Inner demons

THE recent mob rampage targeting Christians in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala area should serve as a critical opportunity for the nation to look inwards, honestly diagnose the disease, and remove the cancer of extremism from society.

This is not the first incident where raw religious passions have been exploited by vested interests, and unless there is a thorough reckoning, it won’t be the last.

Far too many Muslims and people of other faiths have faced the wrath of the mob in Pakistan based on spurious allegations of blasphemy. Many have not lived to tell the tale, while numerous incidents have been traced to personal vendettas or schemes to grab property.

Illiterate and mentally challenged individuals have been accused of writing or forwarding blasphemous text, while unfounded rumours of disrespect to religion have been enough to spark bloody riots.

Yet the advance of religious fanaticism is not limited to Pakistan. Next door in India, the shock troops of Hindutva have also unleashed violence against Muslims and other minorities.

The Babri Masjid’s destruction was a bellwether event; from that grim turning point to the present, Hindutva has morphed from a fringe movement to the official narrative in the Sangh Parivar’s India.

Muslims have been lynched on suspicions of transporting or keeping beef, their houses have been bulldozed by bigoted state agencies, while dubious citizenship laws have questioned those whose roots as ‘bona fide’ Indians are well established.

Christians, too, have not been spared by the Sangh, as the current communal disturbances in Manipur illustrate, where nearly 200 have been killed, and hundreds of churches reportedly torched. Clearly, zealots on both sides of the border share the same DNA where terrorising minorities is concerned.

It appears that this particular variant of religious extremism is a South Asian peculiarity. While discrimination against minorities does occur in other Muslim states, Pakistan is in a league of its own.

One does not often hear of public lynchings and frenzied mobs rampaging to avenge alleged blasphemy in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, etc — countries that are no less Muslim than Pakistan.

This may be because in these countries the state does not allow vigilante groups or self-professed guardians of faith to rile up crowds and let them loose on hapless victims.

In Pakistan, things are different. For decades, the state encouraged and later tolerated religious fanatics, while poverty and low literacy levels have left ordinary folk susceptible to the emotional messaging of such malign actors.

There may still be time for course correction. This can be done first by the state acknowledging the presence of the contagion of extremism and then by punishing those who have indulged in religious violence and who ideologically support such violence. Longer-term goals can focus on deradicalisation as envisaged under NAP and similar initiatives.

Source: Dawn, August 21st, 2023