The Anatomy of a Massacre


Faisal Devji in the LA Review of Books:

ON MAY 13, nearly 50 Ismailis were massacred on a bus in Karachi. The attack was claimed by two militant groups, each referring in its statements to the Islamic State (ISIS) and events in the Levant as much as Pakistan. These murders seemed to constitute one more example of the globalization of sectarian violence in the Muslim world. The phenomenon had arguably begun in Pakistan, partly in the form of a proxy war between Iran and her enemies across the Persian Gulf following the Islamic Revolution. Apparently, it has now returned to its country of origin. But there was something new about the Karachi killings, not least because they targeted a community that hadn’t previously been on the frontline of religious conflict, having largely avoided politics and without any state backing it.

Prior to the bus attack, Ismailis, a small and globally dispersed branch of the Shia sect that subjects Islamic prescriptions to allegorical interpretation, had been targeted in Pakistan’s most populous city once before. In August 2013, bombs were thrown into two Karachi Jamat Khanas (places of worship), killing a couple of people. Ismailis had been the victims of low-grade sectarian violence, however, in the mountainous regions of Chitral and Gilgit, where they form significant rural populations alongside Sunni and other Shia groups. But even here they were not important actors. In addition to heresy, they were generally accused of being pro-Western, even of trying to carve out an American puppet state that would have brought together the Ismaili populations of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan with those of eastern Tajikistan — to say nothing of western China.

More here.