I recently wrote ‘Poison in the body politic’ on the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan, the hate-speech against them in public spaces and the impunity their attackers enjoy. One of the people I spoke to was Farooq Kahloun, an Ahmadi leader and successful businessman in Karachi who had left everything behind in Pakistan and taken political asylum in the USA after a murderous attempt on his life that left his son Saad Farooq dead two years ago. Four bullets still lodged in Kahloun’s body are a permanent reminder of the attack (details below) — and of the poison in Pakistan’s body politic, the menace of takfirism.
Takfir = to create divisions by deeming individuals or a community to be outside the pale of Islam, terming them kafir or non-Muslim. The Second Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution in 1974 that declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslim is a Takfiri piece of legislation. An op-ed in The Huffington Post after the Peshawar tragedy also makes this point, asking if Pakistanis will now “recognize that the draconian blasphemy laws and the Second amendment, which subjugate their fellow citizens, emerge from the same cesspool of hate that has resulted in the cold murder of 132 Muslim children?”
The issue was starkly highlighted by a recent particularly blatant display of bigotry and hate-speech on a television show hosted by Aamir Liaquat on his morning show on Geo TV, Dec. 22, 2014. The show featured a group of ‘religious leaders’ arguing against the President’s constitutional right to pardon prisoners on death row. One of them, Arif Shah Owaisi then used the live platform to rant about the ‘real enemies’ of Pakistan — “Qadiyanis” (a derogatory term for Ahmadis). Instead of challenging him, the smooth-talking Liaquat, known as a tele-evangelist, cheered him on and egged the audience to join in.
Less than two weeks after the Peshawar tragedy, this was a shameless attempt to shift the blame from the real enemy: the militants attempting to establish an ‘Islamic caliphate’ over not just Pakistan but the world. Liaquat had alleged just days earlier that India and Afghanistan are behind the attack – a line also being peddled by former military dictator Gen. Musharraf and other assorted players known for their anti-democratic stance and “good Taliban, bad Taliban” narrative.
“The Peshawar tragedy has already become part of longer struggle in Pakistan for the assertion of civilian constitutional authority on an autonomous military,” as an editorial in the respected Economic and Political Weekly points out.
But people are no longer willing to take what these spin-doctors and hate-merchants dish out. Following the Peshawar tragedy, civil society activists began protesting in front of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad against the refusal of its head Abdul Aziz to condemn the perpetrators of the Peshawar school attack or term its victims as martyrs. The hashtags #ArrestAbdulAziz, #ReclaimYourMosques and #NoAirtimeForTaliban began trending.
After nearly a week of continuous protests, braving threats and slander, the unarmed citizens managed to get an FIR (first information report) registered against Abdul Aziz (known as Mullah Burqa for trying to escape the 2007 siege of the Lal Masjid in a burqa). Two days later, on Dec 26, the Islamabad High Court issued a non-bailable warrant for his arrest. His response: a defiant open call to his supporters to protect him. They are reported to be armed and dangerous, with weapons and explosives stockpiled in the Lal Masjid.
Soon after Aamir Liaquat’s show, the hashtag #AmirLiaqatSpreadingViolence began trending. An online petition urging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to hold Geo TV and Aamir Liaquat accountable for hate speech logged over 6,000 signatures within 24 hours, and counting. Many are also filing complaints online directly with PEMRA, which should take action in any case given that the show violates its own Code of Conduct 2009. Now, journalist Ali K. Chishti in Karachi has lodged an FIR with the police against Aamir Liaquat and Owaisi as well as the producers under Section 153(a) of the Pakistan Penal Code, “creating enmity between different groups” and Section 8 of the Anti-Terrrorist Act 1997.
Five days after Aamir Liaquat’s show (that must have raked in millions from sponsors), Luqman Ahad Shahzad, 27, another young Ahmadi was killed, shot in the back of the head in a village near Gujranwala. His death reminded me of Saad Farooq, about the same age, also shot in the back of the head. Here’s the piece I wrote which got dropped for reasons of space from my piece in The News on Sunday, ‘Poison in the body politic’:
The murder of Saad Farooq
Saad Farooq was just 26 and newly married. On October 19, 2012, he was on a motorcycle, following his father’s car as they returned home after Friday prayers.
“I slowed down to nearly a stop at a speed breaker when my younger son Ummad in the back seat said he heard gunshots,” recalls Farooq Kahloun, who was President of the Ahmadi Jamaat in Baldia Town, Karachi. Before he could respond, the assailants were in front of his car and were firing at Kahloun in the driver’s seat.
Five bullets pierced Kahloun’s chest and arms. In the front passenger seat Saad’s father-in-law Choudhry Nusrat, in Pakistan for the wedding from New York, was hit in the neck and chest – he clutched his shirt to the wound in a bid to staunch the bleeding. A bullet hit Ummad’s forehead.
“There were two men on a motorbike, one wearing a helmet, the other with a shawl wrapped around him. I was thinking that I could run them over but my arms were paralysed by the bullets,” says Kahloun.
After the attackers rode off, apparently satisfied they had completed the job, Kahloun drove to the emergency room at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, ignoring the pain and the blood bubbling up in his mouth that obstructed his breathing. “I didn’t know if I would make it but I kept going… Both my sons were injured, I had to, for their sakes.”
But Saad was already dead. The assailants had shot him in the neck from behind. The bullet tore through his spinal cord and exited from the front, killing him instantly.
The bullet in Ummad’s forehead miraculously missed his brain and was removed in the U.K., where he studies, some months later. Choudhry Nusrat died of his injuries three weeks later in hospital, leaving Sheza, his newly married and newly widowed daughter also fatherless (his widow, Sheza’s mother, died in the USA eight months later).
“I do not grieve my son’s death,” says Kahloun. “He was bawuzu, we had just come from Jumma prayers, he was shaheed.”
The injured father insisted on saying goodbye to Saad before being taken in an ambulance to the Agha Khan Hospital, where he and Choudhry Nusrat were being admitted.
“I knew I would be hospitalised for a while and could not be a pall-bearer at Saad’s funeral. They tried to stop me, thought that in my injured state it would kill me. I told them: No! I will be fine; I must see my son. I went to him, kissed him for the last time, talked to him… I told him we will meet in the hereafter. Then they took him to the morgue, and an ambulance took me to AKU.”
Saad lies buried in the graveyard at Rabwah in front of which armed assailants shot dead Pakistani-American Ahmadi cardiac surgeon Dr Mehdi Ali Qamar in May this year, in front of his wife and little son.
— Beena Sarwar