Rising intolerance for the ‘tolerant’

Two people were killed and over two dozen injured in a bomb blast on Thursday night outside the Baba Haider Saeen shrine in Lahore. The explosion took place on the eve of the second day of the Urs of Baba Saeen. The number of casualties remained relatively low in comparison with other such attacks because of the low-intensity explosives used. However, the terrorists got their desired result: putting fear in the hearts of people who visit Sufi shrines.

Last year was the deadliest as far as attacks on Sufi shrines is concerned. The terrorists attacked the most famous shrines in Pakistan: Data Darbar in Lahore, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar’s shrine in Pakpattan, and Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine in Karachi. The attacks on Data Darbar and Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrines took place on Thursdays just like the recent attack on Baba Haider Saeen’s shrine. Most people visit shrines on Thursday as it is considered a sacred day and langar (food) is distributed in shrines all over the country that day. The hardliner Islamists consider visiting shrines a form of shirk (associating partners with God), thus it is not a complete surprise that they are targeting these places. For them, no place is sacred, be it a mosque, imambargah, shrine, etc. Granted that it is difficult to secure the whole country but the government needs to provide security to the obvious targets. Security measures taken in the month of Muharram this year were impressive, but we now need sustained security for all places that could be possible targets.

In recent months we have witnessed a shrinking of public space. Most arts and culture events now take place inside private spaces. After the World Performing Arts Festival was attacked by low-intensity blasts in 2008, most people are reluctant to attract the wrath of the terrorists.

This is indeed a sad reflection on the kind of society we have now become. Tolerance for arts and culture depreciated over the years because of the moral brigade and now even visiting Sufi shrines has become a hazard. It is time to take back our public space from the terrorists. The government needs to launch ferocious crackdowns against all terrorist outfits. The citizens, too, need to make their voice heard by raising awareness and helping Pakistan become a tolerant society once again.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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