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Terrorists grow where freedom does not
May 08, 2010, 4:23PM
By HARRIS ZAFAR
The alleged culprit in last weekend’s attempted terrorist attack in Times Square is a 30-year-old U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent who recently traveled back to Pakistan for bomb training. This is not the first time we have heard of a Muslim American of Pakistani descent attempting to kill fellow Americans.
Why does this keep happening? Is there something wrong with Pakistani people? I find myself asking this question so much because on paper, the description of Faisal Shahzad – the suspect in the attempted Times Square bombing – sounds a lot like me. Early 30s … American citizen … Pakistani ethnicity … American education … working a normal 9-to-5 job … from an educated family. How can two people with these similarities turn out so different? Why did he lean toward terrorist tendencies while I maintained my Islamic identity as a person who stands for peace, loyalty and freedom?
To understand this, one must understand the environment that Shahzad grew up in and how it formed a subtle but lasting impression on his mind. Whereas I was born and raised in the United States, Shahzad grew up in Pakistan and only came here 11 years ago. And it is there in Pakistan where Shahzad learned that it is OK to get rid of anyone who you disagree with. The mentality subconsciously instilled in young minds growing up in that society is that people with different views are bad and must be taken out.
Pakistan is one of the only countries in the world that prosecutes and persecutes its own citizens for what it calls “blasphemy.” Under the Pakistani Penal Code, any person found guilty of blasphemy is subject to either the death penalty or life imprisonment. The actual law states, “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
So how did this manifest itself in a way that would have a direct impact on a Pakistani citizen’s psyche? Well, this law has been used to prosecute more than 650 Christians in Pakistan for blasphemy. Even moderate Muslims in Pakistan – namely, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – have been charged under this law for blaspheming. Pakistan took it a step further in 1984 when it passed “Ordinance XX,” which prevented members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from even calling themselves Muslims. If they do call themselves Muslims, they are subject to imprisonment and death.
Why such a bold law? Because Pakistani clerics disagreed with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s belief that the promised messiah and reformer – the one Muslims have been waiting for – had come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. Pakistan passed laws to censor their thoughts and expressions and has exerted authority over minority religious groups to keep them quiet.
How ironic it is, then, that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA was the first and foremost Muslim community in this country to speak out and condemn Shahzad’s actions. Its vice president and missionary-in-charge, Naseem Mahdi, made a bold statement Tuesday not only condemning the attempted terrorist plot but saying that any Muslim living in America who is not loyal to this country should go live in the land where they feel their loyalties belong. This is based on the Prophet Muhammad’s saying, “Love of one’s homeland (one’s place of residence) is a part of the Muslim’s faith.”
How such a community can be declared non-Muslim and punished by threats of imprisonment and death in Pakistan is beyond my comprehension. In order to avoid more Shahzads in the future, we need to set a precedent that differences in opinion or interpretation do not justify legal action. The average Pakistani citizen may not try to murder Americans himself or herself, but these people are vastly silent toward those who do. Their anti-blasphemy laws have desensitized them to the point where they have not the courage to speak out against morally repugnant actions and laws.
To save future generations from falling into the same pitfalls of subtle acceptance of extremism, or even full participation in terrorism like Shahzad, Pakistan must repeal these anti-blasphemy laws immediately. Pakistanis need to get to the root of the problem. Instead of hoping that our law enforcement officials can continue to heroically prevent future attacks from being successful, let’s put our efforts in preventing the idea of such attacks.
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