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Appeasing the fanatics
District administration officials under the new devolution plan who failed to prevent a mob from attacking a place of worship belonging to the Ahmadis in Syedwala, Sheikhupura, last Sunday are now claiming credit for arranging a patch-up between the attackers and the victims.
None of these officials have been reprimanded by higher authorities for their failure to prevent some 400-500 villagers from besieging the baituzzikr where some Ahmadis had gathered to watch a satellite television transmission from Germany. The furious villagers belonging to a majority community who acted at the instigation of two religious leaders from a village mosque ransacked the baituzzikr and set parts of its belongings on fire. The illegal assembly took six hours to carry out its wanton destruction. Mercifully no one died and the minority community people were saved by police.
When some Ahmadis fleeing from their place of worship took refuge in the house of Basharat Ahmad, a community leader, the mob attacked it, too. The harassed families were later taken to Syedwala police station and lodged there in protective custody. The tension created by the mob fury against a handful of Ahmadi families lasted until Monday when the administration started negotiations with the two communities to restore a semblance of peace in the area.
The administration had all the potential to arrest the attackers as it was aided by police and reinforcements from other agencies. It chose to placate the militants instead of following the normal course of law.
Coming as it does in the wake of President Gen Pervez Musharraf's warning to two religious groups suspected of sponsoring sectarian violence, the Syedwala incident mocks the government's avowed commitment to curb fanaticism at all costs. Neither tehsil Nazim nor the administration officials seem to honour the president's pledge. The military government which reversed its decision to bring in a procedural change in the application of the blasphemy law should have done better than just appease a culprit party which took law into its hands to persecute a minority community.
The policy of appeasement has only emboldened the fanatics to have their way in implementing their violent agenda. It should not be helpful in curbing sectarian or communal violence in times to come. Our newspapers and state-controlled electronic media strongly criticized the Indian government when militant Hindus attacked some churches in India some time ago. Those who took India to task for persecuting Christians were of the view that the Indian minorities were under threat from the Hindu majority. How do we compare our performance with that of India vis-a-vis the minorities?
Any objective comparison would show that we, too, are not very tolerant of minorities. Having seen people in mosque congregations being mowed down by Kalashinkov fire a number of times we are in no position to claim a higher pedestal in terms of tolerance.
You are free to go to your temples and mosques... This was the firm pledge held out to us by the Quaid-i-Azam in his inaugural address to the constituent assembly. How well have we translated his words into reality?
Those who were free to go to their places of worship then are certainly not as free and safe as they gather for prayers. We have had situations where Muslims felt unsafe in their mosques and we have had occasions when a minority community was barred from worship by members of the majority community in a show of force.
We blame the West for branding us an intolerant society. Do we believe no one is watching us when we indulge in orgies of violence against our brethren in faith and peaceful citizens belonging to minority communities?