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EDITORIAL: What happened in Jaranwala town in Faisalabad district on Wednesday is beyond shame. A violent mob torched five churches, attacked homes of Christians and ransacked the office of the local Assistant Commissioner, who is a Christian.

It all started when some individuals claiming to have found several desecrated pages of the Holy Quran near the residence of two Christian brothers spread the word about the alleged act of blasphemy through different masques, inciting people to show their “reaction’ to it. Whilst the police remained a passive bystander those on the receiving end of this madness saved their lives by leaving their homes.

Later, calm was restored by the Rangers. Meanwhile, the district administration negotiated with the rioters’ leaders and registered an FIR against the accused on blasphemy charges, also transferring the Assistant Commissioner.

No case was registered against those who stoked violence, even though it is hard to believe that anyone in his/her right mind would commit blasphemy.

There have been several such incidents in which mobs acted as judge, jury and executioner with impunity. The instigators’ motive always is a property grab, as in the case of Gojra riots in a Christian neighbourhood that left eight people dead, including a child; or a personal grudge that led to the lynching and burning of the body of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, and before that the murder of a Muslim factory owner in Shahdara near Lahore.

Many other Muslims have similarly been lynched by crowds prompted by individuals with a personal interest and supported by local clerics. It is worth noting that no such incident occurred till Gen Ziaul Haq’s regime systematically started promoting religious fanaticism through sectarian organisations and school curriculums — a practice adopted by his successors for playing power politics.

Religion has since been used to the point where even democratically elected governments have found themselves vulnerable to blasphemy allegations.

Yet no lessons have been learnt. The outgoing parliament passed an amendment to the blasphemy laws, without proper debate, further expanding the definition of what is to be considered sacrilege.

As is usual after such incidents politicians, including PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, PTI senior leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi as well as rights groups issued statements strongly condemning the violence and seeking swift justice for the victims. Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar “gutted by the visuals coming out of Jaranwala”, has promised stern action against those who violate the law and target the minorities (Muslims, too, are targeted).

Important as it is to bring all the culprits to justice, that alone will not help. Those involved in the Sialkot horror were held to account, yet that did not prevent others in Jaranwala from taking the law into their own hands. It is about time all concerned, especially those responsible for unleashing the forces of obscurantism, resorted to some introspection and made good faith efforts to reverse the tide of religious fanaticism.

Misuse of blasphemy laws must come to a stop. False piety should never be allowed to negate Islamic values of tolerance and compassion.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Aug 19, 2023 11:24am
Wishful thinking as far as law and justice implementation is concerned. Irrespective of the condemnation of the incident by our leaders, the minorities in our country face the same fate as any other prejudiced nation. The truth behind these incidents is always property or intention to acquire it, while the local administration is also always aware of the incident well ahead of its occurrence. Let's hope for swift and urgent justice in this case, hopefully with the same urgency witnessed a few months ago by the law agencies.
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Tulukan Mairandi Aug 19, 2023 02:39pm
Slap on our filthy faces
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Tariq Qurashi Aug 21, 2023 12:52pm
Intolerance has become a norm in Pakistan, and so has the use of violence rather than discourse. This needs to change, and the change has to somehow come from the top. We complain about the demolition of the Babri mosque in India, but it is embarrassing that the same is now happening here. The people effected are the poorest of the poor, and a tiny minority in this country. It is good that the Punjab cabinet, a supreme court judge, and others have expresses sympathy with the victims. However, the local administration and police seem to have been flat footed, and did not react fast enough to prevent this happening in the first place. Given the poverty of the people effected, it is good that the government has offered compensation to the victims. I hope this money is actually paid, and the government also contributes to the rehabilitation of the burnt churches. It is the task of a state to protect all its citizens; especially its minorities. In this case, the state failed in its duty.
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