“The Israel-Palestine conflict has played a major role in developing a very anti-Judaism sentiment in Pakistan” … Salman Zafar
Recently, I received an invitation along with a number of other writers on Twitter to submit a one off blog for The Word Theatre which describes itself as “Pakistan’s first independent blogging platform, a young website hoping to bring Pakistani bloggers under one roof.” The bloggers tweeted that they hoped contributions would “do wonders for their visibility.”
I am not sure the claim regarding the site being “first” is correct as I am very familiar with excellent indy blogs that have been going for some time such as Pakpotpourri from Pakistani lawyer Yasmeen Ali who both writes herself and includes a wide variety of guest bloggers uncensored,
Nor do I feel all bloggers should necessarily be controlled under one website as “variety is the spice of life”. However, they did perk my curiosity.
I declined to write a blog myself for The Word Theatre due to my negative past experience of being censored by other sites, (most recently for an anti-war piece on Afghanistan). I choose to be independent and host my own blog and write for only one other organization, London Progressive Journal. However as a supporter of free speech I invited someone from the project to write an article for my blog if they wished which they were assured would go out without edit.
An e-mail was sent to the new bloggers saying it would be interesting to hear something of the history and current situation of the Jewish community in Pakistan, learn about the initiative and the importance of protecting minority rights. On seeing the name of the founder, Salman Zafar, mentioned in a return e-mail, I recalled him as writing a rather unpleasant article on Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan which began with the words, “you twisted little schmuck. You perpetually misguided political novice. You inherently misinformed self proclaimed leader of the youth.”
This rant (which continued) must have satisfied the need for what the site described as “a liberal, vocal and independent platform for socio-political and cultural commentary in Pakistan, one not bound by editorial policies of a newspaper.”
Then I realized after initial perusal of the website, I had in fact blocked one of the other contributers previously on Twitter for his rudeness, a Mr Fishel Benkhald who describes himself as a “pro-Israel Jew fighting for Jewish minority rights recognition in Pakistan” and advocating a relationship between Pakistan and Israel…. see following link http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/176235#.U1VfYlVdV6k
Being a busy time and with three articles to complete, I had explained that I was tied up and it might be a few days before I could respond and write a piece on The Word Theatre, needing time to formulate my questions. However I was beaten to the post, receiving the following write-up before I had even had a chance to prepare questions for an interview with an instruction to use attached photo if possible. I felt the e-mail to be very prescriptive or maybe they just didn’t bother to read my reply properly which is a shame as I had numerous things I genuinely wanted to explore through further dialogue… Though by now with the history of rudeness I had rather lost my appetite. Anyway here is Salman Zafar’s statement as follows:-
Salman Zafar, Founder, The Word Theatre
“Pakistan is home to a variety of religions, with people who follow Islam making up the majority. Most foreigners will not be aware of this, but the white portion in our flag represents the religious minorities. It is shame then that religious minorities in Pakistan are persecuted on such a regular basis.
The number of people who followed Judaism in Pakistan was never huge. Through time however, even that small number has ceased to exist. This is down to a multiple of a reasons, but the most prominent one is Pakistan’s status as an Islamic Republic. Any country with a state religion will dish out unfavorable treatment to its minorities. Any countries that was found on the basic pretext of ill-found religious insecurities will dish out even worse treatment to its minorities. This is what has happened to Pakistan. The country advocated for independence on the notion that Muslims of the subcontinent will be persecuted by the Hindu majority once the British Rule ends, and there should be a separate homeland to safe guard the rights of these Muslims. Thus Pakistan was found in 1947, with the aim of being a home to the subcontinent’s Muslims. The blame for this lies with our founding fathers, including our founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who used religion as a pretext to seek Independence. While it is true that he wanted Pakistan to be a secular state, he did play the religion card, which was wrong on so many levels once you look at how emotionally attached people in our region are to religion. Ironically when we attained independence in 1947, a huge number of Muslims preferred to stay back in Independent India, and as things stand today, most Muslims in the subcontinent reside outside of Pakistan – in India and Bangladesh.
The Islam-Judaism divide is a global one, but in Pakistan things are taken to brand new extremes. The Israel-Palestine conflict has played a major role in developing a very anti-Judaism sentiment in Pakistan. We don’t officially recognize Israel, have no diplomatic ties with them, and our passports explicitly state that this document is valid for all countries except Israel. Everything that goes wrong in Pakistan is molded into a Jewish conspiracy since the Muslim clerics in Pakistan have build a narrative that takes a very anti-Judaism stance, and this is something that has become a part of our upbringing. Virtually every Muslim child in Pakistan learns religion from these clerics during his or her early years, and these clerics instill not only a very anti-Judaism mindset in these kids, but a mindset that leaves no room to accommodate any religious minority. The fact that a large number of our population has no exposure to proper knowledge means that these kids grow up believing what is taught to them in their younger years, and by the time they grow up they refuse to believe anything else. The parents of these kids go through the same cycle in their childhood. In the end it develops into a continuous chain, creating one minority hating Pakistani after another. Even Pakistanis who don’t use violent means to express their hatred do feel perpetually superior than people not sharing the same belief system as them. The mode of expression may be different, but the mindset is same.
As things stand currently, the anti-Judaism sentiment in Pakistan is at an all time high, which in no small part, is due to the wave of religious extremism in the last one decade. The small number of Jews that lived in Karachi at the time of independence are not there any more. They fled the country out of sheer fear. But this hatred isn’t reserved for Jews alone. Christian, Hindus, and even people belonging to the Shiite and Ahmadiyya sects in Islam are persecuted. The worst treatment is dished out to the Ahmadiyya community, and a large number of them have already migrated abroad.
Our initiative, The Word Theatre, aims to give a voice to anyone who wishes to express himself through written words. Anyone who has a story to tell, anyone who wishes to speak up. We are not affiliated with any media group, and thus completely independent which gives us the freedom to publish anything we want without any concerns for a topic that might otherwise be considered taboo or sensitive. This has enabled us to highlight a topic like the concerns of people following Judaism in Pakistan. Minority rights have become a big issue in Pakistan off late due to the outbreak of religious based violence on such a large scale in the last few years, and it is imperative that issues like these are addressed as vocally as possible. The sad truth however, is the fact that the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan has been going on for a very long time and it will not go away any time soon. A problem like this needs a complete overhaul of the Pakistani mindset, something that will take a very long time. I don’t see it happening in our lifetime, but I hope I’m proven wrong”
-Salman Zafar (Founder, The Word Theatre)
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.