Monday, January 11, 2016

Bias has much to do with systems that are being eroded in Pakistan
 It’s interesting how the blowback following recent terrorist incidents has forced people all over the world to re-examine their convictions. You wish we’d do the same, here in Pakistan. Dr Larycia Hawkins, who teaches political science at Wheaton College near Chicago, remarked on Facebook recently that Muslims, Christians and Jews worship the same God. Wheaton College, an Evangelical institution could not let such statements pass since according to Christian belief their God is not the Muslim God, and Dr Hawkins, a tenured professor, found herself placed on administrative leave. But that wasn’t all. Hawkins, who has written about race, religion and issues relating to American politics, spoke with the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to find out if Muslims would be offended if a non-Muslim woman wore the head covering called a hijab, considered to be the preserve of Muslim womanhood. Obviously the Council replied they would not because then Dr Hawkins, a teacher who clearly believes in the practical side of education, decided to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who have been facing some bias of late.
Thinking logically, isn’t it odd that although decrepit Muslim sensibilities remain intact when a Christian woman wears the hijab, they fall apart when others who are called non-Muslim inscribe verses from the Quran on the graves of their dead? This is what happened in 1989 resulting in an FIR being registered by the Punjab police against the entire population of the city of Rabwah because its people inscribed Quranic verses on the graves of Ahmadiyya people in the graveyards of that city. Shall we think about this for a moment, all of us, including those who condemn the show of intolerance by Wheaton College? If the residents of Rabwah were wrong in doing what they did, Dr Hawkins was also wrong in wearing the hijab, but clearly if you check out the comments on that news report, most people think she did the right thing, and that it was the College that was at fault. Time to relate events to concepts and attitudes, and vice versa.
Mr Abdul Shakoor, the owner of a bookshop, also in Rabwah, has been selling books relating to his own sect via his bookshop. As a result he ran afoul of the blasphemy and terrorism laws promulgated in the time of the general who must not be named, and for this offence he has been sentenced to imprisonment for eight years. Mr Shakoor is eighty years old. Aside from the sheer idiocy of the law under which he has been booked, the matter contravenes all kinds of humane conventions, including the injunction within Islam itself regarding the treatment of the elderly. What’s more, if Mr Shakoor isn’t allowed to sell literature relating to his own sect, neither should Christians or anyone else sell theirs, but there appears to be no problem with that. Is that bias and discrimination or what? Furthermore, how does Pakistan’s blasphemy law gel with the fact that hundreds of mosques in France, including the Grand Mosque in Paris are opening their doors to all and sundry, inviting dialogue centred on Islam, even inviting non-Muslims to attend Muslim prayers? Will members of the Ahmadiyya sect be barred from this dialogue, or from participating in these prayers? And given these laws in Pakistan how do you explain the furor here following Donald Trump’s talk of shutting down mosques in the US?
Now is a good time to get rid of a few laws right here in Pakistan which are as biased as the Donald Trump we love to hate, because surely condemning Donald for blowing his ‘Trumpet’ calling for sanctions against Muslims also requires us to examine our own biases which are strikingly similar to his. A Muslim woman in a hijab wearing a shirt that said ‘I come in peace’ was escorted out of Donald Trump’s rally recently, and this act has been considered reprehensible by the Pakistani public. I wonder what would happen to a person obviously belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect at a public meeting in Pakistan who turned up wearing a shirt that said nothing at all.
All this makes you think — does it not — about bias and prejudice, about stereotyping, and what constitutes education and leadership by example? Bias has much to do with an absence of education and with poor education, but also with systems that are being eroded in Pakistan. Strong communities that feel secure in themselves lack prejudice. They welcome people of other faiths and appearance into their midst. Bias thrives in societies such as ours that are fed on vitriol, where each day brings a heavy dose of fear, frustration, anger and bitterness. It takes violence and insecurity to create prejudice. But interestingly enough, it also took violence to foster insight and tolerance. That is an interesting twist to the horrors taking place today. It is a good twist, and I’m in the mood to look for the silver lining to this particular cloud.

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