Rampant zealotry

Published June 11, 2024

THE cancer of fanaticism continues to eat away at Pakistan’s vitals, taking innocent lives and causing communal ruptures in society that are very difficult to heal. The latest victims of hate include two Ahmadi men who were gunned down in apparently targeted killings in the south Punjab town of Phalia on Saturday. Both men were reportedly shot by a teenage suspect, who attended a local seminary. The suspect’s confessional details, which this paper reported quoting law enforcers, are a chilling reminder of the radicalisation process that turns ordinary people into cold-blooded killers. According to the police, the young suspect said he was motivated by content on social media to kill members of the Ahmadi community. Moreover, a spokesman for the minority group claimed that a hate campaign spearheaded by some local preachers targeting the community had been launched several weeks ago. While many members of the minority community have been killed, their graveyards have also been desecrated, and their places of worship targeted even in supposedly more ‘cosmopolitan’ areas, such as Karachi.

Though the Constitution may state that the lives of all citizens are to be protected, while also promising religious groups the right to practise their faith, like many other constitutional guarantees, these safeguards are ignored in today’s Pakistan, particularly when it comes to minority communities. And while communal groups have always existed in the country, today these malignant actors are spreading their divisive influence far and wide, both from the pulpit and cyberspace. Decades of myopic policies pursued by the state have further aided the radicalisation of significant portions of the population. Whether it is Ahmadis, Christians, or even denominations within the fold of Islam, citizens belonging to all confessional backgrounds have suffered at the hands of extremists. Deradicalisation is a long-term project, and it may take years — if not decades — to reverse course. But what the state can do immediately is to ensure that citizens belonging to all faith groups live in peace. Those involved in murderous attacks based on religious grounds must be swiftly brought to justice, while those who aid and abet hate groups similarly need to face the law. And while censorship cannot be supported, hatemongers cannot be allowed to freely use social media and the internet to rouse up religious hatred and promote violence.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2024

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