By Lubna Thomas Benjamin
September 2 2012
I came back from the US on June 15, 2012 after spending a year there upon getting selected on a US State Department-funded Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship. I was blessed enough to represent my country in such a prestigious programme, both as a female journalist and as a Christian from Pakistan.
I still recall my first presentation at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in Phoenix, Arizona, where I quoted an excerpt from Jinnah’s famous-but-censored speech of August 11, 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
After my presentation, several of the listeners asked me about the condition of minorities living in Pakistan and I remember telling them that in Pakistan the minorities lived far better lives than minorities in India. I never introduced myself to anyone as a Christian but as a Pakistani unless someone asked me about my last name. I did this because I believe that my first identity is Pakistani. Not only that, I wrote a research paper at the University of California-Davis about the positive aspects of Pakistan.
On the way back, at Manchester Airport, waiting for my flight to Pakistan, I met other Pakistanis, all of whom asked me why I was returning to Pakistan. My answer to them was that I had made a commitment to implement what I had learned during the Humphrey fellowship. I told them that at my university, I was the only Christian girl in my class and the way my class-fellows would wish me on Christmas and Easter is still a sweet memory. They never made me feel that I was different from them as far as personal religious beliefs were concerned.
But something has happened, that has now compelled me to think that, is my Pakistan — the one I have been living in for years — vanishing? The arrest of 11-year-old Rimsha Masih on a charge of blasphemy is forcing me to reconsider my notions about my Pakistan. Reports claim that the girl has Down’s Syndrome although there are divergent views on this. But let’s suppose that even if the girl is not suffering from this disease, how can one justify keeping her in prison, especially when the charge against her could well be concocted?
Without going further into Rimsha’s case specifically, I am now forced to think about my own predicament. What if, one day, me and other Christians also become victims of blasphemy — just because someone doesn’t like our faces, or something like that? Isn’t it an easy way of getting rid of a person who is from a minority community? By spreading hatred against them based on an allegation that they committed an act of blasphemy? Because when that happens, it takes no time for a mob to gather, block a road and demand that the alleged blasphemer be arrested, or handed over to the mob!
So I have come to the conclusion — and it is this: this is not the Pakistan I have lived in for years and certainly this is not the Pakistan I told my foreign and American friends about during my recent stay in America. This is not the Pakistan that made me return from my US fellowship. This is not the Pakistan where minorities are treated in a positive manner; even children are being held in prison, for actions that they possibly cannot comprehend.
My Muslim brothers and sisters, please let Pakistan retain its original image in my mind. This is also my country. And it is of other minorities also, all of whom love this country as much as you.
Please let Rimsha live the life girls her age do.
Originally published by Tribune Pakistan