Muharram safety

Published July 21, 2023

WITH the month of Muharram underway, the authorities have upped security arrangements across the country, especially in areas where a large number of majalis and mourning processions are held. The usual routine centres on deploying an increased number of security personnel around mosques and imambargahs as well as large gatherings, while the movement of various preachers the state believes may misuse the pulpit to incite crowds is restricted. While the tradition of mourning assemblies during Muharram and Safar goes back centuries, the very modern threat of terrorism is only a few decades old. Ashura processions have been bombed in the past. Majalis and mosques too have been attacked — the bitter harvest of not neutralising the ogre of sectarian militancy that started to raise its ugly head in the 1980s. It is true that sectarian violence has receded over the years. But the malignant actors involved in fanning the flames of communal hatred are alive and well, though they maintain a lower profile. Therefore, no chances can be taken by the state, which has the duty of ensuring that all citizens can practise their faith freely, and without the threat of terrorist violence hanging over their heads.

What is a more recent concern is social media, which has turned into a major source of wild rumours that have the potential to wreak communal havoc if not nipped in the bud. In decades past, sectarian disturbances tended to be localised affairs, and could be contained relatively easily. Today, with pictures and video — either genuine or outright fakes — spreading like wildfire within minutes via social media, the potential for trouble is ever greater. Therefore, the state must keep an eye on accounts designed to foment sectarian unrest. Censorship is unacceptable, but attempts to promote violence and hatred through social media are indefensible and must be dealt with according to the law. Yet it must be said that while deploying security forces and monitoring social media are essential, the state has yet to address the core of the problem: the sectarian hatemongers that continue to operate with relative freedom in Pakistan. Unless these groups are permanently put out of business, the threat of communal violence will remain ever present. Moreover, leading ulema of both major sects must also advise their juniors to use the pulpit to promote harmony, rather than increase divisions.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2023

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