Oxford University Pakistan Society (PakSoc) has been criticised for allegedly refusing to screen a documentary on Dr Abdus Salam, a renowned scientist who became the first Pakistani to win a Nobel Prize in 1979. This has now led to a petition being set up calling for the President of PakSoc, Haroon Zaman, to resign.
On May 12th, the film was screened with the help of Oxford University’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association. Malala Yousafzai, who is the spokesperson for PakSoc, attended the screening.
Noman Chaudhry, one of the organisers of the screening, and President of Oxford University’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association, claimed that:
“I contacted Pakistani Society two months ago about the screening. I had numerous chats with the committee members including the President at various events. I was told that they were still discussing the matter and that they had other events to focus on, and that there were reservations within the society.”
“The OUPAKSOC President told me the committee was divided and he did not want the Pakistani society’s logo anywhere near the event poster.”
Salam belonged to the branch of Islam, known as the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Ahmadi Muslims have faced persistent discrimination in Pakistan, as they are considered by some to be heretics and were declared as ‘non-Muslim’ under Pakistani law. Ahamdis living in Britain have also voiced their concern about potential discrimination growing against their community. These concerns follow the murder of an Ahmadi shopkeeper, Asad Shah, in Glasgow in 2016, as well as the BBC reporting that leaflets were found in a mosque in South London urging Muslims to ‘Kill Ahmadis’ in the same year.
Given Salam’s Ahmadi heritage, PakSoc’s decision to not screen this documentary has led to growing criticism.
After the screening the PakSoc did apologise for not getting involved:
“We regret we couldn’t co-host Dr Salam’s documentary. We made the decision to co-host on May 8th 2018 but unfortunately this decision was not conveyed to the organizers in time. We realized our mistake and made sure the members of the Pakistan Society were aware of the event and we encouraged them to attend.”
PakSoc has told the Oxford Student: “ Any suggestion that the Society is in any way opposed to the rights of the Ahmadiyya Community or to the recognition of Abdus Salam’s incommensurate achievements are inaccurate and we sincerely regret that our actions have implied otherwise.”
“Oxford University Pakistan Society apologises unreservedly and regrets the creation of a perception that the Society may have in any way been biased against the Ahmadiyya Community. We realise that through our initial overcautiousness as well as subsequent failings in communication and urgency, we misrepresented the principles that we stand by as a Committee.”
They also added that: “Within the Society, we are evaluating our decision-making process and communication channels to ensure this kind of failure does not happen again and the lessons from this episode learnt.”
However, this apology has not satisfied the organisers of the screening, who are now calling for Zaman’s resignation.
Speaking to the Oxford Student, Chaudhry, one of the organisers, has said: “ We have had a series of talks with the committee in order to seek an honest public apology for the utter disregard shown, and in order to ensure that the committee held no religious prejudice and hate for the Ahmadi Muslims, secure a public commitment to holding an educational event on the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan.
“It is now over 24 hours later and they have failed to produce a signed statement by the President of OUPakSoc. We are concerned that this is because the statement contains references to the Committee acknowledging equal rights for Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslims. We are deeply concerned that this religious prejudice might be the underlying reason the President has failed to sign the joint statement.”
Following these talks, the event’s organisers have set up a petition, on change.org, calling for the resignation of Haroon Zaman, as President of OUPakSoc.
Chaudhry has claimed that Zaman “has failed to take our concerns (and concerns of numerous civil rights and human rights activists as well as other student bodies) seriously and has adopted a stubborn posture in the face of genuine criticism. We are concerned about the impact his leadership will have on instances of discrimination towards Pakistani Ahmadi Muslim students at Oxford in the future. His apathy and disregard for the cause of equal rights, diversity and pluralism is disturbing at the very least.”