In the wake of the terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch in which over 50 worshippers were killed by a white supremacist, the world has been united in admiration for the response shown by New Zealanders, their government, and their leaders. Led by Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, New Zealand has spent the last few days expressing its solidarity with its Muslim community, demonstrating how the wave of right-wing politics, racism, and Islamophobia that has been sweeping the Western world can be successfully challenged with empathy, understanding, and an explicit repudiation of the politics of hate. While much remains to be done to counter rising right-wing extremism in the West, not least of all by confronting politicians and media outlets who have cynically stoked racial and cultural tensions in pursuit of their own agendas, the world could learn much from New Zealand’s response to terror this past week.

Jacinta Ardern’s conduct has won her many admirers in Pakistan as well, many of whom have taken to the airwaves and social media to commend her for her visible displays of support for New Zealand’s Muslims. Posting pictures of her visiting a mosque, or wearing a headscarf, or speaking passionately about the need to protect her country’s minorities, Ardern’s fans in Pakistan have rightly pointed to her as an example of leadership that should be followed. Regrettably, however, it would not be unfair to say that many of those cheering for Ardern would perhaps not be as enthusiastic about supporting a Pakistani leader who acted in a similar fashion. For example, would Imran Khan be met with universal domestic acclaim if he visited an Ahmadi place of worship to express his concern for the plight of one of Pakistan’s most persecuted communities? Would the Prime Minister, his government, the police, and other arms of the state wear crosses to demonstrate their support for the country’s Christians?

The answer to these questions is no. Putting to one side the issue of whether or not Pakistan’s leaders and parties would genuinely wish to express such solidarity or not, history has repeatedly shown us that attempts to identify with Pakistan’s minorities usually lead to swift condemnation not just from extremist organisations and right-wing parties, but also from large swathes of a public that has long been fed a diet of hate and dogma. In the recent past, the PTI government was forced to make an embarrassing U-Turn when its decision to appoint an Ahmadi to the Economic Advisory Council was vociferously attacked by a range of political and social actors. Similarly, during the 2018 election campaign PTI leaders repeatedly used the emotive issue of blasphemy and religious identity to mobilise support for itself while castigating its political opponents. Further back, terrorist incidents that inflicted mass casualties on Ahmadis and Christians resulted in nary a whimper of official support from the leaders and parties that were in power at the time. Indeed, Pakistan’s governments and political leaders have, almost without exception, done little more than offer mealy-mouthed platitudes to the country’s beleaguered minorities, forever fearful of the backlash they would have to contend with should they engage in more concrete forms of solidarity.

One of the sadder ironies in Pakistan is how the government and its people have long championed the need to uphold the rights of Muslims around the world – from Palestine to Myanmar and the United States to Australia – without reflecting on the violence that is routinely visited upon minority communities at home. While it is absolutely right and proper to condemn terrorism and hate crime around the world, and while there is no reason why Pakistanis should not express their sympathy for the suffering endured by Muslims in different parts of the world, it is troubling to witness the cognitive dissonance that blinds many to the fact that Pakistan’s minorities are often subjected to the same, if not worse, treatment at home.

There are a number of reasons why this state of affairs persists. By officially defining and linking Pakistani citizenship and nationhood to Islam, the state has arguably generated the ideological basis upon which to build a form of transnational Islamic solidarity (notwithstanding the role played by sectarianism and regional power politics in shaping this discourse). This same process is what also leads to the de facto belief that non-Muslims, or those who are defined as such, are essentially second-class citizens, alien interlopers within the nation whose beliefs and motivations are perennially suspect. Again, there is a long historical process underpinning the emergence and spread of this narrative, and matters are not helped by how opportunistic leaders, parties, and institutions have cynically manipulated the levers of religious identity to legitimise themselves and their actions. The icing on this cake comes from the increasing tendency of the powers-that-be to attribute all of Pakistan’s ills to the machinations of malevolent foreign forces, with minorities in the country often being linked to such machinations simply by virtue of their religious identity and perceived linkages with external entities.

The results of all of this are easy to see. Pakistanis and their leaders will be quick to condemn a terrorist attack on a church in New Zealand but will happily turn a blind eye to the bombing of Christians in a park in Lahore, or the massacre of Ahmadis engaged in worship in Model Town. This same discourse is what led to the murder of an English lecturer in Bahawalpur earlier this week, when a student stabbed him to death because he allegedly supported the idea of hosting a welcome party for new students in which men and women would be able to mix freely – something his assailant claimed was un-Islamic and therefore sufficient basis upon which to take another person’s life. The privileging of a particular version of Islam and Islamic identity over all others, and deliberate, concurrent attempts to stifle debate, is arguably what is responsible for both the lack of tolerance and solidarity for minorities in Pakistan and until this is challenged, the country will continue to witness more of the hypocrisy that was witnessed last week.