Monday, November 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 23, 2015

State of fear Another alleged blasphemy related incident involving the Ahmedi community in Jehlum has once again highlighted the parlous state of affairs regarding the blasphemy issue and especially the state of fear in which minorities generally, and the Ahmedi community in particular, live in our country. The incident began on Friday, November 20, when a supervisor in a factory owned by Ahmedis allegedly burnt copies of the Holy Quran as part of the scrap used to fire the factory's boiler. Workers at the factory reacted to the alleged blasphemy and filed a complaint with the local police. The local mosques then got into the act as they tend to do and instigated people against the alleged blasphemy. An enraged mob forcibly entered the factory, set it on fire along with workers' homes on the premises and vehicles parked inside the compound. Around 14 people living in the factory, including eight women and four children, fled to safety with the help of the administration. Mercifully, there was no human toll in the attack. The police arrested four people initially but released three of them later. This further enraged local people and, egged on by the anti-Ahmedi diatribe from the mosques, they torched an Ahmedi place of worship in Kala Gujran. The local administration and police had failed to anticipate such an eventuality and provide security to all such obvious targets in the area. Only after the Kala Gujran incident in which an inadequate police force deployed failed to hold back the agitated mob were army troops deployed to control the situation, reportedly on the orders of Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. The vigilantes then blocked the GT Road between Jehlum and Islamabad and it took the deployment of army troops and Rangers to get the highway cleared after about seven hours. Ahmedi spokesmen refuted the version of the incident being put out by local people and the police. The factory in question was a chipboard manufacturing unit that burns scrap as fuel for its boiler. The question of intent remains unanswered, although that has never stopped vigilante mobs taking the law into their own hands, an aberration Chaudhry Nisar found unacceptable after the event. The same spokesmen revealed that Ahmedi families residing in the area have fled for their lives, leaving their homes at the mercy of the mobs. A climate of fear has gripped the community, which is apprehensive of more attacks against their persons and properties. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif responded to these events by convening a high level meeting, ordered an investigation, and directed the Cabinet Committee on Law and Order to visit Jehlum and review the situation. The incident reflects the usual pattern of such events. A rumour is sufficient to agitate some people, the mosque throws fuel on the fire, and the rest unfolds in familiar manner through a vigilante mob. Despite the repetition of this pattern from time to time, the government has not stirred a finger to prevent and pre-empt such happenings. Chaudhry Nisar's umbrage at people taking the law into their own hands, while correct in principle, did not and could not prevent precisely such an outcome nor will his statement make any difference to future similar incidents. Time and again, either a misplaced notion or some vested interest can rely on the mosque to blow things out of control. Some restraint must be placed on the ability of the mosque mullahs to instigate such madness. There is little need to point to the repeated incidents of accusations of blasphemy, usually false, which lead to violence, to persuade those with any sense that this affliction has gone on long enough and something needs urgently to be done to prevent such chilling happenings. At the heart of the problem lies a blasphemy law with the maximum punishment of death but with no remedy against false accusation. As far as the besieged Ahmedi community cowering in a state of fear in our society is concerned, we must all express our solidarity and sympathy with them as human beings and citizens, irrespective of our faith or views on their set of beliefs. And while we are at it, is it not time to revisit the 1974 Second Amendment in which parliament relegated to itself the right and power to determine religious questions, thereby violating the spirit of founder Quaid-e-Azam's view of a tolerant and inclusive Pakistan, and condemning in perpetuity the Ahmedi community to its present state of fear of unremitting persecution?

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