The headline of a recent AP article declares that “Pakistani Muslims condemn US gay rights meeting“. But according to AFP, the protest was attended by “around 100 demonstrators”. If only 100 people show up to protest in a nation of 180 million, can this really be said to represent the views of “Pakistani Muslims”?
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) may be, as the AP notes, “Pakistan’s largest Islamic party,” but they could only muster up 100 demonstrators in Karachi – a city of over 14 million. In fact, JI’s electoral success has only been noteworthy when subsidized by military regimes as a means of establishing a facade of democratic elections. Following the free and open elections in 2008, the current makeup of the National Assembly includes no JI representation*. In the Senate, JI was only able to secure 3 seats – fewer than independents. Simply put, JI represents a tiny minority of Pakistani’s views.
In 2009, Pakistan’s supreme court ruled that ‘hijras’ (transgendered people) should be further integrated into society following a petition by an Islamic jurist who wanted to “save them from a life of shame.” As with many countries in the world – including the US – Pakistani attitudes about sexuality are complex and changing.
Jamaat-i-Islami is no more representative of Pakistan and Pakistani Muslims than Pastor Terry Jones or Westboro Baptist Church are to America or American Christians. To equate a small rally of JI demonstrators with the attitudes of Pakistanis or Pakistani Muslims more generally is to create an inference where none exists.
Stories about street demonstrations by radical religious groups may provide sensational headlines for a struggling news industry, but they only confuse Americans about what’s really going on in Pakistan. Jamaat-i-Islami’s power comes from its ability to organize loud and colorful street demonstrations, and to have these protests covered widely in the domestic and international media. By falling for this ploy and giving outsized attention to these made-for-TV events, American media is undermining the hard work of civil society groups in Pakistan that are promoting greater freedom and tolerance.
* JI boycotted the 2008 general elections. The only religious party to participate, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), won only 2.2 percent of the vote and secured only 6 seats.