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Are violent protests confined to Pakistan alone?

Published Sep 26, 2012 10:51am


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They came in thousands, burnt vehicles, ransacked property, looted shops, and attacked the police. The economic costs of violent protests ran into hundreds of millions of dollars. While many sympathised with the rioters’ grievances, few, if any, agreed with their methods.

I am not referring to last week’s violent protests, which left several dead across Pakistan. Instead, I am referring to the recurring riots that often breakout after mega sports events or economic summits in the West. It appears that the youth and the disenfranchised in Europe and North America are equally culpable for violent protests. In May 2010, for instance, three died in street protests in Greece. Yesterday, the police fired rubber bullets at protesters in Madrid, Spain, who were trying to break through a cordon around the Parliament building.

Several pundits, columnists, and critics in Pakistan have expressed their disgust over last week’s violent protests against the blasphemous video. Some decreed Pakistanis to be a mob, and not a nation. Others pontificated that this was a result of a lack of education, inferring that an educated populace would have acted differently. While those in the opposition parties accused the government of failing to maintain law and order and protect public and private property.

If the lack of education or literacy were indeed responsible for violent protests in Pakistan, how would one explain the equally violent outbursts in the West? In May 2007, I saw firsthand rioters fighting with the police in Paris, France. It was the same day when Nicolas Sarkozy won the French Presidential elections. After having dinner with some friends who, being left-leaning French academics, were dismayed at the outcome, I returned to my hotel near Place de la Bastille. As I stepped out of the underground platform at the Metro Station, I was greeted by the eye-piercing odour of teargas.

The left-leaning French youth were out in full-force torching vehicles, destroying public and private property, and playing cat and mouse with the police. The streets around Place de la Bastille were filled with shattered glass and burnt vehicles. Fresh graffiti had suddenly defaced the historic Bastille monument and the buildings around it. Small gangs of youth were running through the streets, while the police chased them from one end of the boulevard to another.

It will be hard to argue that the lack of education could be the reason behind the violent outburst of the French youth. The French are indeed proud of their literary heritage, which is rich with libraries, universities, and museums. With a 99 per cent literacy rate, the French are one of the most literate people on the planet who are also proprietors of haute couture. If it is not the lack of education, what else could have motivated the French youth to turn violent?

Such violent protests, however, are not confined to the French youth. In 2010, the streets in downtown Toronto (Canada) were the scene of violent protests against the G-20 summit. The Canadian government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to preempt such violence. On the government's directives, streets were barricaded, buildings were vacated, universities were shut, the transit service was disrupted, and hundreds of suspects were arrested. Still protesters were able to torch police cruisers and destroy public property. Again, Canada also boasts a 99 per cent literacy rate where Toronto alone is home to three large universities and several colleges with over 250,000 students enrolled in institutes of higher learning.

While the rioters protesting against the G-20 summit in Toronto and other cities were expressing their discontent with the global economic order, others in the west have rioted for much less noble causes. In June 2011, youth in Vancouver ransacked the city after their ice hockey team lost to the team from Boston. The riots left over 140 people injured, including four with stab wounds. Several police were injured, while losses from arson and looting ran into hundreds of millions of dollars. The arrests revealed that several rioters were university students or alumni. Vancouver is also a highly literate city with several distinguished institutes of higher learning. Again, one cannot assume that the lack of education may have fuelled the rage and disorderly conduct of the youth who were incensed after the home team lost to the visitors.

Compared with the grievances of the youth in Vancouver, the protesters in Pakistan were enraged by a video that attacked their religious beliefs. At other times, Pakistanis are on the streets to protest against sectarian killings, shortage of staple foods, power outages and unending inflation, to name a few. The fact that the protesters hurt their own interests by burning public transit and other assets is perhaps indicative of the fact that the disenfranchised in Pakistan no longer see public assets as shared property. When the rioters torched several hundred railcars and locomotives after the assassination of Ms. Benazir Bhutto, they also sealed the fate of Pakistan Railways, which since the riots has not been able to meet the travel demand because of insufficient infrastructure.

It is not education in the traditional sense that would help prevent recurrence of such violent outbursts in Pakistan. What is needed is an equitable distribution of resources, the rule of law and civic education. Ordinary Pakistanis have to believe in the common good. This cannot be taught in schools or universities, this would evolve only when resources are shared amongst the masses in a just manner.

As long as Pakistan’s civil and military elites continue to hoard resources and amass wealth by denying masses their fair share, even the slightest provocation will cause violent outbursts.


Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (59) Closed

Majaz Sep 27, 2012 09:14am
The writer says its not the lack of education which is responsible for last week
Agha Ata Sep 26, 2012 02:43pm
So, I think Pakistanis are justified to do any thing they are doing or want to do. No need to worry about anything..
roco Sep 27, 2012 07:11am
bbc news justified that violence with economic slow down and unemployment?????
Anwar Ul-Haq Sep 26, 2012 11:57am
Well written Haider Sahib. It should shut all those pundits up who don't miss an opportunity to criticise Pakistan. I am by no means supporting the violence that took place, I believe the demonstrations should have been better manged & controlled by the authorities. The violent demonstrations do take place in every country including UK (where I live), from time to time. If my memory serves me right it was only last year that violent demonstartions took place in the UK, in which shops were looted anf property torched.The riots were sparked by an arrest in London of a guy carrying gun, ans spread to several cities in the UK. The riots resulted in the death of a Pakistani origin yound man in Birmingham who was run-over and killed by some youths in a car. The peaceful demonstartion is a right of every citizen living in a democratic society, however there is always a possibility that a peaceful demonstration, however well intended, turns violent due to outside factors.
aaa Sep 26, 2012 11:54am
I was reading a few days ago about someone invitin 3 thousand guests in a city in sweden by mistake. And even the newspaper wrote ''it was bound to go wrong with this many people at one place.'' A similar news appeared in sweden a few days ago where two groups of 100 people each fought with each other it was said to be a family dispute. I was wondering is it just taken for granted in many countries that all such events happens police comes and noone ever comments or even believes it was worth discussing. I would give pakistani media and pakistani people applause for having the courage to say aloud their own mistakes. That is the only way to do something with it.
rehan Sep 26, 2012 11:11am
Not a SINGLE secularist rose to defend the west ? That's sad really ! ...or is our venom specifically for our own people ??
SJ Sep 26, 2012 11:09am
Balanced analysis indeed...!!...
Saeed Sep 27, 2012 09:12am
In case you provide the same environment and the same facilities, and the bad governance as is currently in Pakistan, I am pretty sure that people in other countries may resort more to voilance than Pakistani's who are very resilient people facing all sorts of agony. Any way article provides good comparison. We should not look down on our country always.
Raheel Adnan Sep 26, 2012 01:11pm
Murtaza, you're surely one sincere and noble writer, with a beautiful brain. Enjoyed reading every bit of this article.
fika77 Sep 26, 2012 01:16pm
how did dawn allow this article to be published? Amazing, isn't it?
Amita gupta Sep 26, 2012 01:56pm
Writer has quoted instances of violence in west which are few and far between whereas it is an everyday phenomenon in this part of the world.
Amar Sep 26, 2012 04:25pm
Nice try to justify the violence.
Faisal Sep 26, 2012 04:45pm
Sorry, but you cannot compare what happened in Toronto and Vancouver to what happens in Pakistans "Protests". Sure there are crazy/violent people every where but the value of human life in the West is much much higher then it is in Pakistan. If 2 dozen people get killed in riots in Toronto,it would become a national emergency. Vancouver authorites have caught all if not most of the rioters who caused violence and destruction there. Everybody appreciating the writers point of view can be satisfied by this false comparison. We should accept the fact that there is a culture of violence and intolerance in Pakistan, so many instances everyday are reported from all parts of Pakistan. And its not all based on economic conditions either. There are a lot of third world countries where the level of violence and rage in society is nowhere close to what we have in Pakistan. Mr Rehan : "Not a SINGLE secularist rose to defend the west ? That
Zaidi Sep 26, 2012 05:03pm
Nice point Mr. Haider, but I would like to see another article regarding success people had in getting a legal recourse following rioting/demonstrations. Problem, the way I see it, is the impunity of the manufactured outrage time and again. Sep 26, 2012 09:37pm
2 wrongs don't make a right. wrong deed is a wrong deed
Sonu Sep 26, 2012 09:46pm
I think I'll disagree slightly with your findings here. Civilisation, as we put it, is a thin veneer over our inherent animalistic tendencies. While things are good, these tendencies are well hidden. In the face of mass adversity, these tendencies emerge rather fast. The riots you spoke about in the west, were a result of the exact same phenomenon as what happened in Pakistan. Unemployment, the prospect of loss of funding, perceived insults and frustrated youth - all make a very explosive mix. Education has nothing to do with it. I've seen educated youth in India burn buses and riot and loot - and that is solely the venting out of frustration. The solution is simple - engage the youth. Get them to do something constructive - and these things will reduce. No - they won't go away, but the instances will reduce.
Saad Sep 27, 2012 12:22pm
Then why do people in EDUCATED classes become violent protesters in the west?
Vishnu Sharma Sep 27, 2012 02:50am
Be happy that you are not the only fools in the world. Go out celebrate by burning a few more vehicles, cinema houses, middle class shop keepers shops, depriving wage earners their livelihood, making innocent children orphans, elderly parents their daily bread, making young widows, and earning bad name to the religion and nation, because it happens in the rest of the world. Just Great.
malik Sep 27, 2012 03:44am
So the common factor in these riots is anger and rage. Throw in religion and you got a fire. The differnece between west and us is the number of people killed in west is ususally not that much and then they are all proesecuted to the best of law enforcing agencies. This happened in London and Vancouver. Whereas in our country no one will be prosecuted due to 'lack of evidence'.
Hitesh Sep 27, 2012 03:48am
Author didn't mention the response of authorities in aftermath of this violence or better say demonstrations.
greatiamtoo Sep 27, 2012 04:13am
you do not give us do not give us do not give us food...... you give us religion, in ridiculous abundance.....and then when someone makes a movie are we not entitled to even a carnival?
rehan Sep 27, 2012 04:26am
Couldn't agree more ... self-criticism is important but there is a very fine line between self-criticism and being pessimistic that people cross all the time !
Ghalib Khan Sep 27, 2012 04:56am
Ok agreed , it happens everywhere but we should be worried about first cleaning our house, For us our worry should be of Pakistan, our agenda should be PAKISTAN FIRST.
nur Sep 27, 2012 05:26am
just go ahead..we are very normal then...good to see that
Pradeep Sep 27, 2012 08:23am
Sam Sep 27, 2012 09:03am
Completely agree with Mac.
MAC Sep 27, 2012 09:04am
For Imran, you surely are living in UK but obviously do not understand much about UK and perhaps have a biased attitude like many Pakistanis who enjoy their lives in the West but never try to understand these societies. What you have totally ignored is the fact that many of those responsible for riots and destruction were put in the prisons. The difference between Paksitan(is) and West is that Pakistani simply ignore the tragedies but in West there is always some sort of reaction. They try to understand what happened whereas we hardly do anything.
sreeraj Sep 26, 2012 02:59pm
only difference is in west people protest against the government reforms and in my country(india) and pakistan people protest for lunatic my opinion any one having common sense will not protest against that dumb movie..
roquefort Sep 27, 2012 11:18am
I agree, the writer is playing our politicians game.There is no excuse as to what happened,it is against the teachings of Islam too after all it was all done in the name of Islam.
Ahmed Sep 26, 2012 11:29am
I appreciate your research Mr. Murtaza.
Truth Sep 27, 2012 10:01am
Sir, Loss is Loss there is no point of occasionally and regularly.. we should stop criticizing to other and need to develop good relation through ignorance.
Arun Sep 27, 2012 11:44am
Ignorance and intolerance is definitely a factor. But religious sensitivity cannot be ignored at all. In British India people used violence and destruction of British property to express their anger to the British colonial masters in the past. However, after the British left India, people did not change their ways. They still destroy public property, without realizing that it is their own property. One aspect most people in west cannot comprehend is that there are very poor people in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc...This poverty is unlike what westerners have seen or can imagine. These poor people do not have any processions. They have nothing to lose. The only thing that keeps them going forward is their faith/religion. If someone tries to ridicule or attack their faith/belief, they will fight back and can be very unreasonable & violent. Violence is their hidden anger with the whole system, poverty etc...and not necessarily the issue at hand alone. It is easy for some bad people to exploit the emotions of these poor people. Analysis is an easy task but resolution is a humungous task that requires leaders with awareness, far sight, just mind and definitely a strong spine.
Shankar Sep 26, 2012 12:44pm
Couldn't agree with you more. Mobs will be mobs, education or no education. I am not sure if it has anything to do with distribution of wealth either. Unless there is punitive punishment these cannot be eliminated. There seems to be something innate in human beings that whips up destructive mob behaviour. I wish Islam had something that called it haram and prescribed appropriate punsihment for mob violence. Non Islamic countries need appropriate legislation but they will be lot more difficult to implement. One is tempted to look at the Chinese model but that would be jumping from frying pan into hellish fire.
waqas Sep 27, 2012 12:57pm
Well written
Dawn Reader Sep 27, 2012 02:31pm
Income inequality has increased significantly in the west in the past two decades, which is the reason behind several occupy Wall Street type movements in the west. The rule of law prevents such incidents from happening frequently in the west, and civic education is responsible for parents turning their children in after seeing them in riots on TV.
MAC Sep 27, 2012 06:24am
What happens regularly in Pakistan cannot be compared with what happens in the West occasionally. Unfortunately, violence has become an integral of life in Pakistan and one can see this on daily basis. Violence is every where but what happens in Pakistan does not happen in the West, at least looking at the volume of damage and loss of life. I feel more secure going around in West than in Pakistan. Let us not try to justify our actions by talking of problems of the others and face the reality and try to find some solution. Pakistani violence is not just political but it is also a social problem and that for me is more damaging than political demonstration. How many people died as a result of protests after the killing of Benazir Bhutto? Could someone show such a thing happening in the West.
Whatever... Sep 27, 2012 07:31am
Thank God finally, a sane article by some sensible and intelligent guy that looks at things in a very realistic and mature way. Wonderful article. Very true, it happens everywhere. We hold religion sensitive, others hold sport events and other stuff sensitive. Thank You writer for not bashing/maligning Islam in this and questioning the outrage of Muslims by that extremely offensive movie. May Allah bless you.
Krishna Sep 27, 2012 07:55am
It shows that the levels of tolerance in our society is dwindling..
Pradeep Sep 27, 2012 08:25am
Try in whatever way you can to lure him but that
hasanali (@hasanalirana) Sep 27, 2012 12:02am
well written
ASH Sep 27, 2012 08:34am
Get your facts right, the riots were over one night, it started in London when a Policeman shot a young man with a gun (he was black) black youths started rioting and were joined by white youths it then spread north by Facebook and 3 young Asian men were killed while defending their property, they were run over by a car (the young men driving the car were found NOT GUILTY of murder) most of the perpetrators of the violence and looting were prosecuted and got hefty prison sentences, the Police spent many hours sifting thru CCTV and all were caught. If you live here, you know that is the truth why lie to make Pakistan look better.
Shah Alam Sep 27, 2012 01:53am
You miss the point. The point is not that mob violence occurs in Pakistan, as it does in every country on the planet. The point is that Pakistani "state" is helpless in the face of this violence, and actually encourages it.
Concerned Citizen Sep 26, 2012 05:29pm
The article found balance when the writer talked about equitable distribution of resources
bmurray Sep 26, 2012 05:29pm
Just keep living your lives as if nothing were wrong, nothing to be ashamed of. See, so and so does this or that, so it's all justifiable. It's really very childish, don't you think?
Imran Sep 26, 2012 03:17pm
Have you forgotten last years British looting riots? For more than a week thousands of people, not just hooligans, smashed through town centres across the country damaging property, smashing shops and businesses and simply running off with goods including everything from plasma screen TVs to expensive footwear. And the amazing thing was, no one really knew for sure how it all started and got so wild. I live in UK and trust me it was scary if you are a small business owner. So much for the civilized West.
manomoni Sep 26, 2012 05:46pm
If life is so scary in UK, it is time you pack up and come back to Pakisthan....
Ahmed Sep 26, 2012 06:29pm
What a senseless article .... 19 people died that parallel of that in any of your examples...when u have PhDs ready to condone such mob like behaviour why blame the religious zealots...
Abdullah Hussain Sep 28, 2012 02:45am
Well done Murtaza for lifting the curtain. Your well researched paper clearly shows that unruly behavior is a worldwide phenomenon, not just an event taking place in Pakistan alone.
Vishnu Sharma Sep 28, 2012 07:15am
Wrong is wrong,it does not matter who commits toward whom.And two wrongs don't make right. Since what people did in the past or do at present the result will be the same only innocent and poor or middle class are going to get hurt and most of the time for rest of their lives. ________________________________
Nadia Sep 26, 2012 07:08pm
articulated views on the OTHER side because to be self loathing has become second nature of our elite/middle class........breath of fresh air. Thanks
Khalid Sep 28, 2012 05:51am
Well Said
Ram Krishan Sharma Sep 28, 2012 04:54am
You live in UK and you think that UK and Pakistan are at level footing as far as riots are concerned . You better come back to Pakistan for your safety.
Vishnu Sharma Sep 27, 2012 11:54am
That's rest assured that Pakistanis by nature are very warm heart, generous people, I know by my own experience, since I'm that part of the world and living in the US for over last 43 years, I deal with them almost every day basis. But these are the trying time all over the world and no person or nation is immune, so I except better from them( Pakistanis) not worse. As an individual ,it hurts me deep down. Long live happy, prosperous, enlightened Pakistan that' my prayers.
punevision Sep 26, 2012 12:49pm
Could author write more about reasons behind Toronto riots (G20 summit)??? IMO, those riots were silly but I could have still walked around the area without fear of being killed. Riots happen all over the world but when they happen in Pakistan or India, they are far more scarier. Being from India and having witnessed some riots, I beleive that riots in subcontinet are far more fiercer. And often times riots around here are for religious reasons making them far more intense. Riots in the west are more like wanton destruction without enormous emotional involvement. RIots in subcontinent are emotionally charged and hence far more dangerous.
Saeed Sep 26, 2012 03:49pm
The author is correct by and large.. However all conditions are not the same. In Pakistan education or lack of is a primary cause, and we see it in our everyday life. Oppression, lack of opportunities, inequitable distribution of wealth, lack of justice, hopelessness for the future generations, , disenfranchisement all stems from there. The reasons for violent protests in the west is due to different causes, not least is economic disparity and the growing inequity in distribution of resources. Which comes first the chicken or the egg you decide.
Sue Sturgess Sep 28, 2012 01:53am
No, the west has its rich and its poor, just like every other nation
Kanwal Sep 26, 2012 11:58am
London riots i saw firsthand. great article.
AK Sep 26, 2012 12:48pm
For a change, someone looking at the broader picture without sounding defensive. Breath of fresh air vs. the loads of one-sided self-critical blogs written by Pakistani secularists every week. Self-criticism is very healthy but not meaningful if it is myopic and one-sided...
lion_o Sep 27, 2012 09:53am
i totally agree with the writer. the cause of such behaviour is indeed disparity in resource distribution. the cause of the protest was just, yes not the manner but the fact is that events in pakistan are politically given a different face by the rest of the world and they do it because they can. they are no better than us, except for their leaders.