ISLAMABAD, Sept 21: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf again stressed upon the international community on Friday to work together for peaceful co-existence among followers of all religions and for taking strict and effective measures against hate-mongers who played with religious sensitivities.
Raja Asharaf made the appeal during his speech to mark the Youm-i-Ishq-i-Rasool (PBUH) at the PM Secretariat. The federal cabinet at a special sitting had decided on Wednesday to designate Friday as a ‘Love for the Prophet Day’, following countrywide protests against the anti-Islam film. It was a national holiday.
Initially, the event was planned to be held at the convention centre, but due to security concerns expressed by the interior ministry, it was shifted to the PM secretariat. Talking to Dawn, a PM Secretariat official said since the interior ministry had refused to give security clearance, “we were left with no choice but to change the venue at the eleventh hour”.
In his speech which was delivered in Urdu followed by a small portion in English, the prime minister said: “We are demanding that the United Nations and other international organisations seek a law that bans such hate speech aimed at fomenting hatred and sowing seeds of discord through such falsehood, which is a grave violation of all basic norms of humanity, international law, interfaith harmony and UN Conventions on religious freedom, tolerance and civilised conduct.”
He said President Asif Ali Zardari would convey sentiments and views of the people of Pakistan when he would address the UN General Assembly in New York next week. The prime minister said the government had also called for an emergency meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference to find a solution to the problem. Reaching out to the world, the prime minister said for all Muslims respect and reverence for prophets of all religions was part of the core Muslim religious beliefs. Therefore “we hope and expect similar respect and reverence for the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)” from followers of other religions.
The prime minister also made a reference to the Holocaust, saying: “If denying the Holocaust is a crime, then it is fair and legitimate for the Muslims to demand that denigrating and demeaning Islam’s holiest personality is no less a crime.”
In this context, Pakistan appreciates those in the international community who have joined the Muslims in strongly condemning this outrage, said Mr Ashraf.
He informed the gathering that the government was already in touch with Muslim countries so that a collective demand could be put before the world. And the demand is very simple: “Blasphemy of the kind witnessed in this case is nothing short of hate speech, equal to the worst kind of anti-Semitism or other kinds of bigotry.”
Highlighting the importance of devotion and reverence to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the religion of Islam to the outer world, the prime minister said an attack on the holy Prophet (PBUH) was an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims all around the world, therefore, “this is something that is unacceptable”.
After knowing that it was a deliberate and premeditated attempt by the mischief-mongers based on bias, hatred and prejudice, the anguish and hurt caused by the film got deeper, said the prime minister, adding, “this is not about freedom of expression, this is more about hatred and it also demonstrates blatant double standards”.
Addressing the Muslim world, the prime minister impressed upon them to translate their strong sentiments into a unified policy based on effective coordination so that the Muslim Ummah spoke with one voice on the issue.
Appealing to the people to remain peaceful during demonstrations against the film, PM Ashraf said the Holy Prophet (PBUH) gave the message of peace and harmony. Therefore, using this spirit “I would like to make an appeal to the nation to maintain peace and avoid violence. It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to property”.
However, there was criticism that the government didn’t do enough to ensure that that protesters remained peaceful except issuing customary statements. Instead, according to critics, the government encouraged protesters by announcing Friday as national holiday.
In response, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, throughout evening while talking to various TV channels defended the government’s decision to declare Friday as public holiday. He said the government only wanted to facilitate people to express their love for the last prophet Muhmmad (PBUH), not to damage public and private properties. The minister warned that anybody found inciting people for violence would not be spared and would be brought to justice.