Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 14, 2016

Hate crime The incident on December 12 in Dulmial village, 35 kilometres from Chakwal, of a mob numbering about 1,000 people that attacked an Ahmedi place of worship, has a sickeningly familiar ring to it. The mob fired at the Ahmedis inside, occupied the premises by force and set fire to books, fans, carpets and other items. The thinly deployed police contingent was initially overwhelmed by the mob. Later, heavier deployments of police and Rangers allowed the vacation of the premises from the occupiers, the rescue of 40 Ahmedis trapped inside, and the control of the worship place passing into the hands of the authorities, who sealed the place. Two people died and dozens were injured. Although the alacrity of the administration and law enforcement forces after the arrack is praiseworthy, the initial response to a looming threat of violence reeked of too little, too late. The district administration had been approached by both sides, Muslim villagers and some outside hate preachers on the one hand, and the fearful Ahmedi community on the other. The former filed an application to have the place of worship turned over to them or they would be forced to take extreme measures. The latter pleaded for security in the face of impending attack and forceful occupation of the place of worship. The administration appears to have taken the warning signs of a build up of potentially violent action against the Ahmedis a trifle too lightly, relying on the assurances of the Muslim community and their hate mongering preachers (local and outsiders) that the procession celebrating Eid Miladun Nabi would not change its route and pass by the Ahmedi place of worship. But that is exactly what they did and the use of firearms, arson and violence indicated prior preparation. The simmering tension in the area has not abated despite the police guarding Ahmedi homes and the Rangers on alert in the village. In any case the Ahmedi families have fled their homes, fearing retaliation. The dispute over the place of worship dates from the early 20th century, when some members of the dominant Malik caste in the village converted to the Ahmedi faith. The mosque predated this development, having been constructed in 1860. It later became an Ahmedi place of worship, contested by some amongst the Muslim community. A case filed for giving the place of worship to the Muslims was dismissed by the Lahore High Court in 1997. But the dispute never flared into violence until now. The facts indicate a conscious mobilisation by some outside clerics of the mob involved in the attack. The Ahmedi community lives in fear in Pakistan since they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. Over the years since, they have been subjected to targeted assassinations, attacks on individuals and communities, and violent assaults on their places of worship. Being declared non-Muslim has not deprived Ahmedis of their rights as citizens. Such hate crimes against them cannot be tolerated by any civilised society, let alone one that overwhelmingly adheres to Islam, the religion of peace. The incident in Chakwal is said to have followed the naming by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of a physics centre in Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, after Dr Abdus Salam. Dr Salam has been ostracized and ignored because of his Ahmedi faith, despite his enormous contributions to science (including the nuclear programme) in Pakistan. The prime minister rightly tried to reverse this shameful behaviour by symbolically honouring one of the brightest scientific minds Pakistan has produced, and whom the world has not just recognised, but honoured with a Nobel Prize. For us not to celebrate the achievements of such a son of the soil because of his faith smacks of extreme bigotry. Whether there is a link between the Dr Salam centre in Quaid-e-Azam University and the Chakwal incident or not, state and society in Pakistan have to remain vigilant against the hate crimes being committed against the persons and properties of Ahmedi citizens by religious extremists and fanatics.

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