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A Shezan a day….

By Marianne Landzettel
Febriary 28th 2012

Shezan is one of Pakistan’s old, well established, and popular brands and the company’s fruit juices, jams and pickles are available not just available across the coutntry, but also in the UK. At least that was true until the beginning of February when the Lahore Bar Association voted to ban the products from the court premises. Just weeks later Shezan juices also vanished from the campus of the Punjab University in Lahore because of what has been described as an unofficial ban. The reason for banning the Shezan brand is the same in both instances: The company is part owned by Ahmedis.
The Ahmedi movement was founded in the 19th century by Mirya Ghulam Ahmad. While the Ahmedis were initially just one of the many groups of Muslims on the Indian subcontinent, they faced persecution in Pakistan. The situation escalated until in 1974 the Pakistan’s constitution was changed to declared Ahmedis to be non-Muslims.
The sales ban in the Lahore court and the university canteen is not the first time, Shezan products are being targeted. The company, which was founded in 1964, has more than 1000 employees, a quarter of which are Ahmedis. In 2006 one of the most well known Shezan restaurants on the Mall in Lahore was burnt down. Last year several shops in Peshawar were destroyed. Shop owners – like those selling juice outside the Punjab University campus – are being intimidated and some had their shops ransacked when they continue to stock Shezan products. Ahmedi students have been beaten up and forced to leave unversities. Countless Ahmedis of all walks of life have been harassed, marginalized and intimidated.
Radical clerics have even demanded for Ahmedis to be killed for – as they put it – distorting the teachings of Islam.
In the worst incident of violence in 2010 nearly 90 people died when militants attacked two Ahmedi mosques in Lahore.
There are liberal voices: Since the Lahore lawyers issued the ban many editorials in Pakistan’s English language newspapers have condemned it. There is an ongoing campaign on Facebook and Twitter supporting the company. ‘A Shezan a day keeps the mullahs away’ read one slogan. But not many in Pakistan dared posting pictures of themselves, drinking a Shezan juice.
Liberal critics ask which company or food chain will be next. They discuss the absurdity of purchasing anything along religious lines: What about imported goods, produced in China, Europe or the US? And are Sunnis to boycott anything produced by Shias and vice versa?
The Shezan ban seems to be yet another indication that polarization of Pakistan’s society is progressing ever faster with liberals in one corner and religious zealots in the other. But what makes the attack on Shezan particularly bad is the fact that it was the Lahore Bar Association that issued it. Last year lawyers could be seen showering Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, with rose petals when he was brought to the court after his arrest. Samaan Taseer had spoken out against the blasphemy laws and that, these lawyers argued, was in itself blasphemous.
It’s the kind of radicalization that makes the rule of law in Pakistan seem like an impossible dream. And that is terrible news for anyone who happens not to fit into one of the ever shrinking categories defined by the self proclaimed righteous.

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