Sunday, September 23, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 24, 2012

Aftermath of violent protests After the toll of lives, property and infrastructure during Friday’s violence-laden protests against the film insulting to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Saturday saw another, albeit smaller, outbreak of protest in Islamabad and Lahore. Karachi and Peshawar, which saw some of the worst violence, looting, plunder, arson and even firing from elements in the crowds, mercifully seemed to be just licking their wounds, although some small protest was mounted in Karachi after the funerals of those killed. After four of the injured died overnight, the toll of lives has now reached 21, with some 200 injured countrywide. The toll of property includes at least seven bank branches, five cinemas, seven restaurants of international food chains, six private buildings, three police posts, six shops (this is probably an underestimate), including an arms store and five wine shops. It is interesting to reflect on the interest in looting these wine shops by those who had come out to declare their love for Islam and the Prophet (PBUH). Such contradictions are legion in our society. The protest on Saturday mobilised around 5,000 people marching on parliament, including hundreds of women. About 500 members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa laid siege to the US Consulate in Lahore, but failed to make any dent. Though the madness of Friday was not on display the day after, the angst over the manner in which the Day of Love for the Prophet (PBUH) was commemorated still leaves a bitter aftertaste. It may be premature to declare the dwindling number of protestors shows the steam has run out of the agitation. That will only be determinable in the days ahead. Friday prayer congregations usually provide the fodder for such protests. The week ahead, if not weeks, need careful watching. It must be noted that the most generous estimates of the total number of protestors on Friday have not passed the figure of 45,000 countrywide. That suggests that whereas all citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim, feel anger at the insult and even love for the Prophet (PBUH), the vast majority are not prepared to bring grist to the extremists’ agenda of using the issue for political gains. So whereas there has been much comment on and criticism of the violence, perhaps we should take a minute or two to reflect on the inherent wisdom and peaceful nature of the overwhelming majority of our citizens. It is by now a well known phenomenon that the actions of the few extremists receive more than their just share of the oxygen of publicity in a milieu of media proliferation and freedom. In fact, the sobering message of Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira towards the end of the day of violence, asking the electronic media to show restraint in its coverage of the events seemed to produce a sudden drop in the frantic temperature at which the electronic media had been operating throughout the day. Did incessant media coverage to the point of saturation help or fuel the fire further? Those in charge should do some introspection. We demand from the US and the west that they should not allow the principle of freedom of expression to be extended to blasphemous and insulting matter. Yet we use our relatively new found freedoms without any thought for responsibility and the best interests of the country. Inflammatory coverage only inflames further. Reports say 6,036 people have been booked for violence, arson, looting, etc. Of these, a few (not more than 200 or so according to available reports) have been actually arrested and sent on 14 days judicial remand by the courts. The justice system needs to be cautioned on the police’s penchant for filling the jails with both the guilty and the innocent in such situations just to make themselves look better. Justice must be done, but must also be seen to be dome, not sparing the actual perpetrators, but taking care at the same time not to victimise the innocent. Imran Khan and Shahbaz Sharif have shifted the goalposts by declaring, separately, that criminals (Imran) and hooligans (Shahbaz) were responsible for the violence. To them, it is unthinkable that ‘genuine’ Muslims could perpetrate such acts in the name of defending the honour of the Prophet (PBUH). Well, gentleman, wake up and smell the coffee. It is precisely those who claim a monopoly of the truth about our religion who are the most fanatical, violent, intolerant people around. Let us at least not try to fool either ourselves or the public. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has spoken of taking the issue of blasphemy to the UN and the OIC. Be that as it may, and in the unlikely event of the west relenting on ‘freedom of expression’ sufficiently to contemplate restrictions on such hate material, how on earth are governments, east or west, intending to control the new media and the Internet, on which such material can easily be posted and has proved very difficult to block, let alone eliminate. Welcome to the brave new world, in which restraint on hate speech and blasphemous material is conspicuous by its absence. Well intentioned, but a tough call, prime minister.

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