Common decency in one’s public and private life would be a yardstick of a person’s character. This is all the more so for people in public life, and especially for those at the helm of affairs of an organization or a country. Their behaviour says so much in a way that words possibly cannot.
However, people in public life do need to be careful of the words they choose to use as also their actions. The more influential a leader and the greater his/ her capacity to sway people, the more cautious he/ she should be about he/ she says. To choose harsh words to talk about a particular community sends a message. If such a community is in a minority or microscopic minority, its suffering can be compounded by the words – or abuse – a leader decides to use for it.
The recent comments made by Capt Muhammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in the National Assembly (NA) of Pakistan has shocked everyone. He targeted a persecuted community Ahmadi. The words he used are horrific. He accused Ahmadis of acting against Pakistan’s interest and called for actions against its members. He criticised renaming of Quaid-e-Azam University’s (QAU) Physics centre after Prof Abdus Salam, the first Nobel laureate of Pakistan because he was an Ahmadi. He called for a ban on hiring Ahmadis in the armed forces and other important institutions.
Nawaz Sharif distanced himself from the anti-Ahmadi tirade by Safdar. He said, ”I declare it in categorical and unequivocal terms that all minorities living in Pakistan enjoy complete fundamental rights, including protection to their lives and property, under the Constitution and Islamic teachings.”
Pakistan’s PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also distanced himself and his party Pakistan Muslim League (N) by saying that it was Safdar’s personal view and the party does not agree with him and such kind of provocations must be avoided. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal reiterated that Pakistan respects all minorities.
Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) preferred to remain silent. But, it is not surprising. Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) criticised Safdar’s speech. Safdar’s statement was not condemned in a way it should have been. Safdar used NA to target Ahmadi community.
The Ahmadi community had played a significant role in creating Pakistan. The architect of Pakistan Resolution of March 23, 1940, was Sir Zafarullah Khan. He was an Ahmadi and was also first foreign minister of Pakistan. Pakistan under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared Ahmadi community as non-Muslim through second Constitution amendment in 1974. General Zia-ul-Haq made laws stringent against Ahmadi. They cannot call their place of worship as Masjid, nor can they call themselves Muslims.
Social media erupted following Safdar’s speech. A significant number of Pakistanis took to the Twitter, FaceBook and other social media to criticise Safdar. It is not a coincidence that he made the most abusive speech after he was arrested and released on bail as he faces National Accountability Bureau (NAB) corruption reference. Recently, he was arrested from Islamabad airport on his arrival from London with wife Maryam.
Asma Jahangir, a leading human rights activist, condemned the statement made by Safdar. She called upon Nawaz to take notice of his son-in-law’s tirade against the persecuted Ahmadi community. She also asked political parties to criticise it. She said, "Such words are spoken by those who we consider being extremists; such remarks being made by a member of the NA is shocking. I believe Capt Safdar tried to incite [hatred]. While speaking in the NA, one must maintain respect."
Jibran Nasir, a lawyer, and activist said, "Around the world, nobody can speak about their minority populations in such a manner. If we do not raise our voice against this incident today, people like this (who makes such remarks against minorities), will form a majority." PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted, "The bigotry, hatred, and extremism on display in the National Assembly goes to show that the Nawaz league has been mainstreaming terror well before Milli Muslim League. No place for this mindset in our society."
Using NA to spew venom against the minority community is a dangerous game. It has wider ramifications also. It also violates Pakistan’s hate speech laws and also objectives of National Action Plan (NAP). The NAP is against terrorism and explains in detail how to counter it. Among other things NAP talks about end to religious extremism and protection of minorities will be ensured, action against elements spreading extremism.
Many Ahmadis have contributed significantly to the development of Pakistan. Many have served in the armed forces. Other minority communities have played their role. Today it is Ahmadi, tomorrow it can be some other minority community. The liberal voices must come forward and see no minority community, anywhere, is targeted. Pakistan needs to act against people who preach hatred, whosoever he/ she may be. The issue of hate speech is a serious issue in India too. Hate will lead us towards destruction. It is better to act before it is too late.