to please the leaders of the religious community. 

Considering the incident that happend this week in Punjab, it was fortunate that the person who was shot at survived and did not become just another forgotten gunned down victim of Xenophobia towards the Ahmadi community. Many of us who hail from the educated lot of urban Pakistani society have some idea about the rise in intolerence towards religious minorities, as well as the persecution and discrimination faced by them on a day to day basis. Whether be it the Ahmadi's, the Pakistani Christians nationwide, or Pakistani Hindu's who mostly live in the province of Sindh. Intolerence and Xenophobia though growing out of control towards minorities is closer than we think. It begins within our own community and very own ranks. No one ever even remotely suggests the idea of discrimination amongst ourselves, even amongst the pre dominant Sunni Islam sect that form a majority in this country. Even amongst this community there is a lot of prejudice towards members who are not religious, in other words towards non practising Muslims. This is just not limited further solely to Non Practising Muslims, but in some cases includes those Sunni Muslims who are not full fledged practitioners. We might not want to come to terms with accpting this ground reality but we show a great deal of intolerence towards members of our community, so how can we possibly expect ourselves to show tolerence and compassion towards religious minorities which includes a sect that has been deemed not only another religion but is seen as symbol of blasphamy towards Islam. 

I would like to propose some examples just for the sake of food for thought to get people thinking on the lines of what I am trying to say. A lot of us, our elders, as well as people our own age group, we have been conditioned into believing that anyone who is short of being a full fledged practising Muslim is a Kafir or an Infidel or at the very least a lost soul that needs salvation and should be brought back to the path of the rightous no matter what it takes. To illustrate for example, it has become a common sight to be mocked, ridiculed and made fun amongst people for not being fully religious. It would not be an uncommon occurance if those of us who are non practising are mocked over whether we pray 5 times a day or not, or whether we fast or not. Mockery is also pretty common when it comes to the life style so many of us follow, for example, we might get mocked and harassed over our life style choice be it our preference in social life, be it our preference in arts and entertainment, it can also be on something as trivial as us watching television or reading literature that talks about religion from a neutral perspective.

Two examples from my own personal life, I would like to throw in the basket here are one occassion at a gathering, some one in my age bracket tried to make fun of me in front of others by asking me 'how many times I had prayed that day' with that big devilish smile and all the front teeth prominently visible and on one occassion. i got labeled as some one heading down a path of blasphamey for reading Karen Armstrong's 'A History of God'. Now this book is not only one of the world's best selling books, but the writer of that book has openly showed admiration for Islam and frequently visits Pakistan with a message of compassion for humanity. I have even been accused of being a potential blasphamer for not praying in congregation during namaz times. People truly love to discriminate here on the grounds of religion.

These are relatively smaller scale examples of growing xenophobia towards non practising Muslims. A more accurate description is one very rapidly changing trend that is taking place nationwide, and it is something you will find even among the affluent of Pakistani society in the urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. What I am talking about is the impulsive and emotional desire of religious Pakistani's to do everything in their power to try and revert non practising Muslims back into the spectrum of being full fledged practitioners. It is almost like magical or supernatural force possesses them and they can not control themselves and feel obliged to change the other person no matter what. Some do follow a positive approach towards it by taking in an interest in you and your life, and by displaying compassion, trying to be a good role model in front of you, making efforts to communicate to you the benefits of having religion in your life and the change that it will bring.

Now though I am not a fan of preaching, but that method I do not disapprove off, it is a sign of a good educated human being to be a good listener. It doesn't hurt to listen if something is communicated to us in a positive manner and which appeals to our common sense. However what I am against are the other methods that people use to try and change you. These include attempts at guilt and fear inducement. When we talk off guilt and fear inducement from the religious context, we are actually talking about the attempts by others to instill a sense of fear of amongst us, fear of God, fear of the grave, fear of the After life, fear of what the hell fire awaits us even if we make the tiniest mistake in our life. Guilt inducement on the other hand, is attempts to make us feel guilty, make us feel bad about our way of life, our life style choice, what to do, how and who we are on an individual level.

Attempts of guilt and fear inducment if successful manage to create a lot of problems for the individuals who are naturally not ready to have a religious transition in their lives. These include loss of sleep, paranoia over death, hell fire and the afterlife, social withdrawal, judgmentalism and loss of self esteem. In other words it creates a sense of social and emotional insecurity among the individuals who are convinced by the religous people who themselves believe their God's chosen warriors to spread the good word, and with social and emotional insecurity  comes depression, anxiety, high levels of stress, which can have a strong effect on individual health (both emotional and physical health), social skills, common sense and ability to think positively. Before we go and say that the state of bigotry towards minorities is getting out of hand, let us look closer and observe the level of bigotry closer to home. It is closer than we think.

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