Faisalabad rampage

Published August 17, 2023

UNLESS both state and society decide on a practical way of tackling extremism, and go beyond clichés and condemnations, the monster of obscurantism will continue to devour Pakistan’s vitals.

Another shameful incident was witnessed on Wednesday in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala area when a mob torched several churches, ransacked Christian homes and vandalised a graveyard. The apparent provocation for this assault was blasphemy, as the house of a Christian man allegedly involved in the offence was razed.

Clearly, in Pakistan, evidence is not required where the issue of blasphemy is concerned, and mobs take it upon themselves to dispense ‘justice’. This is the second such event in recent days; just a few days ago, a teacher in Balochistan was murdered because of blasphemy allegations against him.

There has been the usual round of denunciation by the political elite, including the interim prime minister. Yet the question is: do the rulers — politicians and establishment — as well as clerics and prominent society figures have the courage to confront this madness? Past precedents do not inspire confidence as murders, riots and lynchings in ‘defence’ of religion testify.

This is not a situation that developed overnight; it has been decades in the making. For over 40 years, the state has itself been either promoting obscurantism, or using sectarian and religious fanatics as proxies. The result of these failed policies is before us, as these same forces have now begun to influence the general populace by framing the narrative.

Our power elite has been silent as blasphemy laws have been misused to settle personal scores, occupy property, or terrorise minorities. In fact, the last parliament had tried to bulldoze, without any proper debate, an amendment that would have ‘strengthened’ the blasphemy law.

Can we then complain if episodes such as Jaranwala unfold with disturbing regularity? Violence in the name of religion is indefensible in any context, but in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws have been misused with impunity by vested interests.

However, it is also true that in the ‘civilised’ West, the appalling trend to attack the sacred symbols of Islam feeds into a vicious circle of bigotry and Islamophobia. In fact, extremists, such as the ones involved in the Jaranwala outrage, use these despicable acts to point out the hatred the ‘Christian’ West allegedly harbours towards Islam, and channel their vitriol at local minority communities.

The fact is that both in the West and in Muslim states, efforts need to be intensified to counter the forces of religious bigotry. The attacks on Islam’s sacred symbols — indeed, the revered symbols of all faiths — in the West must stop, while Pakistani society must bring to justice all involved in such grotesque violence, and begin an internal reckoning that exorcises the demons of obscurantism tearing this country apart.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2023

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