Here’s some truly awful footage of the mob violence in Faisalabad which occurred immediately after the attack by Sipah-e-Sahaba on the Eid-e-Milad un Nabi procession. Here is a mob burning down the house of local SSP leader Zahid Qasmi (of Jamia Qasmia seminary and Gol Masjid Faisalabad):
Here is the mob breaking down the gate of the GM Abad police station where they then proceeded to burn dozens of vehicles:
In Dawn, Huma Yousuf has an interesting article about the police not doing enough when given advance notice of such incidents (in this case the planned attack by Sipah-e-Sahaba on the Eid-e-Milad un Nabi procession). According to Yousuf, Zahid Qasmi had announced in sermons given at Gol Masjid that he and his followers would stop the Eid-e-Milad un Nabi procession from taking place at any cost:
On Feb 22, Qasmi even had the gall to pre-emptively justify participating in sectarian violence: in a letter to the city police officer, he alleged that participants in the same procession had provoked him a year before (a subsequent police investigation confirmed these allegations to be baseless). Despite being in possession of a written testimony stating that a sectarian attack was imminent, the local police did nothing.
Given the above background of public threats and the police inaction there is little wonder that the mob violence was directed specifically at three places 1) The house of Zahid Qasmi 2) the mosque in which he had promised to attack the Barelvi procession and 3) the police station.
Back in Karachi, Mufti Muhammad Naeem of Jamia Binoria, in a press conference, laid all blame at the un-Islamic practice of Jaloos which he appealed to the government to ban immediately (he also gave a little sermon on how it was ironic that the practice of singing which god had sent the Prophet Muhammad to crush was adopted by so-called Muslims.) On Talat Hussain’s show, some guy shared some platitudes about how there are no sects in Islam and Ahmed Ludhianvi of SSP and Fazal Kareem of JUP both called for the Chief Justice to take suo moto notice of the incidents of February 27.
So is the problem purely a law and order one? If there was less collusion (or at least willful looking the other way) between the Faisalabad police and the influential SSP members would this situation not have occurred? Obviously that’s a large part of the problem but there is also the issue of an absolute incoherence and paralysis on the part of society as a whole in dealing with sectarian attacks. If the guests on Talat Hussain’s show are any reflection of our societal reaction to sectarianism (platitudes about how real Islam has no sects and all violence is to be equally condemned) then the Faisalabad police can hardly be blamed for its equally paralyzed reaction.
See, the problem is with a strain of thought running through society which is clearly articulated by Ahmed Ludhianvi in this clip on Mubashir Lucman’s show:
To Ahmed Ludhianvi, the main issue at hand is the government of the Islamic republic of Pakistan needs to ensure that the anti-Islamic activities occuring on the Eid-e-Milad-un Nabi Jaloos need to be put to an end. The crime that he sees is not the gunning down of the participants of the Jaloos, but the perceived insult to the Prophet and Islam by the participants. Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi and his followers felt confident enough of the state’s support of their point of view to actually notify the Faisalabad police in writing that they expected action to be taken against the anti-Islamic activities that were going to take place on Eid-e-Milad un Nabi by the Barelvis.
As Maulana Azam Tariq said on an interview in PTV in the 90s, it’s a matter of perception of wrong – to him the situation of someone insulting the Prophet or Sahaba is like someone is throwing a brick on someone’s head and when the person at whose head the brick is thrown at responds with a request to punish the perpetrator he is told by society that he should not hurt the feelings of others by raising his voice in protest.
The issue is that (at least certain sections of) Pakistani society has not yet decided what constitutes the throwing of the brick. In most societies in the world today, the gunning down of peaceful participants of a religious procession would be seen as the brick-throwing activity, but in the case of Pakistan we are still on the fence about whether “insults” to the persons of the Prophet and Sahaba are equal to acts of violence. Moreover, it seems that many people have a far stronger emotional response to perceived “insults” to their religion than to the loss of human life. Also, there is the little problem that it’s a crime to indulge in blasphemous conversation. As a result a conversation about the merits of allowing free speech at the expense of the possibility of allowing certain insults to religious personalities is not going to occur on any of our news channels any time soon. I think it’s fair to say that there can be no expectation of a coherent police response to acts of terrorism by SSP until this issue is resolved by society. In the meantime, sadly, the only reponse will be frustrated mob violence.