Negligence Or Complicity?



Gojra Violence - Fayyaz Hussain/Reuters

When I was 17 years old and doing my A Levels, I had the good fortune of having a teacher who helped shape my personality. Fiery and passionate, this remarkable young woman, Uzma Shakir, was fresh out of university. She was teaching World History, but she spent hours talking to a handful of girls (it’s odd that there were no boys in that class) about Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinance and blasphemy law. So much of how I think is determined by those conversations, and for that I will always be grateful to her.

Over the years, there have been many occasions that have reminded me of her. Gojra is one of those. While I know that it is not an isolated incident and is one in a series, as illustrated in aneditorial in the Daily Times, I find the complexity of the story terrifying. It speaks of the mindset of most Pakistanis, the legislation that enforces it, the complicity of the police and politicians certainly on the local government level and the unchecked extremism beyond the Taliban.

My first blog with Dawn was in response to a survey that said Pakistanis are changing their perspective on Taliban and Al Qaeda. I questioned if that were really the case as the persecution of minorities, specifically religious minorities, continues as we saw in Kasur a couple of months ago. Many comments indicated that the two were unrelated. Really? How exactly is the persecution of a religious community unrelated to the existence and growth of religious extremism and how we view the latter?

We are talking about an increase in Islamic extremism to which any dissent is not tolerated. Blogger Sana Saleem requested me on Twitter to ask my guest on Breakfast at Dawn, Khalid Zaheer, if he and other liberal Islamic scholars would come together to condemn Gojra as they did against Taliban atrocities. His answer was disappointing but understandable. He said, ‘No. This is the sad part of the story.’ Men of religion who have protested this extreme interpretation of Islam that is consuming Pakistan have been repeatedly targeted. Initially, they contended with threats and later, were killed for their views. The Taliban killed Maulana Hassan Jan, a religious scholar from Peshawar, who issued a fatwa against suicide attacks, calling them ‘un-Islamic.’ In June, Maulana Sarfraz Naeemi, the director of a madrassa who had also spoken out against the militant extremists, was killed in a suicide bombing.

It is being said that the local administration was ‘negligent’ in that it ignored a directive from the provincial government to control the situation. The ‘negligence’ was the reason behind the outbreak of violence. There is also conjecture that members of the banned organisation, Sipah-e-Sahaba, came in from Jhang to burn Christian homes. There are reports that the ‘negligent’ police and local administration ‘simply did nothing.’ There is a big difference between being ‘negligent,’ which is to neglect your duties, and complicit, where you choose to be involved in an illegal act. In a case where more than 50 houses and a church were destroyed, and seven people were burnt alive, when the police and local administration simply do not act is that negligence or complicity? (Mind you, this was a Christian-only locality called Christian Town – is that not indicative of religious discrimination?)

Meanwhile, Pakistanis (and many educated ones) are quick to look for a conspiracy theory. Some have commented to me on how ‘fishy’ the timing of the incident is. Whenever something good happens to us, something bad comes along to counter it. This would be in reference to theSupreme Court decision. It’s very easy to blame others for our troubles. The fact is that organisations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Taiba may be defunct in name, but they still wield enough power to instigate such incidents.

And as I mentioned, there are laws in this country that uphold religious discrimination. It is not for nothing that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has been calling to repeal the blasphemy law since its inception.

As Dr Eqbal Ahmed, a man of whom Pakistanis can be proud, described as ‘that rare thing, an intellectual intimidated by neither power nor authority’ and likened to his friend and peer, Noam Chomsky, wrote:

The lesson is clear; the blasphemy law not only violates fundamental principles of justice, it distorts law into an instrument of sectarian witch-hunts and also of collective and individual reprisal. Its victims have ranged from an innocent Hafiz who was burned to death by a frenzied mob, to Pakistan’s most renowned social engineer Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan who suffered years of harassment, death threats and litigation for unsubstantiated allegations of blasphemy. One can only concur with HRCP’s view that the ‘potential of blasphemy laws in promoting fanaticism and helping public mischief has once again been proved – at an enormous cost to thousands of people and to the national image as a whole.’ The law ought to be repealed, and it is timely to do so now.

He wrote that passage in 1997. Look at where we are now.

This post was first published on 4th August 2009 on

One Response to “Negligence Or Complicity?”

  1. 1 Negligence Or Complicity? | Tea Break

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