By Dr. Stephen Gill (Canada)
Around the city after blackening his face; another time, he carried a coffin with him. He is known for crucifying himself on the cross, and calling a press conferences while bleeding from his head. He is also known for walking barefoot to attend sessions of the parliament. Once, he publicly burnt all his furniture, another time his costly three-piece suits to wear the jute clothes for years. He is known for walking on the streets with ashes on his forehead; moving to another city with his household on a caravan of twelve camels for which he had to seek special permission from the authorities and resigning often after his elections that broke the record in the political history of Pakistan. A couple of times, he wrote his resignations with his own blood. Once he threatened to keep fast unto death lying in his grave. Recently, he has threatened to drink a bowl of poison on 26th of February in 2002 in front of the World Bank headquarters in Washington D.C, if the foreign loans of Pakistan are not written off by that date.
In the political theater of Pakistan, Julius Salik appears to be a farcical character to many citizens for these and other means he adopts.What is the true story about this jigsaw puzzle is the focal point. In Pakistan, 95 percent of the population are Muslim and 3 percent are Christians. Under the separate electorate, Christians can elect four representatives for the Pakistan national assembly, called MNA. Julius Salik was one of those four Christian members. To date, he is the only elected Christian since the formation of Pakistan in 1947 who rose to the position of a cabinet minister. Also, he is the longest surviving Christian political representative in Pakistan. Journalists called him conscience of Pakistan. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her cabinet unanimously nominated him for Nobel Prize for peace on April 10 in 1996.
Christians say, he was not of any help to them. They even go to the extent of condemning all their four representatives at the federal level for same reasons. Actually, under the present political and constitutional setup, the representatives of minorities are tigers without teeth. They have no voting power in the decision-making policies for the nation. Because they do not have that power, the main stream parliamentarians do not care for these representatives from minority groups. The separate electorate system has robed these parliamentarians of the minority groups of their dignity that a parliamentarian deserves. Under the present system, even the most liberal Muslim parliamentarians will not help minorities because they do not need them to get elected. On further analysis it emerges that most Pakistanis, Christians as well as non-Christians, have lost their faith in their political leaders.
Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator, forced this system of election on Pakistan through his presidential orders. Under this system, religion is the base for elections. In other words, Christians cannot vote for a Muslim candidate and vice versa. This system of election has divided the country into religious constituencies and has fomented hatred for minorities who have been reduced to the level of second class citizens. In the parliament, the representatives of minorities have no power. To make the matter even worst, Christian parliamentarians have only one constituency and that is all of Pakistan. The Muslim candidates have smaller constituencies that make it easier for them to be close to their electorate. Also, they have more facilities and power.
Julius Salik is from a nation in which fundamentalists openly urge for holy wars (jehad)
against non-Muslims. They want to establish a government like the Talibans have in the neighbouring country of Afghanistan. Fundamentalists run their schools to prepare tender souls for holy wars. It is said that any person can buy most dangerous weapons in the market in this country. Terrorism is rampant. Christians are arrested and tortured on false charges for blaspheming against the prophet Mohammed for personal reasons. There are no punishments to discourage false accusers, and every department of life is regulated under the Islamic influence.
Historians say Pakistan was created by the feudal lords who exploited the religious sentiments of the Muslims. That feudal element is still vibrant in the country. To be successful in any sphere, particularly in politics, one has to be from that group. Julius Salik , on the other hand, has a humble origin. Moreover, the minority group that he represented, Christians, is still under discrimination of every conceivable type. To persuade the government to repeal the blasphemy laws and to bring the issue to the notice of the world, Bishop John Joseph killed himself in 1998. His sacrifice did not bring any change in the suffocating atmosphere for minorities.
When Mr. Salik was first elected as a councillor on municipal level, he found out shortly that the representatives of the minorities do not know their duties. In other words, they were just show cases. He revolted against it in a theatrical way before resigning to protest. Even when he was the minister of population and welfare under Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he resigned. Although his resignations were not accepted or he was made to withdraw them, yet he made headlines that drew the attention of the citizens. From the newspaper columns of that times, it is clear that he often boiled within because even as a federal minister, he was not respected by his peers. He was ignored when he tried to express his views in the sessions of parliaments. Not only the main stream members, even the speaker did not recognize his presence. When he was a minister, he once visited New York. The Pakistan Embassy ignored him. He hired a taxi to visit the Embassy.
What recourse did he have as a member of the group that is 3 percent of the population. This 3 percent has given the best medical service and education to the country by producing excellent lawyers, doctors, judges and teachers. The way of militancy will not solve problems of minorities in a country with 95 percent Muslims. At the same time, Mr. Salik did not want to sit quietly, watching the drama of his helplessness. He wanted to do something. How? That was a question before him. To bring his concerns to the court of the public opinion, he needed the help of the media. That was the only alternative left to him. He took this route to be a participant in the decision-making process of the parliament.
Pakistan belongs to minorities also. They also gave their lives whenever the sovereignty of the country was threatened. They also voted for the creation of a new country that would be free from the repressive laws and discriminations based on religion. Christians did not migrate from India to settle in Pakistan as most Muslims did. Pakistan was formed on the base of justice and equality for all before the law. These rights were denied to Muslims who formed a minority in the Hindu-dominated India.
The same situation of discrimination, inequality and injustice is in practice in Pakistan. The denial of the right to participate in the decision-making process hampers the growth of unity and prosperity in Pakistan. When Julius Salik was a federal minister, he confronted the unjust policies of the establishment towards him as well as towards his electorate. Whatever he asked was for the citizens of Pakistan. When he asks today to be a part of the decision-making policies of the country, he is asking something that is in the interest of the nation.
His playful gimmicks may not have worked all the time. This way at least he was able to get the attention of the media. He appeared often in the newspapers. He agrees that it is his weakness to grab the attention of the media. There was always a method in his madness, he says.
This person, J. Salik, a long-surviving political representative of Christians, a buffoon on
the stage of the politics of Pakistan, phoned me one morning in May of 2001 when he was in New York to enlist the sympathy of the world for the forgiveness of the loans of Pakistan. I never met the man. Once in a while, I used to send him copies of my articles against the electorate system and blasphemy laws of Pakistan and the materials which concerned the violations of human rights in India and Pakistan.
During our talks, Mr. Salik often indulged in philosophical thoughts to illustrate his goals and means. The eagle is the centre of his inspiration. He says, the eagle was a source of inspiration to the Prophet King David about four thousand years ago. Mohammed Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, has also drawn his inspiration from the same bird when he talks about self or selfhood.
J. Salik told me that someone was writing a book about his political career. He asked me to write its introduction. That followed with our long talks for next few days on the telephone. We both had a lot to say about the situation of the minorities in Pakistan and about peace in general. I found out that his unusual ways of protest were with a purpose like those of George Bernard Shaw who was called a non-serious writer.
George Bernard, a Noble Laureate, was considered a non-serious writer because of his humour. It took time for him to make people realize that behind his buffoonery, there was serousness. People did not realize it till he proved it by getting the most coveted prize of the world.
Mr. Salik is only a nominee for this coveted prize. It seems, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto with whom he worked closely, realized earlier that Salik was a serious politician. He was from a minority group. He was not from a family of feudal lords who hold the reins of Pakistan's politics. He was born in a humble Christian family. The blasphemy laws as well as the electorate system are impediments in the way of the representatives of the minorities. In such a soul-destroying atmosphere, a person has to walk cautiously to survive. J. Salik did survive.
J. Salik formed the World Minorities Alliance (WMA) in 1983. He believes that this organization would make the citizens and politicians aware that a majority in one country can be a minority in another. Discrimination against a minority in ones own country may excite the citizens of other countries in which they are in majority to react revengefully. Actually, it often happens, but majorities may not realize it in the beginning. Take the case of the Talibans in Afghanistan. When they destroyed the historical relics of the Buddha in Afghanistan, the Hindus of India reacted violently. In the same way, when the Hindus in India destroyed the Barbari Masjid, the Muslims in Pakistan reacted by destroying the Hindu temples. Christians in western democracies do not react in the same violent ways. They show their reactions by putting pressures on their respective governments to consider the human rights issues while dealing with these governments of fanatics in politics and business affairs.
Mr. Salik knows that the world has shrunk to the size of a village. In this village, no country can be an island by itself. Every country is a part of this global village because they depend on other countries for their survival. Interdependence is the way of life in the global village.
Therefore minorities should be treated not as they were in the middle ages. It would be a dream if any country would like to force a homogenous faith or culture on its citizens. All the corners of the global village are multicultural, multilingual and multifaith. It would be a futile exercise to try to make a part of the global village uniform in thinking. In order to survive and progress, it is imperative to develop the attitude of tolerance. This should be the base of life of today. Moreover, every flower has its own peculiarity to make a garden beautiful. Together they make a bouquet more more beautiful.
It is in the interest of majority to respect the rights of minorities. There cannot be peace in the global village unless minorities are happy and secure. Under the clouds of repressed minorities, the peace of majority is also at stake. History verifies that whenever minorities were persecuted, the ruling authorities also suffered. Minorities belong to the same nation in which majority live. Under the prevailing climate of internationalism, minorities cannot be relegated to the status of third class citizens. Such discriminatory attitudes damage the delicate nerves of the unity of the nation and that destroys the peace and prosperity of all the citizens. Majority should respect the rights of minorities also from the point of humanity.
Canada affords an example where laws have been made to safeguard the rights of minorities. The government of Canada watches closely that those laws are implemented and respected by everyone. This has made the minorities of Canada to be proud citizens to work side by side with the majority for the betterment of the nation. Canada provides a blueprint to the nations where the rights of the minorities are violated day in and day out.
Formation of the World Minorities Alliance would educate the citizens, particularly of Pakistan, that Muslims are not in majority everywhere in the world. If they are compassionate towards minorities in other countries, they should also be compassionate towards minorities in their own country.
Another step that Mr. Salik has taken for the betterment of life in Pakistan and elsewhere is the study of peace at the university level. He has worked for the establishment of a chair for peace at Mohammed Ali Jinnah University in Karachi. This concept is closely linked with his World Minorities Alliance. Both are based on the principal of respect for fundamental human rights. To have a chair for peace at the university which is named after the founder of Pakistan was an intelligent choice. Moreover, Mr. Salik is the proper person to initiate this move because of his beliefs and also because he has practiced the Gandhian ways to register protests against injustice.
Mohamed Ali Jinnah is a most respected person in Pakistan. He is called the father of the nation. He was able to divide India without bloodshed to have a home for the Muslims of India where they would not be oppressed by the majority. Mr. Jinnah was against violations of human rights, particularly of minorities. It is clear from his historical speech at the first constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 at Karachi. He said that Pakistan should learn a lesson from the undivided India where religious and other forms of discriminations stood in the way of progress. In Pakistan, every member of every religion is free to go anywhere for worship. Caste, creed and religion will have nothing to do with the business of the state of Pakistan.
Mr. Jinnah died within months after his historical speech. The fanatic religious groups were against the formation of Pakistan. After it came into existence, they trampled the flowers of the dream of the father of the nation by shaping Pakistan into a state of the zealots. Their victims are religious minorities.
The violations of human rights lead a nation to violence- to disunity in the country- to the destruction of the beauty of peace of every citizen, including the majority. It is an admirable move to establish a chair for peace in an institution that is named after an individual who believed in the protection of human rights. This step of Mr. Salik brings him closer to the ideals of the father of the nation of Pakistan as well as the ideals of Canada.
In the world of today, there are institutions in nearly every country to teach the art of war and to teach how to use the engines of destruction. On the other hand, only a handful of nations can boast of establishing institutions for the study of peace. The countries in which degrees are awarded on the study of peace, particularly at the master and Ph.D. levels, are fewer than one would imagine. Pakistan would be proud to be among that handful of nations where peace is studied at the university level. Such courses cover the areas of solving problems without bloodshed. Students will be surprised to find that wars do not solve problems. They rather bring miseries and deaths. Students will also be surprised to find that most problems of the world can be solved through nonviolent means, particularly through dialogue. Wars start in the minds of the people first. The minds should be the grounds to cultivate for the growth of peace.
The world has become the global village, but the thinking of the citizens is not global. It is because the change has happened suddenly all over the world. Most of the educational institutions of the world, including universities, are national. Universities still cater to the needs of their respective nations. Students are still prepared for cutthroat competition. The concepts of cooperation, tolerance and wisdom are missing from their curriculums. Introduction of the courses on peace and nonviolent means to solve national and international problems would prepare Pakistan further for adjustment in the global village.
The wars in the past have proved they cannot solve problems. Because they have failed in the past to solve problems, they will fail also in future. Preparations for war rob nations of their hard-earned foreign currencies. The taxpayers' money is used to buy engines of destruction to boost false pride and to destroy even the enemies who exist in the imagination only. Instead, this money should be used to improve the quality of life by opening more and better schools and hospitals, and by providing cleaner water and air to the citizens.
Moreover, modern wars are more costly and dangerous, particularly when both the sides have nuclear capabilities. Nuclear wars are not confined to the territories of two nations only; it contaminates the air and waters of other nations who have nothing to do with the waring blocks. It took centuries to build up human civilization and now it will take minutes to annihilate it. Any war can lead to nuclear escalations. There will not be any winner in modern nuclear warfare, no matter who presses the button first.
A chair for peace at the university of the father of the nation would enhance the prestige of Pakistan in the world. In many ways, this chair would help Pakistan to solve its problems created by the blasphemy laws and separate electorate system which have led minorities to complain of violations of human rights. I hope that this chair of peace at the university level and the World Minorities Alliance would play a mighty role in and outside of Pakistan. I also expect the neighbouring countries to give a chance to peace by studying it deeply as an academic subject at least.