Originally published in The Nation
Chief Minister,The Government of Punjab.
Dear Mr. Shehbaz Sharif,
I hope you are doing great. I promise to keep this short and to-the-point. A tweet from the Government of Punjab’s official Twitter handle caught my eye on Sunday. A statement, attributed to you, promised continued crackdown on anyone guilty of inflammatory hate speech.
Hate speech and incitement by religious clergy, and the resulting sectarianism has destroyed the social fabric of Pakistani society. Decades too late, the State finally recognized this crucial pathway to rising terrorism and rightly devised a National Action Plan (NAP) to combat it. NAP was supposed to crack down on sectarian hate speech and literature spread through mosques and madrassas across the country. It was supposed to protect minority faith groups from religious extremists and bullies.
It is no secret that the community most victimized by hate speech in Pakistan is the Ahmadiyya community. But despite NAP, Ahmadis remain marginalized, especially in the Punjab, and extremist clerics continue to pass edicts inciting violence against them. They continue to demand further legal restrictions on whatever remains allowed for the Ahmadis to profess. You know who these extremists are. In fact, not very long ago, you appeased them by forcibly changing the name of my birthplace from ‘Rabwah’ to ‘Chenab Nagar.’ They didn’t like the original name because it was derived from the Quran.
And just two days ago, news website and religious freedom watchdog, Rabwah Times, reported on an anti-Ahmadi conference that was held in Rabwah, in the heart of Punjab. Speakers at the conference included Ministers and prominent clerics. Local District Police Officer Mustansar Feroz also attended the conference to oversee security arrangements. Speaking at the conference, serving PML-N Minister and head of ‘International Khatme Nabuwat Movement,’ Mr. Ilyas Chinioti threatened:
“Qadianis (pejorative for Ahmadis) are traitors and we need to deal with them with force”
Maulana Shafqat added:
“Jews are backing the Qadianis (Ahmadis), this (Ahmadiyya) is cancer that has to be destroyed”
Other speakers expressed similar bigoted sentiment and demanded that the State impose the death penalty on Pakistan’s Ahmadi citizens. Does all of this not count as hate speech in your dictionary? If not, what more should the conference attendees have done to fancy your attention? Not only do such conferences occur unhindered, your government Ministers regularly attend them, and the Punjab Police assists with their organization.
How will you crack down on hate speech that your own government sponsors?
Then, just recently, notorious right-wing analyst Mr. Orya Maqbool Jaan engaged in one-sided attacks on Pakistan’s Ahmadis on a TV show, emphasizing that Ahmadis were traitors of Pakistan and Islam. Did this not meet your criteria for hate speech? I sought to respond to his allegations, and invited the leader of the anti-Ahmadi ‘Khatme Nabuwat Forum,’ Mr. Mubasher Shah, to a panel discussion that was streamed LIVE to tens of thousands of viewers. On the program, Mr. Shah explicitly stated that Ahmadis were “deserving of death” for their “blasphemous beliefs.” Here is a video clip from the show:
Now, do even these death threats not make the cut for hate speech in your eyes? If not, what more would you have this cleric say to consider his words inflammatory?
Mr. Chief Minister, as you help me understand your definition of hate speech, also consider these alternate scenarios. Ahmadis remain severely repressed under the anti-Ahmadi laws of Pakistan. An 80 year old Ahmadi, Mr. Shakoor Bhai, was arrested and imprisoned for 8 years for selling a book with a Quranic inscription. Another aged Ahmadi, a distant uncle, sits in a prison cell for publishing a Quranic verse in an Ahmadiyya magazine. How come Ahmadis reading Quranic verses make the cut for “hate speech,” but those (including Ministers in your own government) who call for the killings of Ahmadis never meet your hate speech criteria?
There can only be two reasons for such gross contradiction between your words and actions. The first is that your crackdown on hate speech excludes inflammatory attacks on the most oppressed community in Pakistan. The second is that you do not know what “hate speech” means. I might not be able to do much in the first case except convince you to embrace justice for all Pakistanis. But just in case it is the second, I would hate to miss an opportunity to educate. Please click here.
I look forward to your response.