Pakistan’s Seeping Culture of Intolerance

Today Pakistan has buried another leader. Yet another extra-judiciary killing of a political leader has taken place. This time, the target was the Governer of Punjab Salman Taseer. The news came as a shock that the governor was shot by his own security guard when he was on a visit Islamabad. The guard shot from a close range and surrendered himself after the carnage. The incident is thought to plunge the country in a deeper political crisis as the coalition government becomes weaker. A member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, the governor was allegedly shot due to his views on the country’s controversial blasphemy laws. He had become the hero of the group of Pakistani liberals and civil society members who demanded the repeal of blasphemy laws and release of Asia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan to be convicted of blasphemy. The punishment for the Asia’s case managed to get attention from the international media and got supporters in both Europe and the U.S. The Vatican City had also pressed for the release of the victim.

Human rights groups claim that the blasphemy laws are misused by people to settle scores with the religious minorities. Once someone is accused of blasphemy, the situation gets risky for the accused, their family and sometimes whole villages are burned down by angry mobs. These mobs are incited by the clerics of the local mosques. Yesterday was a sad day for human rights groups who demanded the repeal of these laws when the news about the attack hit the news. There had been uproar of protests and strikes by different groups who are against the repeal of the said laws.

I was personally disturbed to see and read the comments of very progressive liberal contacts who were devoted advocates of bringing positive change in the country. The people who debated that change can be brought to improve the motherland, had their status and updates changed to ‘giving up on Pakistan…’ It is heart breaking. This is a bunch of people in the country who look up to each other not jut for inspiration, but also to move on with the fight for the rights of the oppressed. There had been a lively debate going on social media networks like twitter about the history, impact and future of the discriminatory laws, and whether this form of discrimination should be legalized by the state. And it felt like we were finally getting into a culture of dialogue as opposed to the one of bloodshed and terrorism.

Within five hours of the shooting of the official by his security guard, eight pages emerged in support of the shooter on a social-networking website, facebook. The website was banned by Lahore court last year for some time. One of the fan pages had attracted over 1500 fans in a couple of hours yesterday evening. The page was later removed.

The burning question on most media outlet, public forum, chai-khana (local tea shops) and academic institution is ‘how can we undo this massive penetration of intolerance from our souls?’ Just how is it ever going to be possible to uproot this growing chain-reaction of violence and bigotry which is consuming us up? We urgently need to strengthen the networking between the existing civil society groups in Pakistan and focus on peace-building activities to gather more momentum for building a peaceful society, a society that does not celebrate deaths of their leaders who hold a viewpoint different than ours. It is amazing, the courage of the brave civil society activists who came on roads to protest and held vigils in different cities today, condemning the intolerant traits that have infiltrated our minds.

Further reading:
Pakistan’s dangerous blasphemy laws claim the Governor of Punjab-Imtiaz Gul
Asia Bibi’s case-Aftab Mughal

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