It is encouraging to read the response of Nadeem F. Paracha, cultural critic and senior columnist for the Pakistan-based Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com website, to the recent attacks on Christians in the Gojra region. As a Muslim, he finds these attacks reprehensible and I applaud him for having the integrity and courage to publish these words:
Posted by Nadeem F. Paracha
08 4th, 2009
A riot is when an agitated group or mass of people clash with the police, or with another mass of agitated men and women. It is not a riot when an agitated group of people attack the homes and lives of men, women and children who are not as well armed as the attacking group, or whose best defense in this respect is to flee the scene. So why is the Pakistani media referring to the recent attack by Muslims on the Christian community in the Gojra area as ‘communal riots?’
They were not riots, but an attack. An assault by an arrogant majority on a low-lying minority.
Even though the media did well to cover the episode in which Gojra’s Christian community – their homes, churches and lives – were brutally attacked by mad mobs of self-righteous Muslims, it was frustrating to note that the Punjab government had more than enough information about the attacks before the actual incident took place to nip the frontline miscreants of the attack in the bud. But its officials in the area did absolutely nothing.
Sounding apologetic, the Punjab government retaliated by blaming the attacks on sectarian organizations, which, might very well be the case, especially in the event of the rising number of sectarian organisations that have proliferated in the Punjab province ever since the mid 1980s – especially with the formation of the militant Aunjuman Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (ASSP) in Jhang in 1986.
Mind you, rural and semi-rural Punjab has been the scene of similar attacks on Christians in the past as well. And the reasons given by the attackers have remained the same: blasphemy against the Muslim Prophet committed by Christians and the supposed desecration of the Qu’ran.
On a number of occasions it has been proven that the attacks in the past were nothing more than a case of a certain areas’ influential landowners using the areas’ mullahs to whip up hatred against Christian individuals who had homes or shops or ownership of a piece of land that the landowners were interested in getting. In spite of this, a number of Christians have languished in jails under the controversial blasphemy laws that were first enforced by the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. Laws that have become a scrooge for the minority communities of Pakistan and a boon for mischievous and psychopathic Muslim landlords and their mullah allies.
The Punjab government has blamed the Gojra incident on a few local Islamist leaders and clerics who had arrived in Gojra not long ago. It is believed by the province’s government that whipping up communal violence is yet another tactic being used by shady sectarian organisations to continue destabilising the province.
Like I said, all this is more than likely to be true, but the more important question is, even if the instigators of the violence were clerics and sectarian organisations and their band of thugs, how would one explain the participation of the common Muslims of Gojra in the attack who were neither paid thugs nor members of the accused sectarian organisation?
When one Imran Aslam, a cleric and alleged leader of a Sunni sectarian organisation started to use the area’s mosques to give vent to the rumours that certain members of the Christian community had insulted the Qu’ran, his thugs were at once joined by young Muslim men whose families had otherwise lived in harmony besides their Christian counterparts for decades in the city.
The same is the case during communal violence in India. Paid thugs and storm-troopers of fundamentalist Hindu groups are usually joined by hoards of common Hindus whose hatred towards the Muslims has more to do with poisoned religious delusions rather than the political and economic reasons and agendas that their more wily Hindu fundamentalist leaders and thugs harbor.
In Pakistan as well, the sectarian organisations, clerics and their thugs who’ve been directly involved in attacks on the Shia and Christian minorities in the Punjab, have interests and stakes that are usually tied to political reasons or are related to land disputes or personal enmities. On the other hand, it is a highly distorted and hate-mongering version of what constitutes as being Islam in semi-rural or rural Punjab that drives and dictates the madness of the rampaging Muslim mob that ends up becoming the spontaneous army of blood-thirsty foot soldiers of these organisations.
Observers believe that attacks such as the one that took place in Gojra were entirely uncommon in the Punjab till about the early 1980s.
It is when the state of Pakistan under a Machiavellian-Islamist dictatorship started to infiltrate and ‘convert’ Pakistan’s non-puritanical and largely pluralistic ‘mazaar culture’ – of which a majority of Pakistanis were associated with – that many Pakistanis started to shift their religious orientation towards the more puritanical and myopic strains of the religion.
This the state did to radicalise young Pakistani men in its blind and self-centered pursuit to continue offering fighting men to the many mujahideen groups stationed in Peshawar and fighting a CIA-ISI-Saudi-funded ‘jihad’ against the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.
Much has been written and said about the political, economic and social price Pakistan has had to pay for its involvement in the Afghan civil war - from the proliferation of what became to be known as the ‘Kalashnikov culture,’ to a two-fold rise in vicious sectarian violence, to ‘Talibanisation’ and all the way to demonically developing a hate-prone and anarchic psyche that has engulfed the hearts and minds of many young Pakistanis; even those who have little or nothing to do with militant organisations, but can become a direct part of mobs such as the one that attacked the Christian men, women and children in Gojra.
Disturbed and angered by the episode, I made the effort to join a group of Christians who were holding a protest rally against the attack outside the Karachi Press Club. It was sad to note that there were only a dozen or so Muslims who were part of that rally. A journalist colleague of mine was surprised to see me there. He asked me what I was doing at a ‘Christian rally?’
‘I hate majorities,’ I said, spontaneously. ‘Especially if these majorities claim their majority-ism on the basis of the supposed superiority of their collective religion and, more so, at the expense of the land’s minority.’
‘In that case,’ said my colleague, ‘today I too am a minority.
May this not be the last time we read such words of reason and tolerance from Muslims the world over, as they stand up to those who commit violence in the name of their religion.