Bleeding the white in our flag


The Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore was meant to do many things. One of them was killing Christians. There is no punishment in Pakistan for hooliganism, or barbarianism, or wanton thuggery. You can attack the PTV headquarters, attack the parliament building, attack the Supreme Court building (yes, prime minister, we have not forgotten). You can destroy shops, and burn cars. You can set fire to metro stations. There is no punishment for any of this. But if you are a Pakistani Christian? That’s a crime that will be punished.

If we cannot conjure up the moral courage to accept the criminal negligence of Christian places of worship, or Christian women and children, of Christian businesses and communities, then we should stop all the high-brow analysis of how long this war will take. It is a never-ending nightmare. Moral obfuscation is not just a linear problem. It is a spiritual crime. In the land of Bulleh Shah, Rehman Baba, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Bahauddin Zakariya, and Hazrat Daata Ganj Baksh, such crimes will never go unpunished. Never. If Pakistan is enduring pain and agony, at least some of this is a product of our criminal neglect of our duty to protect – at all costs, under all circumstances – Pakistani Christians.

Whatabouters will ask: why only Christians? Of course, not only Christians. But to conflate all the other injustices wreaked upon all the other communities in our country as I write these words on Easter Monday would be an obfuscation too. Early reports suggest that the Lahore Easter Sunday attack saw more fatalities of Muslims than it did of Christians. That too is an obfuscation. The terrorists that took responsibility for the attack specifically talk about their bloodlust for Christians observing Easter.

Why Christians? Because it is the pure white of our star, crescent and stripe. Because the brand of patriotism in Pakistan that emanates from the churches in this country is unique, and unparalleled. No one quite flew a plane fighter plane for the Islamic Republic like Cecil Chaudhry did. No one served justice in the Islamic Republic quite like Alvin Robert Cornelius did. No one sang milli naghmas quite the way the Nerissa, Sheema and Shabana Benjamin did. No one stood for the oppressed, and the voiceless, quite like Shaheed Shahbaz Bhatti did.

When wealthy and wannabe wealthy Pakistanis that struggle for clarity about the victims and enemies after a terrorist attack think of the best schools for their children, they think of the Convent of Jesus and Mary, or Saint Joseph’s or Saint Patrick’s. When Pakistani hospitals think of the best nurses for their doctors and patients, they think of Christian nurses. When we need the stains cleaned off of things, so often, so readily, we turn to Christians. The blood stains on the white on our flag? It will be Christians that will wipe it off.

Let’s not lose perspective. As Anthony Permal noted in a poignant note on Facebook, the blood running through Christian veins in the aftermath of the Lahore Easter Sunday bombing is from Muslim veins. Muslim Lahoris thronged hospitals searching for victims that they could help. Muslims decency and charity and humanity doesn’t check the religion of victims where it counts, when it counts. In hospitals and dispensaries in Lahore on Easter Sunday – that much was clear.

But let’s also maintain perspective. Less than a year ago, Youhanabad’s cup had runneth over. After the twin suicide attacks on churches in Youhanabad, the ugliness was so deep that we could not wait for the next attack, so we could stop talking about that one. Before that, was All Saints Church in Peshawar. All three took place on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s watch. If you were a Christian, how would you react to a reminder about the fact that it was “Pakistanis” that were targeted in Youhanabad, in Peshawar All Saints, or on Easter Sunday at Gulshan-e-Iqbal? How would you find descriptions of the security situation having improved dramatically? How would you get up from where you were sitting, without wanting collapse back down? Bruised, battered, and broken at the knowledge that your brothers and sisters in faith were being targeted for their faith?

As Pakistani Muslims, this should not be so hard. For decades, we have kind of bled with Palestinians and Kashmiris. Not actually bleeding, but we have felt their pain and their agony. When Muslims in Myanmar are hunted down by Buddhist terrorists, we feel the searing pain they feel. In our mosques, each Friday, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Yemen. When we are shown pictures of children being killed in school shootings in the United States, some of us respond with pictures of children killed in drone strikes in the tribal areas. All fair. All real.

Surely, we know and understand and appreciate the concept of empathy – of stepping into someone else’s shoes to feel their pain and their agony. Surely it cannot be so hard then to frame the Easter Sunday attack correctly.

This week, just for a moment, perhaps we should feel for Pakistani Christians. What is it like to be a fourteen year old Christian boy in Pakistan? Knowing about Youhanabad. Knowing about All Saints. Knowing about Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Mind you. This is a fourteen-year-old boy. All that burden is in addition to worrying about growing up. About wanting to buy nice things. About wanting to take care of his sister and his mother. About feeling proud of our F-16s on March 23. And about processing his anger.

This week, just for a moment, let’s also feel for Christians in far-away lands. In Ethiopia, and Russia, and Wales, and yes, even America. What is it like to watch the news of an Easter Sunday bombing in that place called Pakistan, where some more Christians were killed?

In the sadness that follows such attacks, we clutch at straws. Some of us want the world to mourn with us. Some of us want to show, desperately, that Pakistan is united. This isn’t because we are bad people. A lot of it is actually because so many of us are such good people. It is good Pakistanis, who are tolerant and patriotic, who go to pains to explain that attacks in which one or another group is targeted is “not an attack just on [insert group], but on all Pakistanis”. This is a sentiment of genuinely good people.

But being a good person isn’t good enough. Pakistan is an amazing country for many reasons, and one of them is the incredible expanse of how democratised discontent has become here. There is no group, religious, ethnic, linguistic, economic or social that does not have legitimate grievances. Some are, of course, much more urgent than others. It is tougher being a Christian in Pakistan than it is being a wealthy, male cotton exporter. But that doesn’t mean cotton exporters haven’t been wronged by the Federal Bureau of Revenue. It just means that when comparing injuries, the cotton exporter has to have the decency to allow a Christian to express his or her agony first.

Here’s the punch line. Listen carefully. Can you hear Pakistani Christians complaining? If you listen carefully, you should be able to hear something… anything. There are at least three million Pakistani Christians. Maybe twice as many (if we ever had census). Go ahead. Listen carefully. Nothing? Silence. Why? Because they are not complaining. Which is why we, Muslim Pakistanis, have to.

The TTP Jamaatul Ahrar group, much like most terror groups, are backed by intelligent and insightful people who seek to weaken and destroy Pakistan. When you want to destroy something, you go for its greatest strengths.

This country’s greatest strength, no matter what you were taught in Pakistan Studies, is its diversity. It is no accident that Pakistan’s enemies seek to extinguish and eliminate the colour and vibrancy from within us. It is no accident that Pakistani Christians are hounded by terror. It is no accident that there are blood stains on the white on our flag.

The fight for a normal, peaceful Pakistan is still in its infancy. In this long war, we must do our best to asphyxiate confusion and obfuscation. The Easter Sunday bombing was an attack on Pakistan and Pakistaniat because it targeted Christians. But target Christians it did. And once again, we failed to protect them. The least we can do is to remember that.   – The News International

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