Intolerance once again

In an all too familiar scene, mob vengeance turned ugly on the streets of Pakistan on Saturday when a group of angry people armed with sticks and their fiery rage marched on the streets of Gujranwala towards a church they were ready to ransack. The mob had heard that two copies of the Quran had been desecrated by Christians and were ready to wreak havoc upon the unsuspecting minority members and the church to show their displeasure. The police intervened and broke up the mob before any untoward incident could occur, but not before they confronted the raving mob with lathis (batons).

Our public’s susceptibility to anything even slightly related to the mere mention of blasphemy is fast becoming ludicrous. It is so easy to incite people to violence whether from the pulpit of the mosque or the vicious rumours aimed at targeting our minorities. Christians have long been the victims of blasphemy charges, intolerance and mob violence. After the arrest of Aasia Bibi, the subsequent ‘outrage’ at the Christian woman’s daring to ‘insult’ Islam and the shocking assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, intolerance for any issue of blasphemy — whether real or fabricated — has increased dramatically. Mobs are routinely incited by fire-breathing maulvis to target minorities, and churches are their favourite punching bags. This latest attempted attack is no different. Without any evidence of desecration and no proof of foul play, a bunch of fanatics were easily rounded up and sent on their mission of destruction.

State inaction and public silence over the assassinations of Taseer and later Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti have allowed many prejudiced people to think they can get away, literally, with murder. After Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, was received by lawyers in a shower of rose petals, it is not too surprising to contemplate that intolerance is actually celebrated and encouraged. This attitude must change and all such instances must be taken note of. Hate speech must be outlawed and mob congregation and violence must be punished as harshly as possible. Muslims are behind the desecration of holy symbols and places themselves when they march onto the holy sites of the members of other religions. If we feel so strongly about blasphemy, we should not be so double-faced about it when we target others and their places of worship. – Dailytimes