Just this Saturday we saw another mob attack on one of the densely populated Christian areas, Joseph colony in Badaami Bagh, Lahore that burnt more than 150 houses and affected more than 250 poor families.
This is hardly a new or unfamiliar turn of events; the root cause of this savagery was not very different from the previous other attacks against the Christian communities in Pakistan. A Muslim man accused a Christian neighbour of committing blasphemy (which is a serious crime in Pakistan - under section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, it can be punished with the death penalty). The man was duly arrested, but this was not enough for the mob, whose blazing fury was stoked until his entire colony had to pay the price for it. Almost the entire colony – houses, possessions, and furnishings alike - of Christian residents was burnt to the ground.The victims reveal that the police themselves warned them to leave their houses one night before the attack, and that they showed their inability to deal with the angry perpetrators. Again, the behaviour of the local administrative authority and police has not been very different from past events.
It was not very long ago - the 1st of August, 2009, to be precise - that a violent mob had torched nearly 50 houses in a Christian Colony in Gojra (a small village located 30 miles from the city of Faisalabad). Eight Christians were been killed as a result of those attacks. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated that the attack was “not a spontaneous reaction to the allegation of blasphemy but w[as] planned in advance” – in short, it reflected a deep-seated antipathy towards this vulnerable minority group. Announcements made from mosques throughout Gojra urged the Muslims to gather and ‘make mincemeat of Christians The following day, Aug 1, around 1,000 people gathered in the town and marched towards Christian Colony. A police contingent present in the neighbourhood did not try to stop the mob.
Similarly, on November 12, 2005, some 500 Christians had to leave Sangla Hill, a small town in Nankana Sahib district of Pakistan. They had noticed the increasing vitriol against Christians being spouted from mosque loudspeakers, after a Christian man named Yousaf Masih had been accused of burning copies of the Holy Quran, and had fled before the riots to save their lives. The angry mob burnt down three churches, a convent, a missionary school, a girls’ hostel and a pastor’s house.
Looking at the latest anti-Christian attack on the Joseph Colony, a number of important questions come to mind:
- Based on a clear and proven record of religiously motivated attacks in the past, what has been done to control the mob violence against minorities?
- Did religious/community leaders develop and implement any mechanism for conflict resolution or dialogue?
- Has there been any improvement in the laws which allow certain malicious individuals to target Christians and other minorities, putting the most vulnerable individuals in society in danger?
Today, this barbaric attack is widely condemned by the government, civil society organisations and the general public. However, the fact of the matter is that unless the administrative authorities, religious and political leadership play their part to address the root cause of such incidents, they will keep on happening in one form or another, making these condemnations seem somewhat hollow. For members of minority faith groups in Pakistan - who are already living under enormous fear from the extremist groups operating in the country – the situation just keeps getting worse.
One thing can be said for sure at this stage is that radicalisation in Pakistan is rising to an alarming level. It will take serious collective efforts by every segment from every segment of Pakistani society to deal with the grave challenges of extremism and community violence.