Hard to ignore

Maajid Nawaz points out a comrade in Pakistan. Newsweek Pakistan calls him an unlikely icon.

Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a 27-year-old serial do-gooder from Karachi, has become the inadvertent leader of Pakistan’s post-Peshawar anti-extremist discourse.

Hours after the Dec. 16 attack, Nasir joined a 200-strong vigil for the Peshawar slain in Islamabad.

The numbers weren’t exactly bad, but the venue caused him some concern. “Why do people in Islamabad have to hold vigils at such places where no one can see you and no one can hear you?” he tells Newsweek. So he decided to take his protest to Lal Masjid, a “mosque” linked up with both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and whose cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, brazenly defended the Peshawar attack on TV.

That day, it was just Nasir and three others standing there in the cold, demanding Lal Masjid change course and Aziz apologize. The audacious act caused a stir on social media. The next evening, Nasir had scores by his side, with police keeping an uneasy calm between the unarmed protesters and Lal Masjid’s menacing, stick-wielding supporters. The second day of the protest also failed to get any coverage from Pakistan’s easily frightened media organizations, but Nasir’s crusade would soon become hard to ignore.

That’s because the police filed charges against him, for “disturbing the peace.” (The what??? In Pakistan?!)

On Dec. 19, Aziz used his Friday sermon to threaten suicide-bombings if any harm came to him. Two days later, with public sentiment having turned so sharply against him and Lal Masjid, Aziz was forced to apologize for his heartless Peshawar comments. Nasir rejected the expedient apology and continued with the protests.

Three days later, Nasir received a warning from Ihsanullah Ihsan, spokesman of the Taliban splinter Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, to back off. He didn’t. “We are standing firm,” he tweeted. The same day, police relented and filed charges against Aziz under the antiterrorism laws. On Dec. 26, a court ordered Aziz’s arrest. Aziz has vowed to resist any attempts to take him into custody.

I hope Nasir will stay safe.

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