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Rampant bigotry

August 04, 2009

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A mob of Muslim men take part in a violence protest against Christians on the street in Gojra. — Reuters
The frenzied mob that hit a Christian settlement near Gojra on two consecutive days last week proves how easy it is to lose all sense of reason. Masked young men, egged on by religious leaders and actively supported by locals angry over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran by some members of the Christian community, performed a veritable dance of death in the neighbourhood. They torched houses, smashed businesses and brought routine life to a screeching halt through their seemingly unstoppable violence — until seven Christians were burnt alive and the Rangers called in. On both days the entire area around the targeted settlement was the site of arson, interspersed with stone-throwing, baton-wielding and gunfire.

It is not for the first time that an alleged act of blasphemy has triggered such brutal aggression. Nor, sadly, will it be the last if bigoted mindsets persist. Only weeks ago, Christian houses in Kasur were burnt down because the majority community there was able to allege blasphemy to exact retribution in an otherwise purely secular feud. Yet it seems little is changing to avoid the repetition of such incidents. In fact, while Gojra burnt the local administration made only half-hearted efforts to douse the fires. That is why the Christians there insisted on senior officials being booked for murder as a precondition to ending their protests. They, after all, had a duty to protect citizens no matter what their religion. Are we not supposed to be a democratic society that treats all its members, regardless of faith, equitably?

Unfortunately, the fact that we have blasphemy laws suggests that we are not. These laws have become a ticket in the hands of the majority to persecute and victimise the minority communities if they don't easily submit to their inferior status in society. In not being blind to the faith of each individual, the state is supporting bias and bigotry against non-Muslims. The narrow-minded who spew venom through their sermons against religious minorities are only the loudest and most abominable symbols of such discrimination and their growing following is an unmistakable sign of the frightening future that we are heading towards. A state held hostage by its own bigots cannot guarantee protection for religious minorities in its jurisdiction. For that to happen, the state will have to ensure that all forms of religious discrimination, including faith-based laws that victimise even innocent civilians, are done away with.