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June 06, 2010
How the persecution of Ahmadis has often been linked to larger issues in the past
By Ameem Lutfi
One of the ongoing debates regarding the recent attacks on the Ahmadi population is whether to primarily group these horrendous acts alongside other terrorist offensives that have plagued the country since the Afghan war or to list these among acts of sectarian violence on perhaps one of the most persecuted sect. I am not arguing that it cannot be both; a terrorist attack on an already oppressed sect, but am asking if there is something different about these attacks that sets them apart from other bombings and armed attacks on civilian population?
On the surface this might seem as an inconsequential question because regardless of the answer the underlying fact of the matter is that several innocent people lost their lives in the two deplorable attacks recently. But I believe that given the rise of the politics of statistic under which legitimacy of any argument heavily depends on the numbers backing the argument, this question gains added significance especially for the Ahmadi population. If the master narrative of these incidents ends up portraying these attacks as deliberate hits on the Ahmadi population, and not just another unfortunate terrorist activity, it will greatly strengthen the case being made regarding the persecution of the Ahmadi population.
Interestingly, if one looks at the history of the Ahmadis in our part of the world, one would find quite a few such debates in which we are left to figure out if an act of aggression faced by the community was an act of religious discrimination or just a manifestation of some other resentment. For example, during the colonial period when Ahmadis were seen as being pro-British, attacks on them were often conflated with the larger anti-colonial movement. Then, in the post-partition period, Khatm-e-Nabuwat and other such anti-Ahmadi movements were often perceived as not just an attack on the community but as movements challenging the government in power.
Another such incident which I would like to narrate here maps the anti-Ahmadi sentiment on to class antagonism (or, perhaps, it was the other way around?). While conducting field work in the Okara region I came across an unwritten history of a land struggle in the area. What was different about this particular struggle was the fact that the struggle was not only about the landless peasants taking on the landed gentry but also about a largely mainstream Muslim population taking on a small number of Ahmadi land owners. According to some of the oral narratives from a particular village (6 Chak), when the canal colonies were set up in the 1920s the land in the Chak was awarded to a church which was supposed to settle Christian tenant farmers there but close to partition, the church sold off the land to an Ahmadi Anjuman which further subleased it to other mazaras (tenant farmers). Then, sometime during Ayub’s rule, one of the mazaras who was not producing sufficient crop was threatened that land would be taken away from him. In response to this threat, he started to mobilise all the mazaras (who were by this point in time predominately Sunni-Muslim) to start a movement against the ‘Ahmadi’ landlords. After a period of intense fighting, both parties reached an agreement through the local panchayat under which substantial allowances were given to the mazaraes. One is left wondering if the situation would have been different if the landlords were mainstream Muslims.
I present these various examples to show that the persecution of the Ahmadis has often been linked to larger issues. These larger issues have largely served as a way to mask the underlying discrimination against a particular sect. Also other than the recent attacks, most of these movements have been popular movements which have addressed very real issues that were impacting everyday lives; thus, opposing them became a tricky affair. For example, in the mazarae issue, supporting the Ahmadi side was seen as being in favour of the landed gentry over the landless tenants!
It seems the Ahmadi issue has served as a crutch for other kind of protests to latch on to. The constant anti-Ahmadi rhetoric that we have been fed on has made anti-Ahmadiism an easy point around which people could be readily mobilised. What is perhaps most disturbing is that even issues that are known to be popular mobilisers such as the issue of land have had to be grafted on top of the anti-Ahmadi sentiment in order to get hyper-energised activists and popular support on their side.
This time around, though, the anti-Ahmadi actions are part of a very unpopular and brutal movement and, hence, one does not have to worry about siding with the unpopular ones by supporting a persecuted sect. What we do need to do this time around is to not only see the recent attacks as part of a larger phenomenon but also recognise the underlying hatred against the Ahmadis in society that would have served as a possible motivator for the perpetrators of the attack.