The fajr attack in Pakpattan Sharif was one more in a series of very targeted and strategic attacks on shrines of Sufi saints across Pakistan: Rahman Baba, Data Sahib Hassan Ali Hajveri, Abdullah Shah Ghazi and now Baba Fariduddin Masud Ganjshakar.
Once again, these dastardly attacks have left Pakistan numb in grief and shock. Shock not because it was new or surprising but because it has again exposed the systematic targeting of belief by religious bigots and extremists who are very consciously and very deliberately targeting and spreading fear amongst any and all whose belief, or even ritual, they disagree with.
This is not senseless violence. This violence is obviously thought through and clearly targeted. It is violence that is designed to beget a polity of fear, division and hatred. It is violence that stems from a history of religious bigotry from which we have suffered before, and suffered mightily. But the systematic and conscious manner in which this agenda of carnage is being implemented by the murderous purveyors of violence should not only numb us into grief and shock, it should alert and inspire us into action that is as strategic and as targeted as those of the killers.
Being ‘targeted’ does not mean being indiscriminate and impulsive. Indeed, it means the exact opposite. Those who have orchestrated this violence are very clear about what they are doing: they are sending Pakistan a message about what they consider to be ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ Islam. We need to be equally clear about what we do: send a message to them that we will neither succumb to their intolerance nor their tactics of fear.
In practice this means a strategy of messaging both by words and action. Our words have to condemn not only acts of violence but the core of religious intolerance that lies behind that act. We have already suffered much by succumbing to the thekedars of righteousness and allowed them to define who is and who is not a Muslim. We must not let this venom sink even deeper into society. It is not easy to confront intolerance when it is so pervasive around us. To name it for what it is and to shame it for what it does. But confront it we must.
The logic for action is also clear. As long as we hear more stories about ‘successful’ violence than we hear stories of culprits being apprehended, tried and punished for these acts, the violence will only multiply. We need to change that arithmetic. Protective police action is necessary, but not sufficient. The targets are too many, full protection is too difficult, and in-your-face security indirectly underscores the terrorist’s message of fear. More important is police action in apprehending culprits, unmasking terrorist cells and their plans and judicial action in bringing those apprehended to quick – and fair – justice. The last is the most important of all.
Ultimately, words and actions must come together. Action must lead to a change in the stories that we see plastered on our TV screens. What we now see are stories of bigoted terrorists “succeeding” in their attacks. What we need to see are stories of our police and legal system bringing these terrorists to justice. Stories that signify the failure of their plans, not the success.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2010.