Published in Muslim World Today 14 Aug 09
On 1st August 2009, the illusion of inter-faith harmony was shattered in Gojra, Pakistan when a Muslim mob wreaked havoc on a Christian neighborhood. Lives were lost; property damaged, churches torched. The pretext, as always, was (unproven charges of) blasphemy. The magnitude of this attack and the subsequent notoriety forced the State, preoccupied with fending off a different, more sophisticated version of fanaticism, to finally confront an age old phenomenon - terrorism against minorities.
If the timing of this incident is bad, the implication is far worse for a nation anxious to distance itself from the extreme brand of Taliban/Al-Qaeda philosophy, deeply engaged in a bloody battle to rid itself of this malaise. While the wave of violence sweeping through Pakistan indiscriminately claims lives, radicalism and sectarian violence have tainted the land for decades, which is why statements that claim otherwise must be challenged.
Consider one that alleges that this incident is, "….part of a conspiracy designed to convince the international community that minorities in Pakistan are in danger". A classic utterance - that came from Interior Minister, Rehman Malik whose "Conspiracy against State" defense is weighed down by loopholes, an obvious one being the recurring nature of such 'conspiracies'. Another would be a sympathetic population standing by to lend a hand in the carnage and the role played by clerics in organizing lynch mobs at a moment's notice. Governor Punjab echoed these sentiments, calling it a 'conspiracy against the President', no less.
In his haste to disassociate Gojra from past tragedies of a similar nature, the Interior Minister fails to see the resemblance between a 'conspiracy' and routine (minority) killing sprees of yore - albeit on a smaller scale. In fact, one took place mere days after the Gojra riots subsided while another served as a precursor to it.
The only conspiracy here seems to be a 'conspiracy of silence' about the past and the subsequent criminal negligence that allowed hostilities to brew, in the present. But those who attribute this wave of intolerance to the scourge of Taliban must know that while sabotage, conspiracy, terrorism can be useful pretexts, none of them are relevant when fanaticism rears its ugly head and finds a willing warrior in any provincial neighborhood - a rabble rouser in the mosque.
A Provincial Minister's statement that this was "triggered by banned Islamist militant groups with links to al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters," even if true, ignores the fact that terrorism against minorities predates 9/11. Bundling this incident with the rest of terrorist activities is a clever way of deflecting justified criticism for lack of foresight and failure to intervene in time. Christians, misrepresented here as collateral damage of GWOT, have always been intended victims of discriminatory laws, left at the mercy of a majority that has perfected (and pioneered) the art of flaunting the writ of this State.
Whether this was a "pre-planned terrorist attack" linked with "banned outfits /foreign hands", "Swat based militants" or a spur of the moment decision led by bigoted locals acting independently, aided and abetted by their mosques; the administration has done little if anything to curb the lethal trends started by hate groups waging proxy battles on our soil, abolish laws that give them sustenance or restrain religious leaders whose sole job, it appears, is to keep the flames of hatred burning.
Religion has been (mis)used to silently chip away at inhibitions and, if yesterday, butchering minorities was sport, today, killing Muslims is also fair game. Regional disturbances at a time when minorities and majority alike face extinction at the hands of extremists makes it difficult, if not impossible to guarantee a real end to the wider conflict. Disbanding banned organizations, taking up arms against Taliban, killing Osama - none of this can keep extremism at bay from pliant minds firmly under the clergy's manipulative hold, governed by primitive urges, acting as self proclaimed emissaries of death and destruction and a system that guarantees unconditional immunity to anyone who wields the blasphemy card.
Once again, fanaticism has taken advantage of a flawed system. Once again, inner fault lines stand exposed. And once again, attacking symbols of the Christian faith rebounds on Islam. Pakistan has paid a heavy price for standing up to terrorism. But if only the green part of our flag can appreciate these sacrifices, then any victory will be bittersweet.
Images Courtesy of: http://0.tqn.com/d/graphicssoft/1/0/f/s/4/ChristianShapes-Crosses.gif