Jewish Journal

Anti-Semitism in Pakistan—hate on a sliding scale

By Jamil Khan, Faraz Khan, Sayyed Fawad Ali Shah and Mahim Maher

Posted on Dec. 11, 2008 at 3:04 am

This is the second of two parts on Pakistan and terror. Previously: Pakistan Reaction: Something dark is growing in our own backyard

Right in the middle of Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, stands one of the most recognized symbols of Judaism: the Star of David. It adorns, in relief, Merewether Tower, one of the city's best-known landmarks, a 112-foot-tall clock tower built by Sir Evans James in 1892. Today, a busy transit intersection has developed around the tower, which hundreds of thousands of Muslims pass each day Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackon their way to work.

Nadeem Ahmed, a broker at the Karachi Stock Exchange located just across the street, points to some old graffiti at the base of the tower that reads "Israel na manzoor" (Israel is not acceptable).

"These marks show the anger of some fanatics for the brutality of Israelis against the Muslims of Palestine and Lebanon," he says. "Frankly speaking, I'm neither happy nor sad about the Jews who were killed in Mumbai."

Ahmed's apathy falls right in the middle of the spectrum of Pakistani attitudes toward Jews. At one end are the virulently anti-Semitic beliefs held by people such as the members of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Army of the Pure, a banned terrorist outfit operating in Kashmir. The LeT is suspected of being behind the attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai and the murder of the five Jews, including Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah.

At the other end of the spectrum are Pakistanis such as Maria (not her real name), a Shia who converted to Judaism, married a Jewish professor whom she met during her studies in the United States and with whom she has two children.

Unfortunately, tragedies such as what took place in Mumbai last month, in New York in 2001 and in London in 2005, as well as the 2002 murder in Karachi of Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Daniel Pearl, throw the spotlight on only one end of the spectrum in Pakistan and give the worst impression of Muslims. The other end lies in the dark -- the many other variations of how Pakistani Muslims perceive Jews are left out of the picture.

ALTTEXTMerewether TowerThe far right: Jihadi literature

It is easy to be fascinated by hate material, not just because its language is so colorful, but because the motivation behind it is such a mystery. Assistant professor Altafullah Khan, author of "Profile of Journalists in Peshawar" and editor of "News Media and Journalism in Pakistan and Germany," and lecturer Faizullah Jan of the University of Peshawar's journalism and mass communication department have long been preoccupied with the jihadi press.

They have co-authored two papers, "Jihadi Press: An Overview" and "Alternative Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackPrint Media in Pakistan: Reacting to the Mainstream." According to them, today's jihadi literature has surfaced as "an alternative to the mainstream media," which is regarded as Westernized and hence untrustworthy.

During the Afghan war with Soviet forces (1979-89), a new press emerged in Pakistan, particularly in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), to promote a jihadi worldview and to highlight the achievements of the different militant outfits on the war front. After the Soviet withdrawal, Indian-held Kashmir became their focus and these newspapers proliferated after Sept. 11.

The names of these newspapers combine the militant and the religious like Zarb-i-Momin (the Blow of the Pious Muslim), Ghazwa (Holy War) and Shamsheer (Sword). None of them carry photographs of living beings, as this is considered un-Islamic. Instead, they make do with images of inanimate objects, such as buildings, roads and tanks. Their editorial content consists of news and opinion on Muslim hotspots the world over, particularly Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq and Chechnya.

Many of these newspapers -- such as Zarb-i-Momin published by the welfare charity, Al Rasheed Trust, that "advocates a jihadi worldview" -- report on the activities of the Taliban and similar banned organizations. Others engage in sectarian rhetoric against Shias, Hindus, Jews and Christians and espouse the position that it is un-Islamic for women to acquire an education. Another favorite subject is the glorification of the history of Muslims, and some even carry a poetry section geared toward this.

The language of these publications is particularly interesting. The eight-page Al Qalam, for example, appears every Thursday from Peshawar and reports on Indian-held Kashmir such as this: "Mujahideen, in a clash, dispatched four Indian army men, including an officer, to hell."

In an editorial about Western "provocation," the word "Satan" was used as a stand-in for the West or Western leaders and appeared no less than 11 times. Its headline read: "Need for a common stand against the Satans of Europe."

The government continues to ban these publications, but new ones surface with different names, or the jihadi groups resort to distributing pamphlets outside mosques or at rallies. It is difficult to tell who is behind their publication.

Al Qalam (The Pen), for example, which is run by the banned group, Jaish-e-Mohammad that was founded by Maulana Masood Azhar (a religious leader who supports Muslim separatists fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir, is on India's 20 most-wanted list and is accused of terrorism), has no print bylines or masthead.

Azhar writes under the pseudonym of Sa'di and gets space on the front page. He uses extremely abusive language for Jews, criticizes them and urges Muslims to boycott their products and wage war against them.

These publications, however, inhabit the fringes of society and preach to the converted. "[Their] role is more or less that of the affirmation of a voiceless opposition among a section of society," conclude Jan and Khan of the University of Peshawar. "[They are] by no means a threat to the mainstream. [They have] not even entered the daily routine debate at the public level."

In the middle, neither here nor there: Madrassas, Zionists and Jews

Mufti Abdul Qadir is a renowned aalim, or scholar, at Karachi's best-known madrassa, Darul Uloom Islamia, Binori Town. When asked to comment on the attack at the Chabad House, Qadir categorically stated that they were "un-Islamic" and a "crime" perpetrated by "sadists." He clarified that it was not allowed in Islam to attack places where people worship God, irrespective of religious affiliation.

"Jews have the right to live peacefully according to Islamic laws," he said, Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackadding that he believes that Jews not involved in atrocities against Muslims should not be targeted. However, he acknowledged a common misconception among "the masses" that all Jews should be wiped off the face of this earth.

"Whatever is happening against Jews is a reaction to what Israel is doing," he said.

"We condemn Israel as a state, as it is involved in atrocities against Muslims," Qadir said. The attack on the Mumbai Chabad House may have been a reaction to the policies of the Israeli and Indian governments, he said. "We respect Jews as humans, and that's what we teach, but those who want to crush Muslims are our enemies."

Qadir explained that Darul Uloom Islamia, Binori Town madrassa does not treat Jews as a separate subject in the curriculum. "Our people are ignorant of Islamic law, which is why they take all Jews for their enemies," he said, referring to the clearly stated quranic injunctions that even in an Islamic state, the rights of Jews and people of other faiths have to be protected. "Most people see Jews as a part of Israel that is involved in the genocide of Muslims; that's why they hate [them]. They have no idea that not all Jews support war."

Qadir's stance resonates, in part, with that of Barelvi cleric Maqsood-ul-Islam, who said that for many Muslims, the actual problem was with Zionism. He believes that Zionists want to "capture the whole world and kill Muslims specifically." Otherwise, the cleric says, there was no difference between Jews and Christians, as they both follow a holy book. "As Muslims, it is our responsibility to respect each of the followers of a holy book," he added.

Even prominent Shia cleric Allama Hassan Zafar expressed the belief that Muslims are justified in waging jihad against Zionists. "Otherwise, Islam does not even allow you to pass negative remarks about the people of another religion," he said. "It is categorically mentioned that you cannot call any non-Muslim an infidel, as Islam is not just the religion of Muslims, but it is a religion for all of humankind."

It is clear, however, that these beliefs are not the ones espoused by those behind the Chabad House attack. On the other hand, even if a madrassa student were theoretically anti-Semitic, it would not necessarily follow that he would be willing to actually kill a rabbi. Kashif Naeem, a senior student at the Binori Town seminary, said that he does not believe Islam allows you to kill a Jew or Christian without a fatwa or clerical edict. "Jews cannot be true friends of Muslims, but this doesn't mean that we should kill all Jews without any reason," he said.

This is not to deny the fact that there are madrassas that teach hate, and there are camps where suicide bombers are trained. It is also true that there are average Pakistanis who are anti-Semitic.

It is telling that even the language used to discuss anti-Semitism is simplistically polarized: Muslims/Jews, friends/enemies, good/evil. With almost no exception, all the people who were interviewed for this story, from the clerics to the students, categorized people as either friends or enemies in a language half reminiscent of playground alliances and half echoing biblical and quranic words.

For example, eight young men interviewed at Jamia Haqqania, a well-known seminary with 3,500 students in Akora Khattak, NWFP, say that "Jews were not worth friendship." They come to this conclusion partly via classroom teachings, prior social conditioning and input from "news."

Madrassa students are not generally allowed to watch television or read mainstream newspapers. Television is haram, or forbidden, as is music and film. Even if they do read the mainstream press, they hold a deep suspicion of the facts reported there. For many of them, the only source of reportage is from the jihadi literature or newspapers.

However, the spoken word is revered. Radio, in particular, has long been a powerful tool in the NWFP and tribal areas. Maulana Bijli Ghar (Cleric Power House), for example, is a popular speaker who is exceedingly anti-Semitic. "Video and audio are all a product of the Jewish mind," he condemns, while referring to mainstream music and film. But ironically, that very same technology is used to spread his message.

Contradictions are an inherent part of this picture. The students of Jamia Haqqania agree that it is forbidden in Islam to attack a place of worship, but at the same time, they justify the Chabad House attack as motivated by "revenge and jihad" against Israel.

"If attacks on Muslims were stopped, Jews would be safe," opined Mangal Bagh, who is the ameer, or chief, of Lashkar-e-Islami, another banned group. He heads the militants in the Khyber Agency of the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. He believes that all Jews support Israel and are therefore the enemies of Muslims.

But what about a person's innate sense of justice, conscience or sense of reason? Can it triumph over indoctrination?

Perhaps in the given environment it is difficult to sift through the conflicting messages that are not consonant with what is out there in the world. But somewhere there may inhabit an imperceptible space where prejudice stops short and a vacuum commences.

Consider the response from a student of Jamia Al Rasheed, one of Karachi's biggest seminaries, who did not want to be named. When asked whether he condemned the Chabad House attack, he replied that it was not "fair," but he was not taking part in any further discussion on the issue.

Is this silence the place where perhaps hatred can be tackled?

The far left: Jewish? What's Jewish?

All this fuss about Jews, and the average Pakistani hasn't even met one in his entire life. And even if they did meet a Jew, they probably wouldn't be able to tell. You could send a country of Jews to Pakistan, and unless they were wearing skullcaps, or were rabbis, or Chasidic Jews with ringlets and black coats, no one would be the wiser.

Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackFor example, take Mohammad Kabeer, a farmer from Shahdadkot, deep in the province of Sindh. When asked about anti-Semitism, Israel and Jews, he said he didn't know what they were. He admitted, however, that he had heard the word "Palestine" somewhere. "Life is all about working in the fields," he shrugged.

Even in urban Karachi, where the media is all pervasive and you cannot escape the Friday sermon, there are those who bear absolutely no ill will toward Jews. Sikander Bachal, a painter waiting for work with a group of laborers, had no interest in the subject. He was the only one in the group who could read, and he said he had seen something about the Mumbai attacks in an Urdu newspaper. But when asked for his opinion, he replied: "Sir, we are just laborers, what do we have to do with Jews?"

And one should not ignore the Pakistani Muslims who send their children to Harvard or to Kings College London, the investment bankers and surgeons, the coffee party begums and couturiers who travel the globe, who are familiar with Jean-Paul Sartre, vacations in Florida, wear Birkenstocks, read Danielle Steele and worry about Brazilian waxes. What about their Facebook-addicted children, who prefer Baileys to Bacardi, have eyebrow piercings, go through a Beat phase and revere Bob Dylan? What about the Pakistani Muslims who reject some translations of the Quran because they are done by men who take part in the self-flagellation ritual in Muharram but reject suicide bombings, because it means the rupee grows weaker and embassies stop issuing student visas for doctorates? There are Pakistani Muslims of every stripe and color.

There are even those whose parents come from a generation that knew the Jews who once lived in Karachi. Maniza Naqvi is one. She currently works with the World Bank but is better known in Pakistan as a novelist. Her latest endeavor, "A Matter of Detail" (SAMA), set in present-day Karachi and New York, is perhaps one of the first literary attempts to imagine who the Jews of Karachi were.

Naqvi's voice is part of a growing group of educated Pakistani Muslims who recognize, as Yale English professor Sara Suleri Goodyear puts it, that Pakistan and Karachi have a "convoluted heritage of a multicultural ethos that spans at least Shia, Sunni, Jewish trajectories." These academics and writers, analysts and poets and their readers are wholly cognizant of the fact that we cannot reject our past, and only through an understanding of it, can we shape the future.

Unfortunately, Naqvi and people like her form a relatively small part of privileged society. Nonetheless, there is a growing middle class of educated professionals and average families who have not had the benefit of a foreign education but still, through their understanding of Islam and common human decency, are not anti-Semitic. This is an understanding that comes from people who have seen violence and suffered from it.

Take Shakeela Haroon, who has been a nurse at Liaquat National Hospital, one of Karachi's major tertiary-care units, for more than a decade. Haroon said that she had seen so many bodies and the grief of their relatives that she could never condone such barbarity.

"I don't think anyone will show a soft spot for the Mumbai killers, no matter which religion they belong to," she said.

In fact, it would be safe to say that most people in Karachi, and indeed Pakistan, are fed up with terrorism and what it has done to the economy and the country's image. They just want to go about their daily lives.

Dr. Sheraz Kazmi, a physician who owns a private clinic in the middle-class Karachi neighborhood of Gulistan-e-Jauhar, said that he had never met a single Jew in his life. Moreover, he had "no particular sentiment" about the Jews who died in Mumbai.

"But as a Muslim and an educated member of society," he says, "I believe such acts of terrorism should be condemned widely, and those responsible will not only be exposed to the world but will also be punished harshly."

Jamil Khan, Faraz Khan and Sayyed Fawad Ali Shah are writers based in Pakistan. Mahim Maher is the former city editor of the Daily Times, a national English-language newspaper in Pakistan. She was the 2008 Daniel Pearl Fellow. Tracker Pixel for Entry


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