What do women seeking abortions,
homosexuals in the US military, the animistic tribe of the Pakistani
Kalash, and Christmas celebrating, non-vegetarians have in common?
Apparently, God hates them and so we all have to put
up with terrorists, strong winds and the earth splitting wide open.
“Look what the Kalash have done now”
In the wake of November’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake,
a tragedy that left over 390 people dead, Pakistanis have descended into their
favourite game; the blame game.
It’s a familiar, age-old phenomenon. The wrath
of God has been a sound explanation for the cruel, unusual, confusing
and tragic since the inception of religion, and, perhaps, humankind. In the
aftermath of tragedy, our coalition of reasoning has a total breakdown. We
remember we are conquerable, mere mortals and this terrifies us, leaving us
with few answers and many fears.
And so, we turn on each other.
After 9/11 an American
pastor proposed that the terror acts happened because God was angry
with Americans over abortions.
In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane
Katrina, one of five deadliest hurricanes in American history, a
televangelist observed God had let it happen because of America’s descent into
immorality. According to him the natural disaster was proof that the “judgment
of America (had) begun”. The same year, a Buddhist
monk blamed the Indian Ocean earthquake-generated tsunamis on the
Christians. According to the monk, the natural disaster had taken place the day
after Christmas because too many Christians had slaughtered animals and
consumed their meat for the holiday.
Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake in which 316,000
lives were lost, a prominent
rabbi reasoned that God Almighty was obviously sending a message to
the gays in the US military. In 2011 the State of Virginia was struck by an
earthquake, which took no lives but caused $300
million dollars in damage. The same rabbi again pinpointed
homosexuality as the cause. This time he was a tad bit more diplomatic by
specifically asking the “gays not to take it personally (because) this is just
God doing what God does”.
The Blame Game
In Pakistan, we like to rotate the scapegoats of our
Some of the favourite contestants favoured by
Pakistani conspiracy theorists are (in no particular order) the Indians, Amreekis (Americans),
religious fundamentalists, or, as seen in the recent case following this year’s
earthquake, the Kalash ‘kafirs’ infiltrating Pakistan who – despite being
of 3,500 in a country of 182 million – are apparently capable of
bringing forth the scourge of God.
Or, I don’t know, maybe, there was an earthquake
because of an immense build-up of geologic pressure at a subduction zone
between two colliding tectonic plates or whatever.
The average reader may not even know who or what a
After all, they are fairly confined to their tribal
lifestyle centred in the northern valleys of Pakistan. Plus, there’s only like,
3,500 of them and Pakistan’s a fairly populated place so – unless you’ve snuck up
to the mountains for mini-Las Vegas style getaway with booze,
beautiful women, and dancing – chances are you don’t actually know a real life
Kalash outside of Google Images.
The Kalasha are Pakistan’s smallest non-Muslim
community. They reside primarily in the Chitral District of
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa(K-P). They are polytheists and nature is a big part of their
spiritual and daily life. A recent
DNA analysis has confirmed the Kalashas are likely descendants of
Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Their laws are highly unique compared to the
rest of Pakistan, which is predominantly governed by a combination of Shariah
and British common law. Alcohol is not forbidden to them. Divorce is
easy enough for Kalasha women looking to change spouses. They must simply write
a letter to the prospective new spouse offering herself in marriage and ask
that the prospective purchase her at a higher price than the current spouse.
Gender segregation is not a part of the daily life of the Kalash. Neither is
The Kalash are a unique and fascinating people. They
are capable of many things. They make their own wine (known as tara), their
own recreational drugs (nazar, an opiate-based chewing tobacco is a
favourite), they have their own music and even their own set of laws (meaning
they are outside the ambit of Shariah law which controls the rest of us
What the Kalash are not capable of is
singlehandedly inviting the wrath of any particular deity or God. And they
certainly do not have control of the three colliding tectonic plates (Indian,
Eurasian and Arabian) that Pakistan sits on top of and frequently is
Divine Intervention not Divine Retribution
Natural disasters are disruptive. And with this
physical disruption comes the disruption of people’s worldviews. The weak,
vulnerable and scared are the perfect target for theological institutions
looking to win new believers. Combine a vulnerable population with the
double-edged sword that is social media and what you have is a platform
allowing aggressive, fanatic, and downright lunatic religious zealots to
circulate their inflammatory ‘this is God’s wrath’ and ‘they caused this
earthquake because they drink and party’ slogans. With emotions already high
following the loss of
loved ones and destruction of homes and livelihoods, it becomes too
easy for a select few incendiaries to drive the country and its otherwise sane
citizens towards irrational hysteria.
This unrelenting routine is now the unfortunate
norm, which unfolds in Pakistan following a mass-scale tragedy. Instead of
endeavouring to repair broken communities, the rhetoric that arises by the
right-wing, hardliners results in a damaging blowback, which only leaves
already-shattered communities further fragmented and striated.
Instead of a coherent analysis of what happened (an
earthquake), and a reasonable response (rally together as a nation, help one
another out), we’re left with a gang of bullies – ideologically incompetents
hell bent on insisting that the earth’s inevitable shifting process is actually
a frightening display of the powers of an evil, angry God.
The valley of the Kalash was once dominated by
mostly the Kalash and moderate Ismailis. Today, as a result of migration and
forced conversion, the Kalash are few in number compared to a flourishing Sunni
Absolute domination by the majority has left newer
generation of the Kalash slowly
losing a rich culture and unique religion. The handful left behind
face a daily conundrum; convert to Islam or face death, stop production of your
wine or be sent to hell by the will of God, cover your women or face hell fire
for all of eternity.
Yes, there are faults in the earth’s crust. Yes,
weather patterns cause torrential rains and winds.
Yes, this is not Pakistan’s first devastating
earthquake. And, yes, sadly this is likely not her last.
In the meantime, as winter fast approaches with both the
Kalash and Muslims of Chitral currently exposed to the elements, let’s open our
wallets, our hearts, and our homes. And, this time, let’s aim at seeking divine
intervention instead of divine retribution.