Before a Muslim registry, there has been an Ahmadi registry — every Ahmadi living in Pakistan has to declare that they are Ahmadis. Indeed, it is a bit more drastic than that: every Pakistani Muslim citizen has to declare that he or she is not an Ahmadi. Does that qualify as a Muslim registry?
It is not yet clear if Donald Trump’s Muslim registry will deprive the Muslims living in America of their constitutional rights, such as the right to freedom of speech and the right to practice their faith. The Ahmadi registry, however, clearly states that there are certain things the Ahmadis cannot even say.
They cannot have places of worship that look like Muslim places of worship, with minarets and domes — even though Muslim places of worship did not always have minarets and domes; they still do not in many parts of the world.
If all this is correct, we do not have the right to question or criticise a Muslim registry being planned in America. Trump is only following where we have already led.
If the Ahmadi registry being a precursor to a Muslim one is not enough proof of that, look at how we have been trying to shut out refugees from Afghanistan over the last many years: repatriating those who have spent all their lives here, married here (sometimes with Pakistanis), did business and held jobs here. Many of them have families both in Pakistan and Afghanistan; others find our healthcare and education systems better than those in their homeland and want to stay here to have (relatively) better lives.
Refugees in the United States – and those aspiring to go there – also want these very things. And that is why the Americans want to keep them out, by making the same arguments we make. That letting them in and allowing them stay costs a lot of resources we cannot have for ourselves.
Or consider ‘fake news’. We have been at it for decades. Just recently, our official news agency released a report about a BBC probe being conducted over a news item that contained information on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children’s properties in London. The release turned out to be fake. Did we even ask who released it? Did we hold anyone responsible for concocting its contents and releasing them to the press?
In an ironic twist, rather than us becoming like Americans (as is the dream of almost every upper middle class and upper class Pakistani), it is the Americans who are becoming and looking a lot like us: prejudiced, xenophobic, vulnerable.
And as the American dream turns sour, it appears more and more like our national and official ideology. An ideology that declares Pakistan to be a fortress of religion, created to keep the religion pure and preserved; to keep enemies away; to ensure that its denizens are not corrupted by foreign influence. When Trump orders a wall to keep the Mexicans away, he is also building a fortress America: to keep the country pure and preserved from the depredations of the marauders from the South. When he signs executive orders to ban visas for the residents of certain countries, another invisible part of his fortress is cemented. When he calls Australia’s prime minister, reprimanding him for sending ‘bombers’ to America, another portion rises on the horizon.
From their own horrid experience, Pakistanis know what life in a fortress is like: stultifying, inert and, most importantly, lacking in harmony, peace and camaraderie. That is why every one of us wants to leave the fortress at the first opportunity. And that is why we have such a thing as an exit control list — so that we can keep our own people in, so that they cannot run away. Now that Trump’s ‘project fortress’ is well under way and now that the Americans have embarked on the same route to the that we have been treading on for a long time, they might as well have their own exit control list soon.
A look beyond Trump’s America does not inspire any confidence. Either the whole world seems to be in the grip of a frenzy, where the old order has fallen apart, or a new one is emerging with ominous signs: of mutual suspicion, even hatred; of insularity, even mutual repulsion. Many countries are now going through what we have been experiencing for decades: religious wars, intolerance of others, anxieties about our own existence.
Should we feel more comfortable in this strange new world because we are already so tuned to its ugliest aspects? Or should we keep yearning for a braver, more beautiful and more harmonious world — both here and elsewhere? The choice has not been starker in decades.
This article was originally published in the Herald's February 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.