Two days ago, a condensed version of my blog post was published by the Express Tribune. Although a lot might have been lost in the process of editing a 1376-word article into a web-ready 820-word copy, it still managed to ruffle some feathers. Despite the perceived originality of the comments that spewed forth, I’ve noticed that the majority of opinions (and presumably those who hold them) tend to fall in a few broad categories:-
- The Momineen Type: There isn’t much you can usually say to this lot (especially without incurring blasphemy charges) because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith–that it can be imposed from without instead of generated from within. To them there is no problem with banning things in the name of morality (because how else should Muslims live, if they are not saved the inconvenience of having to act consciously along the edicts of their religion?) so there’s no problem if places ban all Pakistanis on the pretext that most Pakistanis are Muslims and hence cannot be trusted not to blow up the place if there’s (gasp!) haraam food on the menu. Just like they blow up in the many, many non-Halal eateries in non-Muslim countries all around the world–including France–where Muslims live and work. That this isn’t an issue of Halal vs Haraam food is of little concern here. (An interesting sub-type of this category is the Indignant Momineen whose reaction is something along the lines of: “You ban me? I refuse to enter where haraam food is being served!”) And end of that story.
- The Elite: The elite regret to inform us that we have made a grievous error in speaking out against this restaurant because their food is excellent and it’s a pity we can’t see the good this place is doing by still allowing non-hyphenated Pakistanis to apply for jobs here (because throwing money at people is the solution to every problem.) Seemingly oblivious to the fate of Marie Antoinette, their stance is not so much “Let them eat cake!” as “Look at this cake, this is delicious cake, so what if you can’t have it, as long as I can?”
- The Slippery Slope Strawman: If we stopped places in Pakistan from discriminating against Pakistanis on the basis of nationality, we would also have to stop colleges from preferring students on kinship and deny restaurants the right to cultivate exclusivity and then where would we be? Where indeed.
- The Average Javaid: This is your common man, the typical Pakistani; the only people who don’t call themselves “desi” anywhere ever because it is understood that is what they are. This type feels an inkling of offense, a vague unpleasantness that can’t quite be named, but which has been felt many times before on the numerous occasions when they are randomly stopped at check points and subjected to searches, denied entry, and so on. But this type also has several plausible explanations for why this must occur on a regular basis, the most pertinent of them being security. Despite the fact that terrorism is a global network and Pakistanis are around twice as likely as the rest of the world to be killed in a terrorist attack (excepting Iraq and Afghanistan) and although many Pakistanis continue to display an ‘inexplicable’ capacity for tolerance and compassion, we understand that we are all innately a threat to others and must be contained. In the palace of Sans-Souci sorrow is not allowed to enter and neither are the Average Javaids; the only people who think differently are the terrorists themselves, which is why they have killed more than 49000 people in the War-That-Isn’t-Ours.
- The Bitter Truthers: Of all the opinions out there, this is the type that raises the most valid criticism. It comes from a diverse group of people, but often those who have been working hard to do whatever they can to stem the tide of internal bigotry very much present in Pakistan. They point out that while discrimination against Pakistanis on the basis of nationality (or Muslimhood, as many misunderstand it to be) gets the majority outraged, there is hardly a whimper against much of the discrimination on the basis of religion. Bitterly they grumble that rest of Pakistan is now merely burning in the fire it started itself–and they are not wrong. When we made it acceptable to discriminate between our fellow citizens, to treat those belonging to minority faiths and sects as “lesser” Pakistanis, we left the door open for other people to discriminate against all of us. We made space for the creation of a violent behemoth of religious extremism and it was only a while before that would become a way to paint older prejudice in new colors. But it doesn’t make sense to speak as if non-Muslim Pakistanis are exempt from problems faced by all Pakistanis, because if Pakistanis face discrimination simply for being Pakistanis then non-Muslim Pakistanis face an added layer of discrimination–the injustices are not “evened out”, because they are not separate from the rest of Pakistan. Don’t rush to ouster non-Muslims like that even with good intentions, not only because this whole debate was initiated by a non-Muslim Pakistani, but also because that thinking plays right into the hands of those who insist Pakistan is only for and can only be represented by Muslims. Bigotry is a double-edged sword, and it bleeds those who wield it as well as those who suffer its blade; if it metes out what looks like retribution, you can be sure the only thing it is carving room for is bigotry itself.
And there you have it, folks.