Pakistan ambassador to America Sherry Rehman’s Twitter bio declares, “Will take a bullet for the motherland but hope our children don’t have to.” But what is an ambassador to do when that bullet comes from Pakistan and strikes her in the back?
Last month, Pakistan took the unprecedented step and charged their own ambassador with blasphemy — a crime that carries the consequence of fine, prison time, and even execution.
As Rehman valiantly fights to improve her nation’s image, implores America that her country is moderate and tolerant, and courageously defends Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy, the motherland — of all places — proves her wrong.
But state-sanctioned persecution of Rehman is not a surprise — it’s an inevitability and just the latest in a long trend. Pakistan loves to shoot — literally or figuratively — anyone or anything who stands up for Pakistan.
In 1992 Pakistan figuratively shot their own Constitution when the Supreme Court championed the nation’s draconian blasphemy law in Zaheerudin v State. In a landslide decision, the Court upheld the law without citing a single Pakistani statute, ordinance, or decision. Instead, the Court enforced an invented precedent for all Pakistanis that “might makes right” when they wrote, “The [Ahmadis] who are non-Muslims want to pass off their faith as Islam? …[a] [Muslim] believer… will not tolerate a Government which is not prepared to save him of such deceptions or forgeries…” Not two decades later this precedent would inspire a “Muslim believer” to haunt Pakistan’s highest offices. To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than their nation’s founding principles of pluralism, Pakistan shot its own Constitution.
In 1996 Pakistan figuratively shot their only Nobel Laureate, God particle pioneer Dr. Abdus Salam, when they literally defaced his tomb to remove the word “Muslim.” Dr. Salam was a devout Ahmadi. Thus, Pakistan legally forbids anyone from calling Dr. Salam a Muslim–even after his death. To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than celebrate one of histories greatest scientific achievements, Pakistan shot its own citizen.
In 2011, Pakistan’s 1992 Supreme Court decision that “might is right” inspired an extremist who violently shot and murdered Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. Taseer condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and declared his public mission to see them repealed. The nation did not tolerate this. Governor Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, simply embraced the Supreme Court’s words that “…[a] [Muslim] believer…will not tolerate a Government which is not prepared to save him of such deceptions or forgeries…” and took vigilante action accordingly. To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than allowing the democratic process to proceed, Pakistan shot its own Governor.
In 2011, again, an inspired extremist in Pakistan shot and murdered Shabazz Bhatti, the nation’s only Christian federal minister. Bhatti, like Taseer, opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law and made no secret of his intentions to repeal them. Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper courageously inaugurated Canada’s first Religious Freedom Ambassador from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada headquarters in Maple, Ontario. Harper declared, “Shahbaz Bhatti worked tirelessly to defend the vulnerable not only his fellow Christians, but also Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadi Muslims, and all other minorities. He did so knowing that it placed him under a constant and imminent threat to his life.” To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than allowing freedom of conscience the chance to reign free, Pakistan shot its own federal minister.
What began in Pakistan with the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in the 1970s and 1980s, soon spread to the persecution of Hindus, Christians, Shias, and Sufis in the 1990s and 2000s, and is now consuming Pakistan’s remaining few pluralistic government officials in the 2010s. In just the past three years alone Pakistan has shot and killed over 119 Ahmadi Muslims, over 200 Shia Muslims, and at least two major politicians. Pakistan continues to shoot its Christian and Hindu citizens, and anyone not deemed the right kind of Muslim — all to protect their beloved blasphemy law.
And now, as Pakistan shoots its own ambassador in the back, who will take a bullet for Sherry Rehman?
The answer is simple but its performance requires courage. It’s a job no one person can do, but instead requires the collective effort, courage, and compassion of all people of all faiths and of all people of no faith. No other logical choice exists but to unite as one community against religious discrimination, oppression of conscience, and violence. As long as Pakistan’s blasphemy law lives, those who stand up for freedom and tolerance will continue to fall at the hands of Supreme Court endorsed extremists. Only by working together — above dogmatic differences and beyond religious bigotry — can we make the motherland truly deserving of its name, the Land of the Pure.
It is time we joined collectively to take a bullet for the sake of humanity, in hopes our children won’t have to.