Imagine this scenario. You innocently walk into your weekly worship service with some 3000 members of your congregation. As the service begins, terrorists storm in and open fire, launch grenades and detonate suicide bombs, all to express their hatred for your faith. We live in a country that protects our religious freedoms, where the above-described nightmare remains just that, a nightmare. But, for religious minorities in Pakistan, this nightmare is an ongoing reality.
On May 28th, 2010, terrorists equipped with semi-automatic weaponry, grenades, and suicide vests, martyred 86 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Lahore, Pakistan, and injured over 100.
Immediately after the attacks, Pakistani media crews arrived in Rabwah, Pakistan, the national headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, inquiring where and when street riots would begin. Television program hosts interviewed extremist clerics, inciting further hatred against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and publicly declaring them ‘worthy of death,’ in a continued effort to illicit a violent response. One year later, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continues to refuse to respond with any form of violence or aggression.
One year later, and the Pakistani Government has done nothing to prevent future attacks. Since then, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws have claimed the lives of former Punjab Governer Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shabazz Bhatti (a Christian). Pakistan considers members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community blasphemous because they are Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (1835-1908). Any member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community caught in any public act of worship can be criminally convicted of blasphemy, resulting in fine, imprisonment, or death.
The Lahore attacks were not the first attacks on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and with continued inaction from the Pakistani Government, it is unlikely they will be the last. Until Pakistan revokes anti-blasphemy legislation, the lives of 4 million members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, along with Pakistan’s Christian and Jewish communities, will live under constant oppression. The world as a whole must push Pakistan to repeal its anti-blasphemy laws in order to dismantle the extremist apparatus it fosters. This extremist apparatus directly motivated both Faisal Shahzad, the failed New York Times Square Bomber, and the five Virginian youth convicted in 2010 of plotting terrorism – demonstrating that this is not just Pakistan's problem anymore.
Unlike the quick fix to a nightmare, religious minorities in Pakistan cannot simply wake up. The deadly grip of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws also provide the basis to persecute Christians, Jews, Hindus and anyone the government determines is ‘non-Muslim.’ As this extremist ideology in Pakistan strengthens, it is imperative that we impress upon our leadership, in America and abroad, to take action now and push Pakistan to repeal anti-blasphemy legislation.
Indeed, if our administration is serious about fighting extremism, rather than rejoicing over the assassination of bin Laden, they must uproot the cause of extremism—anti-blasphemy laws. These laws have created an environment in Pakistan that teaches might is right; that we cannot agree to disagree because I have the law on my side, forcing you to think as I do or else. And Pakistan’s influence is spreading. For example, in 2007 Indonesia, a nation President Obama hailed as the hallmark of an Islamic democracy, also instituted anti-blasphemy laws. The New York Times reports that since Indonesia enacted these laws, terrorist attacks on minorities have increased 33% every single year.
Now imagine this scenario. America holds its self-admitted ally, Pakistan, accountable to protect the rights of its religious minorities, and in doing so, deals a massive blow to the ambitions of extremism. The root case of exported extremism is uprooted, and undoubtedly the most worthwhile step is taken in the past decade to combat terrorism.
Unfortunately, this is so far just a dream, while terrorist attacks on religious minorities remain a painful reality.