Tuesday, March 29, 2016
TAREK FATAH - Lahore slaughter born of virulent racism
Add Lahore as the latest entry to the list of cities to fall victim to jihadi terrorism. But there is an angle to this horrible act of carnage most have missed. My earliest memories of life in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, are of playing marbles with a boy my own age, before being yanked away from him. My aunts warned me never, ever to associate with that boy. When I asked why, they said: “Don’t you know he is a ‘choora’?” (This refers to Punjabi Christians who removed human waste from the roof top toilets in the centuries-old buildings inside the old walled city of Lahore).
Which brings us to the media reporting of the Lahore terrorist attack that would be incomplete without mention of the horrific racism and discrimination Punjabi Christians face at the hands of many within Pakistan’s Muslim communities — from secular liberal to orthodox, ultra-conservatives. Despite the fact the Punjabi Christian community is highly literate, dedicated to education and hard work, even those who have served and fought as senior officers in their country’s military cannot escape the slurs often uttered behind their backs.
Christians account for only 2% of the almost 180 million population of Pakistan, but their representation in the occupation of janitorial services is over 80%. Few are willing to clean up their own mess if they can get a Christian to do it for them. In Lahore alone, according to the Lahore Waste Management Company, there are 7,894 city-employed janitors and most are Christian.
Thus the slaughter of Punjabi Christians by the Islamist terrorists is not merely the result of an inter-religious feud. It is an illustration of unchecked racism and official contempt for darker-skinned Christians, who have suffered untold miseries at the hands of many within the country’s Muslim majority. A testament to this apartheid-type regimen is the fate of Asia Bibi, a Christian, held inside a Pakistani prison on trumped up allegations she blasphemed against Islam.
Salamat Akhtar, a former professor of history in Pakistan, says the government, “deliberately pursued a policy to keep Christians in this occupation [janitors].” In 1980, Akhtar was President of the All Pakistan College Teachers’ Association. Here’s how he has described a meeting he once had with the country’s top education official: “Not knowing I was a Christian, the Education Secretary said the government was worried that a large number of Christians were obtaining education. … If all the Christians would be educated, then no one would be left to sweep our roads and pick up garbage. The Secretary said the government was following a policy that only half of the Christians could become educated, while the rest of them remain in this occupation.”
Not even the Pope mentioned the bigotry of some of Pakistan’s most liberal Muslims against their Christian fellow citizens. In a message after the Easter slaughter, the pontiff said: “I repeat, once again, that violence and murderous hatred only lead to pain and destruction. Respect and fraternity are the only way to achieve peace. …. Let us pray for those who died in this attack and their families and for the Christian and ethnic minorities in that region.”
Pope Francis made no specific mention of the Islamist nature of the terrorist attack, or of the racist bigotry Pakistan’s Christians face at the hands of many Muslims. Was it political correctness? Something else? Let history be the judge.