What was supposed to be a day for Pakistanis to show their love, respect and reverence of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), instead turned out to be a day of murder, arson, looting and much mayhem. The government may have thought that by declaring September 21 “Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool”, it may have grabbed the initiative from the religious and conservative elements and that the protests and outrage may perhaps have channelled into one single day. However, the events of the past two days, in particular Friday, suggest that this was a grave miscalculation. The decision seems to have only galvanised and emboldened those elements in society who believe that by burning public and private property, destroying cars and injuring and killing innocent passers-by, they are somehow expressing their love for the Holy Prophet (pbuh). To many of those who we saw burning public and private property on our television screens on Friday, the government’s holiday announcement translated into a licence to do as they saw fit, and in most cases, this was to damage and destroy whatever they could find at arm’s reach.
One fails to understand, for instance, how the burning of two cinemas and the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce building was linked in any way to protesting against a vile blasphemous film. Likewise, pelting cars owned by Pakistanis, or destroying shops, offices and homes owned by our fellow countrymen and women. Or, for that matter, burning tyres and blocking roads. Of course, the rage and anger is expected of any Muslim, in the face of such blasphemous material, but that rage needs to be expressed in a manner so that we don’t end up burning and destroying our own property and people.
What has been troubling so far also is that a lot of the violence seems to have been carried out by young men and teenaged boys, usually of school or college-going age. In some instances, it has been reported that they were brought to the protests by their teachers, who egged them on to chant “Death to America”. Surely, there could be an alternative way to teach our students the very important and much-needed lesson that blasphemous material will not be tolerated. They need to be told, indeed, those protesting on Friday needed to be told, that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) was an exemplar of tolerance and patience Himself and that their violent actions were only damaging and tainting the name of Islam in the eyes of, not only the rest of the world, but also other Pakistanis — the majority of whom were equally outraged but did not approve of the wanton resort to violence and mob rule.
Furthermore, by declaring a day of protest, the government seemed to have caved in to the extremists and ceded to them the initiative of expressing the nation’s outrage. No wonder, then, that we saw banned outfits leading some of the protest rallies which then turned violent. Having made the decision, the government, it seems, also had little idea of what was to follow, though our experience with past protests should have told us that violence usually follows. This failure to anticipate and plan was evident from the timid way in which the protests were handled, and the government’s response bordered close to capitulation if not outright appeasement. For instance, most of those arrested after the violence of September 20 in Islamabad’s Red Zone were released a few hours later after a ‘deal’ between the maulanas leading them and the local Islamabad administration. In any other civilised country, the arrested protesters would have been booked and prosecuted for vandalism and arson. Without realising it, most Pakistanis think that Islamabad is ‘safe’, but history shows that it has always been dominated by illegally constructed mosques and madrassas acting as havens of terrorists since General Ziaul Haq got Lal Masjid to act as the watering hole of extremists.
The future, pardon the cliché, is not very bright because we have a state that is simply not willing to stand up to reason and logic and doesn’t want to or, perhaps, can’t, stand up to the extremists and take away the initiative from them on issues that matter most to all Pakistanis.