December 11, 2008
Anti-Semitism in Pakistan—hate on a sliding scale
(Page 4 - Previous Page)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.
For 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.