By Akbar Ahmed
If nothing else India and Pakistan can learn civility from their respective founding fathers when dealing with each other. Mahatma Gandhi addressed Mr Jinnah as Quaid-i-Azam as a mark of respect and declared a fast unto death to protest when he believed India was treating Pakistan unfairly. The Quaid was equally gallant. When he learnt Gandhi intended to spend 3 months every year in Pakistan he ordered his staff to provide him the protocol due to a head of state. When Gandhi was assassinated the Quaid issued a message in which he referred to the Mahatma as a “great” man several times and expressed sorrow that Muslims had lost their greatest supporter. At one point referring to “the great Hindu community,” he concluded his message by saying, “The loss to the Dominion of India is irreparable, and it will be very difficult to fill the vacuum created by the passing away of such a great man at this moment.”
Even their clashes reflected old world charm. Here are the two fencing with the kind of alliteration that would delight any high-spirited schoolboy.
Gandhi to Jinnah: You have mesmerized the Muslims.
Jinnah: You have hypnotized the Hindus.
The extent of the fall from grace may be seen in the following excerpts from the Comments section of the January 4 Times of India story titled, “‘From our bases, you attacked Afghanistan 57,800 times’, says Pak foreign minister to US.”
In responding to President Trump’s tweet that in return for billions of dollars in aid, Pakistan had given the US nothing but “lies & deceit,” the Foreign Minister tweeted, “You ask what we’ve done?… From our bases you carried out 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan…thousands of our civilians and soldiers became victims of the war initiated by you.” He went on to slam former President Musharraf for allying with the US in the War on Terror which caused Pakistan to suffer “the worst bloodbath.”
The story triggered a torrent of the crudest religious and racial prejudices. Keep in mind that this is one of India’s top newspapers and similar comments will be found in other papers too. Please note that I have included these comments as they were originally written verbatim, therefore all spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors were made by the commentators on the Times of India website.
One vitriolic conversation thread opens with the following: “Pakistan is a slut…….any one can pay & sleep with you……earlier it was America, now it is China……A country with no morale……” This was a theme that would go on to repeat itself frequently in this particular comments section. A presumably pro-Pakistani commenter responds with an ad hominem attack against the original poster, while also introducing the religious element into the discussion: “A cow-dung with a fake muslim name.” To this, another writer offers a sharp rebuke, “U people are butchering Ahmed community in Porkistan. Stop saying a single word and get lost u b/oody pig.” And referring back to the original post, one Pakistani writer retorts, “‘Pakistan’ a country which is always in you indian mind as a fear factor……. A country still non negotiable in Afghanistan despite 52 state trying to get rid off…… A country smaller in size but slapping giant India regularly ……. A country where we muslims set our moral unlike you shameless indian muslims where a ‘Hindu’ butcher change islamic laws……”
Another comment thread begins with the following admonition to Pakistan: “A fellow Muslim country is bombed 57,800 times from your soil. And you justify that U have done enough…where did the Muslim brotherhood go then… overlooked for dollars, I guess.” To this, one poster responds by ceding some ground to the commenter before rebutting his/her critique of Islam in a less-than-sophisticated manner: “this time you are right, now you should stop abusing islam for wrong doing of pakistani generals, they are not doing it for islam, islam is beyond ur imagination, which u cant understand by going on anti islamic websites, you should read the quran.” To this, one commenter responds, “Can u read bhagwad geeta? Or can u read bible? I will read your kuran then,” while another makes his/her distasteful views known in remarking, “one can just imagine how peaceful this world would be is ur pisslam was not spread like like an aids virus..” The religious bigotry here is palpable.
A pro-Pakistani notes: “Pakistan has nothing to worry because there is big brother China’s backing. China”s gdp is 5 times larger than Hindu dogs”. To this, a writer with a pro-Indian slant responds, “porkistan pisslam economy is 10 times smaller than indias. Even Americans were your Big brother sometimes ago.” A pro-Pakistani writes: “Islam is in good position to wipe out Hindogs ( Hindu dogs ). Population of Muslims is increasing much faster than Hindogs. In 2005, % of Indian Muslims was only 9% out of total India”s population. Today, it is 15%. Google search ‘India wikipedia.'” Back comes the reply: “tou are right as they breed like pigs who can stop them??”
A pro-Indian comment states, “Pakistanis have a habit of renting out their mother/land. Their leaders are pimps. they do this at for a good commission for themselves,” to which a pro-Pakistani responds, “Blackie India still remains the world’a largest kanjurkhana.” This last exchange appears to have been taken down by the Times of India. I apologize to the reader for the vulgarity of thought and language but that precisely illustrates my point.
(The writer is an author, poet, filmmaker, playwright, and is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University in Washington, DC. He formerly served as the Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland. He tweets @AskAkbar)