South Asian community gathers in grief at Peshawar massacre

THE community meeting room in Strawberry Hill Library in Surrey was filled to capacity on Sunday, December 28 with members of the South Asian community and representatives of various faiths, who came to express their solidarity with the grieving families in Peshawar and the people of Pakistan for the massacre of children and teachers on December 16.

Among those present were MLA Harry Bains (Surrey-Newton), MP Jinny Sims (Newton-North Delta) and Consul General of Pakistan in Vancouver, Dr. Muhammad Tariq.

Dr. Haider Nizamani advised the community to guard their hopes with caution as the record of the past years produced only pessimism. Hundreds of schools had been attacked, unknown numbers of children killed and injured, thousands of innocent people had been killed, Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated for declaring that she wanted to end terrorist attacks, Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab had been murdered by his bodyguard for wanting justice for a poor Christian woman falsely charged with blasphemy, and yet everything had been brushed away with conspiracy theories and justifications. Girls’ education had been particularly attacked, with the well-known attempt to murder Malala Yousafzai for affirming her right to education, yet many in Pakistan and in the diaspora had blamed Malala and found justification in the attention she had received in the West.

Speakers from the Shia, Ahmadiyya, Ismaili, and sexual minority communities spoke of the attacks on their and other minority communities, including the Hindu and Christian communities, in Pakistan, and suggested that the impunity these attacks enjoyed in Pakistan provided the context for the massacre in Peshawar.  The time had come to end this impunity and violence.

Dr. Muhammad Tariq pointed out that the issue of minorities was not specific to Pakistan and should not be confused with the killings in Peshawar, which was a heinous act against the majority Sunnis and indicated that the terrorists did not discriminate between their targets. He pointed out that the Government of Pakistan, the political parties and the security establishment had come together to affirm a determination to root out terrorism and had established military courts to deal with terrorist acts.

Musa Ismail and Qari Abdul Wahab, representing the BC Muslim Association, condemned the killings in Peshawar and affirmed that such acts of violence were wholly against the teachings of the Quran. The people who perpetrated such acts in the name of Islam were violating its fundamentals and using the name of the religion without understanding it. Islam was a religion of peace. The first attribute of Allah is that He is merciful. The Prophet spoke strongly against the killing and harming of innocent people. He saw the killing of a child as an act of violence against heaven. Yet these false teachings were spreading even in diaspora communities, and the community had to be on guard to prevent their spread and to maintain the safety and openness of our adopted homeland in Canada.

Representing the Hindu Temple in Burnaby, Pandit Manoj Dutt Vashistha expounded the Sanatana Dharma as affirming the oneness of humanity and enjoining respect for and peaceful co-existence with all. He expressed the solidarity of his temple with the grieving families of the bereaved and prayed for peace.

Rev. Edith Baird of the United Church reminded the gathering that the birth of Jesus that was celebrated a few days past had brought the message of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. But peace, she said, went hand in hand with justice and could only come when we found justice. She remembered the lifelong sorrow into which the families of the dead in Peshawar had been cast and expressed our share in that sorrow.

Giani Harminder Pal Singh of the Khalsa Diwan Society, the oldest Sikh organization of North America, noted that the Society had recently commemorated the anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh’s youngest sons being bricked alive in a wall by Wazir Khan, the Governor of Sirhind 300 years ago.  At that time Nawab Sher Mohammad Khan, ruler of Malerkotla and a close relative of the governor, had vehemently protested that this inhuman act was against the teachings of the Quaran and Islam and had walked out of the court. Today, the Sikh community of British Columbia condemns the murder of children in Peshawar and stands in solidarity with their parents, the people of Pakistan and people everywhere in seeking an end to terrorism.

Itrath Syed, a long-time activist for the rights of Muslims and particularly Muslim women, affirmed the importance of girls’ and women’s right to education. She pointed out that though this gathering was in response to the killing of children in Peshawar, behind this incident was the killing of unnumbered children in many wars and acts of violence across the world, and that many children have been killed and are being killed in drone attacks in Pakistan. She maintained that the attacks on minorities in Pakistan were indeed relevant as the background for the present massacre because they provide the context of intolerance that made this possible.  But though the people and the government’s immediate reaction is to respond militarily against the perpetrators, this had to be avoided. Violence can only breed more violence. Instead, the drone attacks must be stopped immediately and no child be killed as collateral damage. The special laws for FATA allowing for collective punishment must be abolished. Civil society must be expanded and strengthened. The rule of law must be established. Children must have the right and access to education.

Rabbi Louis Sutker of Or Shalom Synagogue reminded the audience of the numberless children who had been killed without anyone calling a meeting to protest these deaths. All religions, including his own, had been responsible for wars and violence and the death of a vast number of people. We had to come together to stop this. It was an irony that something good can come out of something terrible. The tragedy in Peshawar had brought about the present gathering, which he hoped would be the sign of a new beginning.