Sunday, June 16, 2013
There's a piece of land in Eastern Pakistan that has long since been washed of a plane crash that killed a dictator in 1988. However, the dictator's legacy has not been washed away and continues to hold a vice-like grip on Pakistan's throat. This legacy, as Qasim Rashid describes in his first book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim, oppresses every Pakistani by not allowing for freedom of conscience and creates a breeding ground for terrorists. The victims of a lack of freedom of conscience range from all backgrounds, regardless of faith or no faith. The victims of the terrorists range from domestic to foreign. And yet, the country still has adherents to many faiths who live and die for their religion.
Qasim tells these peoples' stories. He meets with Ahmadi Muslims, a community of Muslims who are constitutionally declared non-Muslim in Pakistan and face wanton persecution. As per the oppressors, Ahmadi Muslims are "the wrong kind of Muslim." The nation's anti-blasphemy laws ensure that Ahmadi Muslims, as well as Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and other minority groups receive unequal treatment. Through engaging conversations with several Pakistanis, Qasim outlines practically everything the reader needs to know about the current state of Pakistan, regardless of what they may or may not know about the nation's politics.
The characters in the book, all real people, are scattered throughout time and space, but united by a common idea to worship as they please. Yusef, a man who never misses praying at his local mosque, wakes up ill one day and faces a dilemma of attending mosque on a fateful day. Mian Jee, an agnostic on his deathbed, strikes a deal with God to find Him if he gets a second chance. Danyal, an Islamic scholar, guides the author around and explains what is happening in Pakistan. These people, and others in the book, all meet with a persecution that many could never stomach, let alone survive.
Yet, as much press as the book's title will receive, the subtitle is the crux of the story: An Untold Story of Persecution and Perseverance. Everybody in the book experiences persecution by words and/or actions. But, the story becomes character-centric when the issue arises as to whether that person will continue with his or her faith. Qasim repeatedly asks people why they don't simply fly under the radar so that they can safely return home to their families at the end of the day. The answers he receives are as personal as they are sublime.
Rashid relates Danyal's story, a horrific account of torture that seemed possible only in movies and Guantanamo Bay. "Danyal knew the torture was not a bluff and made a firm promise accordingly. That no matter how difficult, he would resist whatever they threw at him....Thus began the sleep torture. Danyal didn’t get a bed. And as disgusting as the floor was, they refused to let him lie down. Instead, in the middle of that small room was a hard, uncomfortable, wooden chair. Danyal sat up in that chair without slouching, and without moving [for hours]." What happens next is not for the faint of heart, but worth the read for those who truly want to feel what made him persevere.
This book, although mostly set in a foreign nation, is not foreign to much of the world due to the presence of Taliban members throughout the world. The same Taliban members that planned and/or carried out attacks in the US, UK, Canada, France, etc. have roots in the frontiers of Pakistan; places that are as wild and unrestrictive as the nation's policies. Thus, the enemies of religious minorities in Pakistan are also America's enemies.
Qasim ensures the reader makes this connection by relating two incidents from May 2010 in "Pakistani Terrorism on American Soil." Faisal Shahzad notoriously tried to blow up Times Square in early May. Weeks later, Taliban forces simultaneously attacked two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan and slaughtered over 85 Ahmadi Muslims during Friday Prayer services. The kicker? Faisal Shahzad was trained by the very same Taliban group that attacked those Ahmadi Muslim mosques.
Stories of others can be difficult to follow, especially in such a foreign element with people we have never met. When it comes to something as universal as the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe, then the stories are not so foreign. "Shia sufferings and horrors Hindus face" explains the predicament these minority communities face day in and day out, with people skipping blasphemy allegations and proceeding straight to stone-cold murdering. "The Thai Ahmadis" is a blip of the difficulties faced by Pakistanis trying to seek asylum and can leave the reader desirous of more information on how refugees fare.
I recommend reading this book for a variety of reasons, but namely because you have the freedom to read it, which is hard to say for about 5 billion of our fellow human beings. When you begin The Wrong Kind of Muslim, be sure to clear your schedule for the next few days because you won't be able to put this down.