There’s a particularly prophetic scene in the 1990 Lollywood hit International Gorillay. In one of the film’s earlier scenes, the DIG Police is holding a meeting to discuss the eruption of countrywide rallies and the emotionally charged crowds which may damage property on endanger the lives of citizens if left unchecked. His direction is that if things go out of hand, the Police may have to use force to control the protests. Seems fairly reasonable so far. Until Mustafa Qureshi, who plays a senior police officer, speaks out against the move. The DIG is peeved. “Should we let the honourable people of this city be subjected to this savagery?” Qureshi’s response is telling. “Those who are not savage today, neither do I consider them honourable, nor do I consider them humans! This is not savagery! This is the extreme of love!” As a viewer, I am left confused. How can someone who condones such violence, even sympathises with it, be labelled the ‘good guy’ in this scenario? While someone who is trying to prevent the violence is seen as the bad guy? Up is down, left is right, it doesn’t make any sense! That is until we find out that ‘International Gorilla’ is our cinema’s response to Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’. The movie’s audience, much like the ones in real life, are reacting in response to the explosive material in the book. Qureshi plays one of about 56 people in the movie who directly condemn Rushdie and his actions as deserving of no punishment less than death. By the end of the movie, Qureshi is relishing the kuttay kee maut demise of ‘Rushdie’, played by Afzaal Ahmed: burnt to death by laser bolts shot by multiple Qurans which have descended from the sky. Audiences are usually seen cheering when this scene comes up. Before we condemn the dehumanisation of Muslims in Palestine or Myanmar, let’s ask ourselves: Have we done any better? It seems almost comical when you say it out loud. In the wake of Sunday’s shooting on Ahsan Iqbal, and the contention that the shooter may have committed this act due to the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue, I can’t help but wonder how much of the audience might be cheering. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself here. Maybe this is just an excuse being used to mask the real motive, which could be financial. Also, the killing has received multiple condemnations from political parties, civil society and state institutions. Also, this just happened day before yesterday, so we may not know all the facts. However, that does not change the fact that a senior political leader of the ruling government got shot. And the first motive made available to us, the ‘Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue’, carries real social currency, not only because this issue receives more attention than others, but also over its special role as a rallying cry against the ruling government. And if this is true, I bet that carrying out any legal action against the attacker is bound to be politicised and controversial as well. I can just imagine banners with ‘Abid Hussain Ghazi’ written on them, with his picture alongside Mumtaz Qadri. It seems almost comical when you say it out loud. I shudder to think what would have happened had the killer succeeded in his actions. Would the government have the courage to sentence another person to death for killing a government official, given all the support they already lost over Mumtaz Qadri? Would anyone oppose the mass protests, given what happened in Faizabad last year? And would anyone dare to question the mandate of the party responsible for those protests, which is now a registered political party? I doubt it. It won’t matter that the person attacked is one of many, many individuals, who have been targeted, harmed or killed over the mere perception that they have somehow committed blasphemy. Now here is the point where I have to state, that I am a firm believer in the finality of the Prophet. So firm in fact, that I have signed an affidavit. If anyone wants to check, please take a look at my recent passport application. This is also where I have to admit that the people of Pakistan hate and reject terrorism and extremism with every fibre of their being. But do we acknowledge extremism when we see it? Does the killing of a Christian receive the same attention as the killing of a Muslim? Does our response to a sectarian incident largely depend on which side of the sectarian divide we are on? Do we pick and choose how we label someone as militant or mujahid, purely based on our own impression of how legitimate their cause is? These are not easy questions to answer. But asking them is necessary. This is why terrorist incidents can receive a shameful diversity of responses in certain areas, depending on who the target was, and whether we consider them a Muslim or not. This is why when some communities are targeted, it is almost seen as a form of mercy killing, or even justice, because the beliefs they hold are considered so abhorrent that we are actually doing them a favour by wiping them off the planet. And here lies the real issue. The problem isn’t that someone got shot due to the actions of a zealot. The real problem is that for millions of Pakistanis, that person is not a zealot at all. To a vast number of people, such actions are understandable at best, or justifiable at worst. After all, this isn’t savagery. This is just the extreme of love. We say we reject extremism. But the truth is that we pick and choose who we think is an extremist, and who isn’t. Our response is not based on the manifestation of that extremism, but rather, it is our interpretation of the ideology that fuels that manifestation. This ideological blindspot is exploited brilliantly. Why would we care if the victims are, to quote Mr Qureshi, “neither honourable, nor human”? Kill someone, say the right words, invoke the right ideology, and people will be on your side. So before we condemn the dehumanisation of Muslims in Palestine or Myanmar, let’s ask ourselves: Have we done any better? Do we realise how we ourselves deify zealots and dehumanise victims? We can go on and on about condemning terrorism in all its forms, but terrorism is still just an action, a manifestation of extremist ideology. The real problem is the ideology that not only fuels the supply line for future terrorists, but creates a narrative of empathy within the public. As long as this continues, I’m afraid Ahsan Iqbal won’t be the last leader to suffer this fate, or worse. One final point: Afzal Ahmed received rave reviews for his villainous portrayal of Salman Rushdie in International Gorillay. So rave in fact, that he received death threats for playing the character so convincingly! It seems almost comical when you say it out loud. Except that it’s not. It’s horrific. The writer is a freelance journalist and academic based in Islamabad Published in Daily Times, May 8th 2018.