The right to protest

Sultan M Hali

Friday, November 22, 2013 - The tragedy that befell the city center of Rawalpindi on Yaum-e-Ashur corresponding to Friday the 15th of November 2013 is indeed of massive proportions. The loss of precious human lives and in retaliation the loot and arson of hundreds of shops speak volumes for the anger and frustration that the people of Pakistan are deeply steeped in.

The dastardly attack must be condemned in the harshest terms but as a nation we need to realize that if protest takes violent forms of arson, destruction of public and private property then the protestors are no better than the perpetrators of the original crime. In fact prima facie, the violent incident of 15 November does not appear to be a case of sectarian violence. It was premeditated to wreak havoc and the usual culprits of sectarian intolerance take the blame.

To start with, the government must assume responsibility for the odious crime against humanity. As usual, the elected head of the government was away gallivanting on his incessant foreign tours. Moharram remains a month highly prone to incineration. There is the omnipresent fear of eruption of sectarian attacks while with the ongoing terror attacks, there is a strong likelihood of harbingers of hate and odium targeting the large religious congregations and processions, which present juicy targets to the assailants. In such a case, the Prime Minister should have stayed at home and established an operations room from where he should have been monitoring the progress of the processions and maintained vigilance. After all he is also the minister for defence too. The interior minister has already been found wanting during previous terror attacks and other trials and tribulation.

Attacks of the nature of the one at Rawalpindi are never spontaneous. They are meticulously planned to achieve maximum terror, horror and shock. The tragedy has occurred apparently owing to the lapses by the Interior Ministry and law enforcing agencies. However, instead of seeking vengeance for the attacks, the protestors must wait for the findings of the judicial commission and the inquiry committee. A judicial commission headed by Lahore High Court’s Justice Mamoon Rashid Shaikh has begun a probe into the Rawalpindi tragedy in which nine people were killed and 44 others were injured. The judicial commission is expected to take testimonies of the witnesses and will examine the CCTV footage.

Meanwhile, a separate three-member inquiry committee has been constituted by the Punjab government to investigate the incident. FIRs were registered in four police stations of Rawalpindi including Pir Wahai, City, Bani and Ganjmandi. Cases have also been registered against people who damaged public and private property. The protest rally taken out by Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri in December 2012 and his peaceful long march from Lahore to Islamabad and four days’ sit-in should be taken as a reference for peaceful protest. Cultured and sophisticated nations take out millions’ march to protest against serious issues but their form of protest never resorts to destroying public property or loot and arson. Tahir-ul-Qadri demonstrated that we Pakistanis too can protest peacefully.

Whereas it is essential to cool down nerves, it is equally imperative to give vent to pent up emotions. Pakistani society is caught up in a milieu fraught with emotional roller coaster rides. Bad governance, relentless terror attacks, acute power shortage, double digit inflation, extremely frustrating law and order situation, food scarcity, rampant unemployment have led to frayed nerves. Touched to the quick, people are triggered to react violently to the slightest provocation. Under these circumstances, the government has its work cut out. It has to ensure that no incident occurs which can act as a catalyst to bring out the worst possible aggressive retaliation. If it somehow does occur, then people have to be induced to keep a check on their emotions. It is an uphill task and would require assistance of opinion builders, including the intelligentsia, academics, religious leaders and media.

Religious intolerance and bigotry has permeated in the Pakistani society to such an extent that disagreement of views is construed as a terrible crime and dissent leads to murder and elimination. This heinous practice is in direct contravention to the tenets of Islam, which preaches tolerance. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself forgave his opponents and was kind and magnanimous towards those who chose to differ with him. How can those who bear the torch of love for the Holy Prophet (pbuh), kill and maim their fellow beings for mere difference of opinion. The masses being devoid of in-depth knowledge of Islam; get carried away by the emotional appeal to their so called reverence of Islam and The Holy Prophet (pbuh). It is imperative that the record is set straight in light of teachings of the Holy Quàân, the practice (Sunnah) and Hadith attributed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and research and studies of erudite scholars.

Even a cursory glance of the teachings show Islam to be a religion of mercy to all people, both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no place for religious intolerance in Islam, but unfortunately it has pervaded the Pakistani society to such an extent that bigoted pseudo religious leaders have distorted the tenets of Islam and are preaching violence against perceived offenders against Islam. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was described as being a mercy in the Quàân due to the message he brought for humanity: “We sent thee not, but as a mercy for all creatures.” (Quàân 21:107)

When a person analyzes the legislations of Islam with an open mind, the Mercy mentioned in the above quoted verse will definitely become apparent. One of the aspects constituting an epitome of this Mercy is the way the legislations of Islam deal with people of other faiths. The tolerant attitude of Islam towards non-Muslims, whether they be those residing in their own countries or within the Muslim lands, can be clearly seen through a study of history. It becomes imperative for the government to protect its citizens from violent attacks and also inculcate tolerance amongst them.


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