Wednesday 3 April 2013

Pakistan's Jewish Vote

(Originally published in The News, on 3rd April, 2013)

Magain Shalome Synagogue - Karachi Pakistan
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, there are around 800 Jewish voters registered in Pakistan out of which 427 are women and 382 men. This statistic seems odd because there are almost no Jewish people in the public sphere in Pakistan and they are not even considered as a minority group during policy discussions.

Historically, thousands of Jews were part of Karachi’s population at the time of Independence. Pakistan hasn’t treated its minorities well and Jewish people were not the only group to be neglected by the state.

Another factor that needs to be considered regarding not just the Jewish voters but our political and intellectual culture as a whole is the prevalent anti-Semitism (here it is strictly taken to mean anti-Jew) in the country.

Mehdi Hasan, a former editor of a British newspaper, recently wrote about the “banality of Muslim anti-Semitism”. He mentioned how Lord Nazir Ahmad blamed a traffic accident that he was involved in and his subsequent conviction on a Jewish conspiracy during an interview with an Urdu channel. For the political right, in Pakistani, blaming the ‘Jews’ is an established norm.

According to Bernard Lewis, the anti-Semitic ideas of the Christians first entered the Muslim world because of Islam’s conquest of Europe, which resulted in many Christians converting to Islam. Prejudices existed in the Islamic world, as did occasional hostility, but not what could be called anti-Semitism, for there was no attribution of cosmic evil to the Jews. Greek Orthodox Christians who found themselves living under Ottoman rule are said to have introduced the notion of the blood libel into the Middle East.

One of the most notorious books cited by people believing in the ‘Jewish’ conspiracy theories is the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. It is a collection of articles concocted in 1895 by the Russian Czar’s secret police in order to depict the growing strength of Marxists as a Jewish conspiracy.

It was first published in Russia in 1903, and claimed to expose a plan by the Jews to achieve global domination. It was published again after the 1905 Russian Revolution, when the ruling monarchy, stung by the mass uprising, blamed the Jews for instigating the workers’ strikes, peasant uprisings, and military mutinies.

The monarchy had also invoked The Protocols when it blamed the Jews for Russia’s defeat at the hands of Japan in 1904. When the czar was overthrown in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, anti-communist Russian exiles used The Protocols to blame Jews for that upheaval too. They depicted the Bolsheviks as overwhelmingly Jewish and executing the plan embodied in The Protocols.

In the 1920s, the London Times exposed The Protocols as a forgery. The newspaper revealed that much of the material had been plagiarised from earlier works of political satire having nothing to do with the Jews.

In 1951, Syed Qutb wrote an essay that clearly defined his view of the Jewish world. Titled “Our fight against the Jews”, the essay was later included in a collection published in Saudi Arabia in 1970. The Saudi booklet bore the same title as Qutb’s essay and was widely circulated in the Arab world, where it became a defining text. The 1970 Saudi version linked Qutb’s work with the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Qutb’s essay is pock-marked with footnotes by the Saudi editor who used The Protocols to prove Qutb’s allegations against the Jews.

There are a lot of similarities between Muslims and Jews that are often overlooked due to prevalent anti-Semitism. Mustansar Hussain Tarar, the ace Urdu writer, once explained the similarities between Jews and Muslims in an article titled ‘The Jews and the Muslims (Dawn, February 26, 2006) as “Jews greet each other with ‘Sholom’ and we say ‘Salam’ when we meet. We consider the pig totaly haram and the Jews also refrain from eating it.

We only eat zabiha meat and the Jews have their equivalent of kosher meat. Like us, they fast. Their skull cap is similar to our namazi topi, and their dress code is very strict. On the streets of New York you will come across neatly dressed Jews, men in black suits and woman in ankle-length skirts and they never wear jeans or revealing dresses.....They are very strict as far as personal hygiene is concerned. And they, like us, get circumcised.”

Despite whatever a certain political party wants us to believe, it’s already a New Pakistan in quite a few respects. We have transgenders, television hosts and film actors competing in the national elections. There is no Jewish person running for political office yet and 800 is not a sufficient number to ensure that in terms of community and identity politics. Moreover, there is no political party that has tried to woo the Jewish voters for the coming elections. Perhaps there will never be. No party has dared challenge the conspiracy theories either, perhaps that can happen in the new Pakistan in the process of being and becoming.

Till then we can only wait to see which way the ‘Jewish vote’ goes, if it goes anywhere.

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