'Morality' squads at it again

May 23, 2010

KARACHI: The pattern is a familiar one for the residents of Lahore: low intensity blasts aimed at creating panic and fear. This time the setting was the red light area of Lahore, known as Tibbi, at a time in the evening when the location was at its liveliest, with people thronging the many food stalls, music centres and entertainment venues in the area. The choice of the locations makes it obvious the work is that of ‘morality squads’ which seem to operate under different names. In the past they have targeted places frequented by couples, shops selling CDs, restaurants or venues where plays are put on. The threat they pose is to a way of life that they oppose, presumably on the basis of their ideological beliefs. Their emergence in society is largely the consequence of the failure over the years to effectively challenge growing intolerance and the diseased narrowing of vision imposed as a result of State policies.

Though police in the latest case are said to have had warnings of possible action against ‘immorality’, they can do little to watch every street corner and every garbage heap. It is not clear where the explosive devices were planted, but in crowded localities leaving a bag with a timed device is not difficult at all. There have been many such incidents. The question is how they can be prevented. People everywhere deserve the right to enjoy musical concerts or a meal at a café without fear of being attacked. This right has already been dangerously depleted. The World Performing Arts Festival that marks the advent of winter each year in Lahore was cancelled in 2009. If we are not careful much else will also be pushed off calendars, leaving us as a society all the poorer and more vulnerable to the onslaught of extremism.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23, 2010.

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