Just one set of front-page headlines on March 10: “Mob loots, torches Christian colony in Lahore”; “Five killed in Peshawar mosque blast”; “PM prays at Ajmer Dargah for peace in Pakistan”; and the best of all, “Protection of life, property govt’s top priority : Zardari”.
Another headline in another publication: “Mob wreaks havoc in Christian town”. Yet another, “Mob rule in Lahore”.
Very correctly, in this publication in his column of March 13, Ejaz Haider has asked: “Where did the mob come from? Who is attacking shrines and imambargahs, if not the pious awam?” His answer: “ ‘Normal’ people; average Pakistanis; people going about the business of life; you and me.”
Now, in this particular case of mob rule, the media, by and large, ‘protects’ the mob by shifting all blame on to the blasphemy laws, the Punjab government and the police force. This, despite the fact that it was a Muslim mob, some have it 2,000-strong, which inflicted the disgraceful damage upon the livelihood and property of those living in an area inhabited by non-Muslims. Reportedly, the pious mob was egged on by a few people’s representatives from the Punjab government and one from the federal government, all from the political party now tipped by many to be the conquerors in the upcoming, somewhat controversial, elections.
This was not an isolated incident, nor should it engender much surprise as it — even worse — has happened in the past on many an occasion. Mobs of vigilantes are commonplace, not only in issues involving the blasphemy laws, but even on occasions when would-be robbers have been nabbed by members of the public and have been dispatched by an easily assembled mob of vengeance-seekers. However, it is the blasphemy laws which cause, in the main, mob violence. The cult of false religiosity, bigotry, hatred imbued by brainwashing that inflicts not only the beloved awam, the great unwashed, but also those who have received some form of education, probably warped.
To commit blasphemy in this country (and in a few other Muslim lands), one must be insane, or as is reported in this latest case, drunk to the extent of being out of one’s senses. But what did the Christian sanitary worker say to his fellow imbiber, the Muslim liquor-peddler, a violator of the prevailing law? We are told when the alleged blasphemy committed involves the defiling or burning of the Holy Quran, or the improper use of religious-related phrases by members of the Ahmadi community, but we are never told of words that have allegedly been blasphemously spoken. Why? Would repetition of such words be treated as blasphemy? Well, it is not enough to merely say that a man or woman or child verbally blasphemed — in what manner, we would like to know.
And as for the mob, as Haider has written, they themselves were blasphemers. They burnt and desecrated Bibles and crosses, apart from destroying some 200 buildings. But no action will be taken, as is usual, because governments and law enforcers are too paralysed by fear, or perhaps, in many cases, are of like mind with the mob.
Blasphemers are apparently rarely given bail, for their own protection, against murder by a mob, and in jail, are often in solitary confinement for the same reason. Those occasionally acquitted can only go into hiding or flee abroad, as is the case with any judge, who has the gumption to acquit — most do not, even when it is blatantly obvious that the charge is false.
Removal or amendment of the blasphemy laws may not help. The national mindset is such and there is the penchant for mob violence on any excuse — in Lahore and Karachi, protesters against the Badami Bagh incident themselves resorted to violence in answer to violence. It is only the amendment to the national mindset that can cure the evil. But who is there willing or able to even set forth on that mammoth task?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2013.