Muslim mob burns Christian homes in Pakistan

Until Pakistan's politicians are prepared to speak out against the country's outmoded blasphemy laws, it will continue its slow descent back to the middle ages

Ugly scenes in Lahore this weekend
Ghaffar Hussain
On 11 March 2013 10:43

Sawan Masih, a Christian sanitary worker in Lahore, Pakistan, decided to go for a casual drink with his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran, last Wednesday. The two friends would frequently meet up for a drink after work and discuss topical issues. On this occasion, however, as they sat sipping their alcoholic beverages, and breaking the law in the process, they became embroiled in a debate about religion.

No one, except Sawan and Shahid, knows precisely what was said but the next day Shahid, whilst shaking off his hangover, decided to accuse Sawan of insulting Islam, thus declaring him in breach of Pakistan's controversial and archaic blasphemy laws. On Friday, Sawan was arrested and incarcerated, pending an investigation into what had been said during the drunken row.

By Saturday, a frenzied and blood-thirsty mob of 3000 extremist lunatics had been galvanised and decided they wanted revenge. They entered the largely Christian area of Badami Bagh in Lahore looking for Sawan, forced the residents to flee their homes, looted the houses of any valuables, and set the remaining contents on fire. Over 170 homes and businesses were burnt and ransacked, whilst hundreds fled leaving their livelihoods behind. The Police arrived but they were pelted with stones by the mob, some of them were injured.

Disgusted? Repulsed? Seething with uncontrollable rage? Any decent-minded person would be. But this is Pakistan, land of the pure, so let’s be honest, you're not really surprised. This is a country in which the only way to avoid offending someone is to seal your mouth and hide in a jungle; a country in which peaceful co-existence is about as likely as Abu Qatada getting deported back to Jordan.

Amidst the misery and pain of events in Badami Bagh, however, there are few consolations. Putting aside the usual condemnations, which don't really help anyone, news of the mob violence caused several spontaneous protests to erupt in many major Pakistani cities. At least 130 people have already been arrested over the attacks and, according to a spokesperson for the Punjabi Provincial government, are going be tried in anti-terrorist courts. Compensation packages for the victims have also been announced and rebuilding of homes is already being discussed.

But, of course, none of these measures will do much to make minority communities in Pakistan feel any safer. Christians, Shias, Hindus and Ahmedis continue to be attacked and killed in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and there is no good reason to believe things are about to get any better for them.

It is rare for Pakistani authorities to act so swiftly when such events occur, but then again it is election season and politicians are keen to display competence and concern.

What politicians are not prepared to do is get to the root of the problem and speak out against the outmoded blasphemy laws and the manner in which they can be, and frequently are, abused. Senior politicians in the past, including a prominent Pakistani Christian politician, have been killed for doing just that.

It is difficult to end on a positive note when talking about Pakistan. The country seems to be slowly heading back towards the middle ages as the rest of the world looks to the future; I have run out of adjectives and phrases to describe the mess that it is in. When it comes to Pakistan these days, words fail.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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