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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Gojra tragedy, religious extremism, and General Zial-ul-Haq's legacy in Pakistan


Zahida Hina writes on the Gojra tragey in Pakistan, in which 8 Christians were burnt alive by the pro-Taliban Deobandi-Wahhabi alliance, namely Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangavi. She also discusses the role of General Zia-ul-Haq in sowing the seeds of hatred in the Pakistani society.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an outlawed pro-Taliban Sunni Muslim sectarian group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), were suspected of orchestrating the attack in Gojra town, according to Rana Sanaullah, Punjab's law minister.

Incensed by unsubstantiated allegations that the Koran had been desecrated by a Christian, an angry mob torched dozens of houses in the town Saturday, killing eight people, including four women and a child.

"Absolutely, these banned groups are involved in the rioting," Sanaullah, who is also responsible for the security matters of the province, told Reuters by telephone from Gojra.

Sanaullah said "masked men" had come from the nearby district of Jhang, birthplace of both SSP and LeJ, to incite the anti-Christian rioting in Gojra.

Around 150 people were detained for questioning.

The government received an intelligence report two months ago suggesting that militants were switching from suicide bombings to inciting sectarian strife in the country," Sanaullah said.

Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti held the same fears following the attack in Gojra.

"We suspect and we are getting evidence that members of banned organizations were involved in it," he told Reuters.

SSP was founded in the 1980s and is primarily connected to sectarian violence against minority Shi'ite Muslims. It was officially banned in January 2002.

LeJ, a splinter group of SSP, has forged ties with al Qaeda.


While the Deobandi-Wahhabi alliance is responsible for executing the Gojra massacre, Barelvis must also think about their criminal negligence on this tragdey, writes Tanvir Qaiser Shahid:


PMLN President Qadeer Awan involved in the Gojra massacre. Shame on you Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif:

Sectarian violence hits Pakistani town

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gojra, Pakistan

On a street in the small Punjabi town of Gojra, house after house stands gutted and looted.

One home in particular is the focus of attention. The windows and doors are gone, what is left of the furniture lies gnarled inside, and some of the ceilings have collapsed. People are peering into a small bedroom at the back of the building.

It is from here that the charred bodies of six members of the Hameed family, from Pakistan’s minority Christian community, were recovered. The youngest of the dead was four-year-old Mousa.

We found his father, Almass Hameed, 49, in a crowded hospital ward nearby.

‘Shocked and crying’

“He was such a bright boy. His teachers complained that he was cheeky at times, but nobody could doubt how clever he was. But now he’s gone,” Mr Hameed said, breaking down.

“ It was like the most horrific movie. They destroyed our lives ”
Almass Hameed
He described how an angry Muslim mob came through the area, known here as the Christian Colony.

“I think there were thousands,” he said. “My elderly father went out to see what was happening and they shot and killed him. We were all shocked and crying. Before we knew it, they were breaking into the house.”

Mr Hameed explained how he and nine other members of the family hid in the bedroom as the house was over-run.

“We could hear them smashing everything and dividing our belongings amongst themselves,” he said. “Then they started beating on the door saying they would teach us a lesson and burn us alive.”

Soon after, a fire was raging through his house.

“We just couldn’t breathe,” he said. “I grabbed my eldest son and managed to get out of the room through the flames, my brother came out with one of my daughters, but the rest were stuck and we had no way of rescuing them.”

As well as his father and Mousa, Mr Hameed lost his 11 year-old daughter, his wife, a brother, a sister-in-law and her mother.

“It was like the most horrific movie. They destroyed our lives.”

‘Fired shots’

Tensions had risen after allegations that Christians in the nearby village of Korrian had torn up and burnt pages of the Koran at a wedding a few days earlier.

“They started it,” 19-year-old Omar Ali Raza said in Gojra’s marketplace.

“We Muslims are the victims. We gathered to protest about what they did to the Koran in Korrian and just wanted to walk through their area, but they threw stones at us and fired shots.”

“Of course it is bad that Christians died,” he added. “But they provoked the Muslims here. I don’t understand why everyone is on their side.”

But an elderly Muslim man passing by interrupts. “The responsibility is with the one who actually burns the Koran, not all Christians,” he said. “Here, we live together, and there were no problems before this.”

As it happens, a local police chief, Ahmed Javaid, said he believed the claim that Christians desecrated the Koran was not true in the first place.

“Yes, pieces of paper had been cut up to look like money at a Christian wedding, but they were not pages of the Koran,” he said.

“However, the rumour spread and the issue became politicised.”

Very soon after the allegations from Korrian surfaced, politicians from several parties held large rallies denouncing Christians in the area, calling for action. These were not just politicians from expressly right-wing Islamist parties.

PML-N leaders have visited Gojra in recent days, expressing solidarity with minority communities. But Christians here say they are sceptical.

They accuse the party and others of having previously taken advantage of anti-Christian feelings rather than helping to calm things down.

‘Rare’ violence

Senator Pervaiz Rashid, at the headquarters of the Nawaz party, told me it was very serious in its commitment to minority rights.

“We acknowledge there were problems in Gojra, and it is an embarrassment,” he said. “However, it was an isolated incident and the local president, Qadeer Awan, has now had his party membership suspended.”

“I do not believe that there are any other local politicians in our party involved in such activities.”

Violence of this scale against Pakistan’s estimated three million strong Christian community may be rare (this is the worst such incident in seven years), but complaints of discrimination are certainly commonplace.

The government says it has opened an inquiry into what happened in Gojra, but Asma Jahangir, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, is not expecting the type of change she thinks is needed.

“For too long the Pakistani state has protected people with extremist views,” she said.

“It is not just political parties. There are radicalised individuals, and supporters of militant groups within the judiciary, the education system, the bureaucracy and police as well.”

This was not the vision of Pakistan held by its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

“Minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion or faith or beliefs will be secure,” he said just weeks before Pakistan’s creation in 1947.

“They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed.”

But as Pakistan prepares to mark its independence day, many of its citizens do not see any cause for celebration.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/8196013.stm


Anonymous said...

A riot is when an agitated group or mass of people clash with the police, or with another mass of agitated men and women. It is not a riot when an agitated group of people attack the homes and lives of men, women and children who are not as well armed as the attacking group, or whose best defense in this respect is to flee the scene. So why is the Pakistani media referring to the recent attack by Muslims on the Christian community in the Gojra area as ‘communal riots?’

They were not riots, but an attack. An assault by an arrogant majority on a low-lying minority.

Even though the media did well to cover the episode in which Gojra’s Christian community – their homes, churches and lives – were brutally attacked by mad mobs of self-righteous Muslims, it was frustrating to note that the Punjab government had more than enough information about the attacks before the actual incident took place to nip the frontline miscreants of the attack in the bud. But its officials in the area did absolutely nothing.

Sounding apologetic, the Punjab government retaliated by blaming the attacks on sectarian organizations, which, might very well be the case, especially in the event of the rising number of sectarian organisations that have proliferated in the Punjab province ever since the mid 1980s – especially with the formation of the militant Aunjuman Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (ASSP) in Jhang in 1986.

Mind you, rural and semi-rural Punjab has been the scene of similar attacks on Christians in the past as well. And the reasons given by the attackers have remained the same: blasphemy against the Muslim Prophet committed by Christians and the supposed desecration of the Qu’ran.

On a number of occasions it has been proven that the attacks in the past were nothing more than a case of a certain areas’ influential landowners using the areas’ mullahs to whip up hatred against Christian individuals who had homes or shops or ownership of a piece of land that the landowners were interested in getting. In spite of this, a number of Christians have languished in jails under the controversial blasphemy laws that were first enforced by the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. Laws that have become a scrooge for the minority communities of Pakistan and a boon for mischievous and psychopathic Muslim landlords and their mullah allies.

The Punjab government has blamed the Gojra incident on a few local Islamist leaders and clerics who had arrived in Gojra not long ago. It is believed by the province’s government that whipping up communal violence is yet another tactic being used by shady sectarian organisations to continue destabilising the province.

Like I said, all this is more than likely to be true, but the more important question is, even if the instigators of the violence were clerics and sectarian organisations and their band of thugs, how would one explain the participation of the common Muslims of Gojra in the attack who were neither paid thugs nor members of the accused sectarian organisation?

When one Imran Aslam, a cleric and alleged leader of a Sunni sectarian organisation started to use the area’s mosques to give vent to the rumours that certain members of the Christian community had insulted the Qu’ran, his thugs were at once joined by young Muslim men whose families had otherwise lived in harmony besides their Christian counterparts for decades in the city.... continues

Anonymous said...

The same is the case during communal violence in India. Paid thugs and storm-troopers of fundamentalist Hindu groups are usually joined by hoards of common Hindus whose hatred towards the Muslims has more to do with poisoned religious delusions rather than the political and economic reasons and agendas that their more wily Hindu fundamentalist leaders and thugs harbor.

In Pakistan as well, the sectarian organisations, clerics and their thugs who’ve been directly involved in attacks on the Shia and Christian minorities in the Punjab, have interests and stakes that are usually tied to political reasons or are related to land disputes or personal enmities. On the other hand, it is a highly distorted and hate-mongering version of what constitutes as being Islam in semi-rural or rural Punjab that drives and dictates the madness of the rampaging Muslim mob that ends up becoming the spontaneous army of blood-thirsty foot soldiers of these organisations.

Observers believe that attacks such as the one that took place in Gojra were entirely uncommon in the Punjab till about the early 1980s.

It is when the state of Pakistan under a Machiavellian-Islamist dictatorship started to infiltrate and ‘convert’ Pakistan’s non-puritanical and largely pluralistic ‘mazaar culture’ – of which a majority of Pakistanis were associated with – that many Pakistanis started to shift their religious orientation towards the more puritanical and myopic strains of the religion.

This the state did to radicalise young Pakistani men in its blind and self-centered pursuit to continue offering fighting men to the many mujahideen groups stationed in Peshawar and fighting a CIA-ISI-Saudi-funded ‘jihad’ against the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.

Much has been written and said about the political, economic and social price Pakistan has had to pay for its involvement in the Afghan civil war - from the proliferation of what became to be known as the ‘Kalashnikov culture,’ to a two-fold rise in vicious sectarian violence, to ‘Talibanisation’ and all the way to demonically developing a hate-prone and anarchic psyche that has engulfed the hearts and minds of many young Pakistanis; even those who have little or nothing to do with militant organisations, but can become a direct part of mobs such as the one that attacked the Christian men, women and children in Gojra.

Disturbed and angered by the episode, I made the effort to join a group of Christians who were holding a protest rally against the attack outside the Karachi Press Club. It was sad to note that there were only a dozen or so Muslims who were part of that rally. A journalist colleague of mine was surprised to see me there. He asked me what I was doing at a ‘Christian rally?’

‘I hate majorities,’ I said, spontaneously. ‘Especially if these majorities claim theri majority-ism on the basis of the supposed superiority of their collective religion and, more so, at the expense of the land’s minority.’

‘In that case,’ said my colleague, ‘today I too am a minority.’

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.


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Anonymous said...

This blog title has a nice name i.e. Build Pakistan but its content is fully equipped with material with negativity that tends to break it rather.

Umair Wasi said...

It is quite true that General Zia ul Haq's era is filled with mistakes some of the biggest is the martyr of the great leader Bhutto and the other one is the founding bases of religious riots, not only General Zia but General Jahangir (coming after Aslam Baig)also carrying Zia's policy and funding the Jihadi rebellions in the northwest, I don't know what they want them through or against his support but the Koriaa and Gojra incidents are outcome of that black policy and this is a thing that a true Muslim could never ever think in that way.

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