Tragedy averted

Published February 27, 2024

IN a distressing episode that recently unfolded in Lahore’s Ichra Bazaar, a young woman found herself the focal point of a dangerous accusation.

She was dressed, to her misfortune, in attire featuring Arabic calligraphy. It was gravely misinterpreted by some as religious verses and the incident nearly escalated into deadly violence — an all-too-familiar occurrence in Pakistan. It was only through the timely efforts of the Punjab police and the sanity demonstrated by some traders who debunked the allegations that a tragedy was averted.

The incident, reminiscent of the lynching of Sri Lankan Priyantha Kumara, underscores a perilous mob mentality prevalent in Pakistan, where the merest insinuation of disrespect for religion can ignite violent fervour. For instance, at least 85 people are reported to have been murdered in Pakistan on blasphemy allegations since 1990.

This readiness to believe the worst, without due diligence or a moment’s pause for rational thought, represents societal degradation that calls for much-needed introspection. Pakistan must shed the layers of intolerance that have been allowed to permeate society. For too long the state has allowed such elements to fester.

Although critics often call attention to how laws pertaining to sacrilege are misused to settle personal scores, the problem runs deeper. It is not just about reforming laws, but transforming societal attitudes. Here, mobs rarely wait for the said laws to kick in before they unleash their bloody fury on victims.

To combat such a dangerous mentality, urgent efforts by the ulema are essential. They should denounce such behaviour and actively advocate for tolerance, coexistence, and the sanctity of life.

At the same time, the heroism of the Punjab police and the traders who defended the woman must be celebrated. These instances of courage and rationality demonstrate that there are elements within society ready to stand against the tide of intolerance.

Much blood has been shed to this madness. It must stop now.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2024

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