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Mar-10-2013 18:04printcomments

Growing Religious Intolerance in Pakistan

Religious intolerance is defined as “The acceptance of a faith or belief different from one's own.”

Christian neighbourhood in Pakistan being burned
Christian neighbourhood in Pakistan being burned.

(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) - Humans are considered social animals, but have we ever been more human than social? Lamenting growing intolerance in the society, it is painful that religious intolerance, bias, discrimination on ethnic background, terror and militancy and divisive thinking is alarmingly growing in Pakistani society.

Every society and its institutions are intolerant of some sort of behavior. Unqualified toleration is not only nonsensical; it is impossible and lethal.

A society’s toleration can be either coercive or non-coercive. Since coercion is the exclusive province of the state, the state’s intolerance is necessarily coercive.

There is, of course and there must be a non coercive intolerance: society can shun or frown on certain behavior or attitudes that it deems sinful, unjust or in some way inappropriate.

The first question to be asked is specific controversies aside; is intolerance really increasing or decreasing in society or is it only appearing to do so thanks to extended media coverage? And if so, is this intolerance really getting boosted due to inaction by the State?

The truth is that man has always been intolerant of his fellow man from time immemorial and clashes between different groups, castes and religions have always been going on and may continue to do so for quite some time.

The only thing that has differed throughout history is the State and the laws. Most of the countries of the world are no longer dictatorships and monarchies that can harbour whatever prejudices they feel like.

In order to understand intolerant behaviors in Pakistan and if its justified or not we need to examine the reason why people turn away from moderation and become victims of extremism. Considering the arrival of the Mughals in the South Asia, this was the era when Muslim attitudes changed in different periods of the sub continents history.

After the start of Muslim rule in India, the great mystic Syed Ali Hajvery arrived to settle in Lahore. His teachings paved the way for religious tolerance and humanistic behavior. These teachings helped rulers rule, but the Muslim elite could not settle with them as they hurt their sense of superiority.

The clerics came to the rescue and lay importance on religious differences, leading to an atmosphere of religious intolerance and a social rift. This rift had its toll on people where someone having a different faith would be a threat to the society.

Any man who has upheld the banner of revolution in this country has been victimized and put to silence before he had a fighting chance against the narrow minded counter parts.

Pakistan's current political and social scenario shows us many examples of the increased intolerant behavior of our peaceful people where the tragic murder of Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and burning of properties in Shanti Nagar, Bhamiwala and Gojra are a direct result of the tedious efforts by those who, in order to legitimize their unjust rule over Pakistan, have pursued an internal as well as a foreign policy that promotes sectarian hatred, religious intolerance and theocratic barbarism.

Was his quest to change the blasphemy law just?

To some yes and to others it wasn't but does it give allowance to extremist to take vigilant methods? If it wasn't just then why wasn't the matter put into the hands of the law and a trial should have deliberated the fate of the man in question?

Religious intolerance is defined as “The acceptance of a faith or belief different from one's own.” All religions be it Christianity, Hinduism, Jews or Muslims have been in a tug of war since the day they came into existence and in order to suppress each other, intolerance in each of their respective rule has been evident in many forms. The battle against intolerance cannot be fought just by guns but also by ideologies.

After the Badami Bagh the ensuing protests, Lahore’s Christian community is furious. Just five years ago, lawyers, political parties, civil society activists and students were marching to establish the rule of law in Pakistan.

We, as a country, stood united behind the belief that the law must take due course and the rule of law must reign supreme. We promised not to bow down to the pressures of dictators or external forces. But today, those who stood on the front lines and made these promises are nowhere to be found to condemn a man who scorned the rule of law, broke sworn oaths of duty and murdered a man.

I am confused and angry at the situation. In a Country where a murderer had been crowned a hero and the man he slaughtered was the villain. We live in a society where a murderer of this ilk proudly walks down every street of Pakistan, waiting to slay anyone he, in his own head, accuses, tries and convicts of blasphemy.

Shahbaz Bhatti

There are scores who will defend and glorify him. Then there are those who will sit in their drawing rooms and say the murderer shouldn’t be glorified, but the victim was asking for it. They will then tell you that Pakistan is a failed state, spiraling into the abyss of religious fanaticism. Some will incite you to take to the streets against the illiterate cleric propagating intolerance and violence. Others will invite you to a candlelight vigil or a Facebook group.

Yesterday evening I was crossing Sector I /8 in Islamabad, where Shahbaz Bhatti`s monument had been constructed and on 2nd March we celebrated his 2nd anniversary. I was shocked to see that picture has been sprayed with paint and his poster was torn, this happened in the broad day light capital city of Pakistan and at one of the busiest hubs in Islamabad. Dramatic? For sure.

Oh yes this happened at the same time when over 150 houses were being torched in Lahore over a blasphemy accusation despite the fact the accused was arrested, but the innocent were brutally victimized.

Tragically I was taken aback as I stood at the place where Shahbaz Bhatti has been assassinated 2 years ago, now his picture was sprayed. Why? They can’t even tolerate his picture being there? Is it the failure of the state to protect the religious minorities? “I am ready to die for a cause, I am living for my community...and I will die to defend their rights...I will prefer to die for my principles,” said Shahbaz Bhatti in a video floated on the internet, filmed apparently some four months before his assignation.

I am dismayed this whole situation has given me a lot of things to think about now.

* Writer is a Human Rights Activist based in Islamabad, Pakistan and can be contacted at:




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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.