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Countering hate speech

Updated October 13, 2015

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The govt appears to be taking no chances, as the state is keeping an eye on the movement of controversial clerics.—AFP/File
The govt appears to be taking no chances, as the state is keeping an eye on the movement of controversial clerics.—AFP/File

WHEN the month of Muharram draws near, the state usually swings into action in order to keep the peace during this sensitive period.

The measures adopted by the administration include restricting the entry of certain preachers in volatile cities and towns. This year, too, the government appears to be taking no chances, as the state is keeping an eye on the movement of controversial clerics.

As reported on Monday, the entry of 190 ulema has been banned in Rawalpindi division during Muharram, which starts later this week. The inter-provincial movement of clerics has also been banned. Ulema from various sects have been included in the list of those to be denied entry into Rawalpindi.

Also read: Entry of 190 ulema in Pindi division during Muharram banned

Restricting the entry of controversial ulema is essential if peace is to be maintained during Muharram.

After all, religious passions run high during this period; even the slightest irresponsible comment or provocation from the pulpit can spark widespread trouble, especially in the age of social media where rumours and half-truths can spread like wildfire.

Rawalpindi is, of course, particularly sensitive — the garrison city witnessed communal violence during 2013’s Ashura when controversial remarks were reportedly made from a mosque loudspeaker. However, there are other potential flashpoints across Pakistan where the respective administrations must take similar steps to prevent hatemongers from exploiting religious sentiments.

Yet while it is true that Muharram is a particularly sensitive time, the state should be taking action against those involved in spreading hate speech around the year.

For example, if the Punjab government can zero in on these 190 individuals during Muharram, it — along with the other provincial administrations — should be keeping a watchful eye on such elements during the rest of the year as well.

Hundreds have reportedly been rounded up on hate speech charges under the National Action Plan, but there is clearly room for greater vigilance on this count. Indeed, there should be zero tolerance for divisive elements spreading sectarian and communal poison 365 days a year.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2015

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