Protesting the violence
By: Rabia Mughal
The images are depressingly familiar: the mob of angry men clashing with the police, smashing car windows, arm stretched out behind them ready to fling an ablaze bottle. Their seething anger seeps through the electronic screens and spills into the consciousness of the Western world.
The US government ran $70,000 worth of subtitled advertisement in Pakistan distancing itself from the offensive YouTube clip that has caused uproar in the Muslim world. Its top leadership condemned it with Hillary Clinton remarking that “we found the video that’s at the core of this series of events offensive, disgusting, reprehensible.”
But to no avail.
More than 20 people are dead and over 200 injured after the PPP-led government made the unfortunate decision of declaring a national holiday to protest a two-bit piece of trash on YouTube. Following the bloody day of protesting, Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour still felt it was appropriate to offer $100,000 to anyone who killed the film-maker, an offer the federal government has, thankfully, distanced itself from.
The sad truth is that the violence in Pakistan was not particularly surprising. Very few, if any, expected Friday to go peacefully; the question was not if it would get ugly, but how ugly?
This day of protest has once again proven how completely we are being held hostage by certain elements within the religious right. They have the licence to come out on to the streets and plunder and burn with impunity, while the majority of the nation locks itself in its homes waiting for their anger to abate. Having a theological discussion about this issue is futile.
The pacifists are agreed that our Holy Prophet (pbuh) is one of the most shining examples of tolerance and forgiveness and doing this in his name is quite contrary to his teaching. But it was not the pacifists’ argument that raged across the country on September 21, burning reason and logic in its wake. The fact of the matter is that the violence on the streets was not even entirely about religion. It was about a system that has failed a large part of its people and disenfranchised them for far too many years.
The violent protests are part of a phenomenon much bigger than one awful video. They are about economic injustice, a failed education system, a broken law and order situation, a back-breaking rate of inflation and its victims. Their simmering frustration is flamed by clerics who give them a sense of purpose by convincing them that they are the victims of a blasphemous world and reacting with violence is their divine duty.
The US needs to understand that it cannot view these events in isolation. It is too simplistic to assume that this reaction is merely based on religious outrage over a single YouTube clip. The extent of the reaction is part of an escalating anti-US sentiment resulting from a foreign policy that has ripped through the Muslim world leaving long-lasting scars. For years we slumbered and looked the other way as the perfect storm brewed. Now, we have no choice but to move out of its way or be destroyed by it.
The peaceful majority of this country is angry, too. Angry at being forced inside their homes to cower in fear, concerned at having to close shop and pray that their property sustains minimum damage, livid to be labelled violent and irrational by the rest of the world.
So when will they get a day to protest?
According to some news accounts, the business shutdown cost the national economy close to Rs76 billion, a number that does not include the cost of the property damage. Will the government declare a national holiday so the peaceful citizens of Pakistan can come out to protest this loss?
I think not.
On September 23, students and citizens in several major cities took to the streets in an attempt to clean up the havoc left behind by the Friday protests as part of “Project Clean-up for Peace”. Even though their noble gesture was a little like bringing a pocket knife to a sword duel, it is heartening to know that they are at least holding a weapon in this fight.