Trying to be ‘correct’ after the fact, President Asif Ali Zardari has issued a message condemning the ransacking and destruction of ‘the places of worship of other religions’ as an un-Islamic activity. He referred to the burning of a church in Peshawar when he stated: “the torching of the church is unfortunate and reprehensible, contrary to the teachings of Islam, which ordains respecting places of worship of all religions”. He said, in what was an understatement: “Incidents like this portray Pakistan and Muslims negatively”.
A well-known journalist spoke of the government’s decision to join the ‘protest’ on Friday, September 21: “The PPP has pandered to the religious right in the hope that giving them space will make them leave everyone else alone … cowardice and a myopic survival instinct dictated the PPP’s decision to embrace the mobs. The thinking was fairly rudimentary, as it often is here: get on the right side of the outrage; co-opt the raging few by giving their protests an official imprimatur”.
What did the government expect? A society used to ignoring the sufferings of the minorities at the hands of extremist elements was hardly expected to let the opportunity of ‘earning the Hereafter’ go to waste when they were allowed to roam the streets with sticks, iron rods and even guns. The Christian community has been targeted with the blasphemy law and a mentally challenged girl, Rimsha Masih, is under threat of being punished with death for an insult she did not offer. In recent years in Punjab, where the largest number of Christians are concentrated, incidents of violence by the majority hooligans have been steadily ignored.
The cleric who cooked up the blasphemy case against Ms Masih has been apprehended but the new ambience created by the acquittal of a powerful cleric of Islamabad by the apex court has triggered a backlash from the clerics trying to re-establish Ms Masih’s involvement with blasphemy. The show of force by the vandals on September 21 will affect the attitude of the police, which received a drubbing from them on the roads of Islamabad. The PPP accused the Punjab government of letting 50,000 hooligans enter the capital from its territory, while Lahore itself was helpless in the face of organised violence on its streets.
In May this year, the nephew of a former member of the Punjab Assembly led a group of hooligans in an attack on a Presbyterian Church in Lakhoki Kahna village near Lahore, breaking the glass altar of the church, throwing copies of the Bible against the wall and desecrating the cross. The upshot was mercifully not more violence as the police stood by the side of the local strongman but the Christian congregation being forced to accept a patently insincere apology. This scene was typical of many rural areas of Punjab, where the Christians live like scared lambs ready for the slaughter at the hands of Muslim mobs, backed by banned terrorist outfits.
The PPP Human Rights Cell took this as an opportunity to refer to a Clash of Civilisations (sic!): “This is not a clash of civilisations, nor a clash against another religion, or community, but a protest against what seems to be a conspiracy to unleash a clash of civilisations and religions and it is clear that anyone who plays that card will not succeed. Muslims of Pakistan have and will reject these acts designed to pit the world religions and civilisations against each other”. This pseudo-intellectual formulation, coming from a country that sees its minorities being savagely maltreated is laughable. The offence demonstrated by a video somebody made in California was not an ‘act of civilisation’, but the Black Friday was, as declared by the state of Pakistan. Elsewhere in the Islamic world, the hostility shown to the non-Muslims was a unilateral ‘act of civilisation’.
The UK simply deported Muslim Pakistani students after they overstayed their visas because they loved the UK as a ‘civilisation’. And more and more politicians are being kicked out of parliament in Pakistan because they hold dual ‘civilisational’ nationality.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2012.