Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sectarian scourge

 Sectarian scourge
Saturday, February 07, 2009

Just as we were celebrating what seemed to have been a peaceful month of Muharrum, the sectarian killers have struck again. A suicide bombing near a mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan killed at least 30 people, most of whom had been participating in a 'chehlum' procession to mark the death of Hazrat Imam Husain (RA). The terrible incident was followed by protests through the town that disrupted normal life for several hours.

We have lived with sectarianism for over two decades now. The killings and counter-killings reached their peak during the mid-1990s, when fanatical organisations struck virtually at will. Despite the massive crackdown against them staged at the time, the sectarian scourge has stayed with us since then. Indeed it has eaten into the very heart and soul of our society, filling it with a new hatred and a new intolerance. Splinter groups have been formed and groups that were banned have simply gone underground, while continuing their activities. Members of minority sects narrate incidents in which they were asked about their affiliations and in some cases ostracised on the basis of their replies. Others have been threatened; many now employ security guards outside homes or offices fearful of an attack carried out simply because of the sect they belong to. In school text books, a bias that promotes sectarianism can sometimes be found. Attempts to eliminate it are reported to have been only partially successful. In seminaries, the majority of which remain unregistered, the process of building hatred for minority sects is of course still more forceful. The few surveys conducted show that these efforts are succeeding. The determination to fill the minds of the next generation with prejudice is great. People have already felt their effects. Towns in the Kurram Agency and elsewhere have suffered a brutal ethnic cleansing. In other places, ordinary citizens sometimes insist those belonging to a minority sect are 'non-Muslim'. Some fear the time may come when they are officially labelled as such.

There is another aspect to that must be addressed. While we hear at regular intervals of sectarian killings and mayhem in our cities and of inquiries being initiated, news of arrests or trails or jail sentences is far less common. The impression at least is that the killers are getting away with their crime. The message then to others is that it is quite possible they will not be punished when imambargahs or other places of worship are bombed. This perception must change. The government must make it clear it is not willing to tolerate sectarianism in any form. Action under the law must be taken against those responsible, not only for murder but also the distribution of inflammatory literature and recordings. Only then will it become possible to prevent sectarianism from spreading and ensuring the coming decades are less violent than those that have already passed.


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