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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Terrorist attacks on Lahore mosques

Mansoor Ahmad 
Pakistan is such a country where things are moving from bad to worse. Terrors have engulfed the entire nation. At present it is suffering from social, political and economic conflicts. The ordinary Pakistanis, the middle and the lower class in particular, are facing a long list of serious crises.

On 28th May 2010, terrorist attacks took place on Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore by gunmen armed with grenades and automatic weapons killing around 86 people. It was a Friday, a day regarded as holy and sacred by all Muslims. The terrorists opened fire on the worshipers when the latter gathered at Baitul Noor Mosque in Model Town and Darul Zikr Mosque in Garhi Shahu. More than 2500 worshipers were attending the Friday prayers in these two mosques when the terrible attack occurred. It was the cruellest and the most barbaric attack on Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan where more than 109 have been killed since 1984. Luqman Ahmad, a survivor describes the attack situation: 'It was like a war going on around me. The cries I heard sent chill down my spine'. The Ahmadiyya security guards, who were discharging their duties voluntarily in front of these two mosques, were first to have been killed.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that it had been warned of threats against the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore for more than a year and demanded 'foolproof security and protection' from the government. Ahmadiyya leaders had approached the police to register the threats which had been published in a local newspaper against the community, but no action was taken by the police.

The United States condemned what it called 'brutal violence against innocent people'. 'We also condemn the targeting and violence against any religious group, in this case the Ahmadiyya Community,' State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told the reporters in Washington.

The Canadians and the international community condemned these unprovoked attacks on people, who assembled to practise their faith. The people responsible for these grievous acts must be brought to justice. People should be allowed to worship freely and in peace so the extremists, who perpetrate these terrible acts, do not win.

A legislation declaring Ahmadiyya Muslims to be 'non-Muslim' was passed in 1974 and further legislation prohibiting Ahmadiyya Muslims to practise their faith was passed in 1984. With this law in Pakistan the innocent members of the Ahmadiyya community are experiencing constant threats, discrimination and violent attacks. Despite their claim to be Muslim, the Ahmadiyya community members have been subjected to perennial persecution, especially since the passing of an Ordinance in 1984 by General Ziaul Haque which said no member of the community could declare himself or herself as a Muslim (Section 298C, Act XLV of 1860). This meant that the community members could not recite the holy Quran, or call the Azan before prayer times. They could not display the Kalima Tayyaba or offer the Islamic greeting 'Assalamo Alaikum' to any one. The contravention of these regulations carried heavy fines, or imprisonment or both. Thousands of the community members were thrown behind bars under these draconian laws, and some are still incarcerated in the Pakistani jails.

Islam recognises the rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief and as far as one's religious belief is concerned, one is answerable to God alone. No man has the right to punish another for his choice of belief. There is absolutely no compulsion whatsoever in Islam and no punishment of any kind permitted in the Holy Quran for apostasy.

There is no mention in the Holy Quran or anywhere else of any punishment for an apostate. Allah says in the Holy Quran : 'There is no compulsion in religion (2:257).

The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) of Islam was the 'Champion of Human Rights'. Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) not only emphasised the desirability of tolerance in religious matters but set a very high standard in this respect. A deputation from the Christian tribe of Najran visited him in Medina to exchange views on religious matters which included several Church dignitaries. The conversation took place in the mosque and it extended over several hours. At one stage the leaders of the deputation asked permission to depart from the mosque and to hold their religious service at some convenient spot. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: 'There is no need for you to go out of the mosque, because the mosque is the place to worship one God, if you want to do so, you have every freedom of worship, and holding the services in it. (Zurqani)'.

According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19): ' Every one has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance'.

The Father of the Nation of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had the foresight to see the problems a State would face if it moves away from a secular state. The vision of Pakistan that Mohammad Ali Jinnah saw was summarised by him in a speech delivered on 11th August 1947: 'You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with business of State… We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between the community and another… with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.

'Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.'

The present democratic government in Pakistan came to power in 2008. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani declared 'Pakistan believes in religious freedom. In a high-level meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by the chief of the Army Staff among others, 'the participants were unanimous in concluding that terrorism and extremism are the greatest challenge to Pakistan's national security' (The Daily Dawn, Lahore, June 28, 2008). Despite this awareness, the actions of the government have totally failed to match the words.

Pakistan cannot become a modern, progressive, prosperous state while these laws remain in the statute book and continue to nourish dubious and deeply flawed policies. Pakistan's federal and provincial governments should take immediate legal action against Islamist extremist groups responsible for threats and violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In order to save Pakistan and free its people from the stain of terrorism and extremism, the Government of Pakistan must immediately repeal the laws against the Ahamadiyya community so that the extremists have no backing of the State while discriminating against the community and attacking the members of the community.

The writer can be reached at


Israel takes on the world

The raid on the Turkish ship has dramatically changed the diplomatic scenario. Now the focus will be on Israel as the Security Council in its emergency meeting on June 1 called for impartial investigation into the deadly incident. The Obama administration has also supported the call for investigation, 
writes Mohammad Amjad Hossain

THE Israeli raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has caused diplomatic row around the world and the existing tense relations between Israel and the United States has apparently become complicated. The scheduled talks between President Barack Obama and the Israeli Premier on June 1 on renewing the peace process in the Middle East have been cancelled because of the deadly Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound ship, which was also carrying passengers of Turkish and other nationalities. The Israeli military commando attack on the ship did not go without response. Some passengers, as reported in the news media, attacked commandos with knives, steel poles, and pepper spray.
   The ships that made up the flotilla, with about 700 passengers and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, left Turkey last week. In defence of its ugly action, Israel claimed that it was allowed under international law to enforce a maritime blockade on international seas. Israel is now facing a difficult situation because Turkey, a Muslim country with whom Israel has been maintaining diplomatic relations, strongly condemned this act of Israel and called back its ambassador from Tel Aviv and warned of irrevocable consequences. In the parliament the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Israel of a bloody massacre. He said, ‘We see clear murders taking place, and we see an aggressive country that’s not regretting this. We are sick and tired of your lies. Be honest.’ There has been condemnation from the European, Arab and UN officials, apart from anti-Israel demonstrations from Athens to Baghdad. The United Nations Security Council at an emergency meeting on June 1 ‘deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza.’ It called for ‘a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into Monday’s raid.’
   In contrast to forceful statements from the European, Arab and UN officials, the reaction from the United States was mute, to say the least. The White House responded by saying that Obama had held a phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu who expressed deep regret at the loss of lives while the State Department says deeply concerned at the suffering of civilians in Gaza it will continue to engage the Israelis on a daily basis to expand the scope and type of goods to be allowed into Gaza. Neither the White House nor the State Department has spoken a word on the deadly attack by the Israeli commando on the Turkish ship which was carrying humanitarian aid. From the reaction of Obama administration it appears the trend of Bush administration has not changed with regard to Israeli aggressive nature. This is unfortunate indeed.
   Diplomatically, Israel is more isolated now than ever in its history. She is on the horns of dilemma. This incident has happened after the Israeli government was accused of using forged passports of the British, Australian, Irish, and German citizens in assassination of Hamas officials in Dubai in February this year by Mossad, a spy agency of Israel. As a result, Britain has expelled an Israeli diplomat in March and Australia followed suit in May.
   Now it is very likely that relations between Israel and Turkey, a Muslim country with which Israel has been maintaining excellent relations, will be ruptured because many Turkish nationals were killed and injured when clashes took place on board the ship between the Israeli commandos and the passengers. There is hardly any difference between piracy in Somalia and commando style attack on a foreign ship by Israeli forces in the Mediterranean Sea. In an attempt to quell the increasingly sharp international criticism and noisy debates in Turkish parliament, Israel has no other options but to release and deport dozens of pro-Palestinian activists who attacked Israeli commandos.
   The raid on the Turkish ship has dramatically changed the diplomatic scenario. Now the focus will be on Israel as the Security Council in its emergency meeting on June 1 directed impartial investigation into the deadly incident. The Obama administration has supported the call for investigation. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has decided to break diplomatic relations with Israel.
   The issue of imposing harsh economic sanction against Iran would be an issue of secondary consideration. More so, as the United Nations General Assembly in a resolution on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty following its review conference on May 28 directed to place ‘All of Israel’s nuclear facilities under comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard’ and to make the Middle East region a nuclear-weapon free zone, but it did not say a word on Iran. This resolution goes against Israel. Incidentally, the United States is one of the signatories among 189 countries to the resolution. This is a departure from the past practice of the United States. Since 1960 the United States has accepted Israel’s nuclear arsenal on condition that Israel would not be a threat to its neighbours.
   The European Union has urged Israel to end blockade to the Gaza strip while reciprocating the call of the British prime minister David Cameron saying that the raid was completely unacceptable. The Obama administration remains numbed on the lifting of blockade. It is interesting to note that former US ambassador Edward Peck, who was on the ship with the humanitarian group of the Free Palestine Movement, blamed the Israeli commandos for the assault. On arrival from Israel Edward Peck attended the anti-Israel protest rally on June 1 in front of the White House. All these developments apparently did not unnerve the Israeli administration as long as the United States remained on their side. Addressing the Israeli parliament on June 2, the prime minister Netanyahu, however, rejected the call for UN investigation into the incident and refused to end blockade to the Gaza strip. Egypt, however, has opened up Rafah crossing into Gaza, which has facilitated movement of Palestinians from the Gaza strip to Egypt. Possibly the hard-core stand by Israel will take the country nowhere. It would be wise if the Israeli prime minister considered suggestions given by the Washington Post in its editorial on June 1. In the words of the Washington Post ‘the only road to recovery from this disaster lies in embracing, once and for all, credible steps to create conditions for a Palestine state. A good start would be easing restrictions on both Gaza and the West Bank, once the reactions to Monday’s events subside’.
   Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired Bangladeshi diplomat and former president of Nova Toastmasters International Club, writes from Virginia