Karachi bus attack

When doing good brings down the wrath of brutes

Robert Remington
The Globe and Mail
May 15, 2015

Imagine, a Muslim sect that advocates religious tolerance, supports gender equality, educates women, restores ancient monuments, preserves traditional music, engages in institution building and creates wealth to help bring disadvantaged people out of poverty.

It’s no wonder that the Ismailis drive ISIS crazy.

The killing of 43 and wounding of 30 Ismailis in Karachi by the ISIS loyalist group Jundullah must not be diminished as another case of sectarian violence perpetrated on a Pakistani religious minority, as described in many media reports. It is attack on a group that symbolizes all that is a good in a civilized world, a group which represents everything that ISIS and its ilk seeks to destroy.

A tolerant community with an enlightened view of Islam, the Ismaili community through the many tentacles of the Aga Khan Development Network is engaged in life-changing development work in 30 countries. Its non-denominational network of 325 schools, two universities, 11 hospitals and 195 health clinics is  supported by tithes from the Ismaili community, grants from donor nations and profits generated by a worldwide business empire of some 90 companies that in 2013 generated revenues of $3.5 billion US.

Driven by the ethics of pluralism, diversity and respect as espoused by its spiritual leader, the British-born, Harvard-educated billionaire Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the Ismaili community indirectly supports an army of 80,000 employees, more than 90 per cent of whom are non-Ismaili, who bring health, education and economic hope to people in some of the poorest regions of the world.

For noble work such as this, the Ismailis are considered kafir (heretics) by gang of medieval brutes like Jundullah, which on Wednesday decided to put bullets in the heads of innocent Ismailis in a bus on their way to a prayer service in Karachi.

“Thanks be to Allah, 43 apostates were killed and around 30 were wounded in an attack carried out by ‘Islamic State’ soldiers on a bus transporting Shiite Ismaili infidels in the city of Karachi,” read a Jundullah statement on an ISIS-linked Twitter account.

The attack has been aptly called an unprecedented horror inflicted on the Ismaili community, who were described after the attack by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as “a very patriotic and peaceful people who have always worked for the well-being of Pakistan.”  There has, however, also been sporadic violence against Ismailis in the mountainous northern areas of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. Last year, the Pakistani Taliban, with whom Jundullah is affiliated, vowed to wage an armed struggle against Ismailis the northern regions, which I visited in late 2005. There, I met daughters of illiterate farmers who were educated in the Aga Khan system and who were applying to western universities in hopes of becoming doctors, teachers and pilots.

This is heresy, according to a 50-minute Taliban video posted in February, 2014 in which a narrator declares, “The Aga Khan Foundation is running 16 schools and 16 colleges and hostels where young men and women are given free education and brainwashed to keep them away from Islam,” adding that the foundation’s schools and hospitals are espionage tools in the hands of foreign powers.

In the past decade, I have visited Aga Khan projects in East Africa, India, Central Asia and Pakistan. I’ve walked the slums of Karachi, Nairobi and Delhi with dedicated Aga Khan workers and volunteers, seeing them bring hope to areas where the Taliban would bring none. How dare these Ismailis. Many, even in Pakistan, dress in western clothing. When I was there during Ramadan in 2005, they even served me wine, a gracious display of hospitality to a westerner during their most observant month of self-discipline.

Today, I weep for the innocent victims on that bus in Karachi. To those who buy into the despicable narrative that paints all practitioners of Islam with the same brush, I can only despair.

Robert Remington is a Victoria, B.C.-based writer and author.

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