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Religion as a smokescreen: an age old tactic in Pakistani Politics

Religion as a smokescreen: an age old tactic in Pakistani Politics

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Yesterday, following in the footsteps of previous governments, the Pakistani Parliament in an attempt to obfuscate the real political issues of the time passed a resolution demanding that their envoy be recalled from France. Not only did this embarrass the country internationally, as Pakistan presently has no ambassador to France, but it also exposed a tried and tested diversion tactic in the government’s handbook. This is a tactic that has been utilised across party lines, whenever there is an issue that the government wishes to distract the public from they stir up controversy around religion and redirect the national discourse towards that conversation instead.

Yesterdays resolution was just smoke and mirrors. The resolution itself had no teeth, how could it when the target is itself a sovereign country. A formal protest was lodged with the French ambassador and the local media was rife with condemnations from every political quarter, thus all legitimate avenues of expressing anger and disappointment were used. For this issue to be dragged into the national assembly and turned into a spectacle is akin to flogging a dead horse. The government wishes to divert the public’s attention away from the PDM and its rallies hence it is trying to make France and islamophobia seem like a most pressing issue. And, unfortunately the opposition has indulged the government and joined them in making a spectacle. Maybe, the opposition didn’t want to appear to be soft on such an incendiary issue, and become a local scapegoat in lieu of the French president. But, whatever the reason both the government and the opposition are playing with fire. Blasphemy is a dangerous topic, and riling up the public just to distract from their own failures is severely irresponsible. As this is such an emotionally charged issue the public will not forget quickly. Tensions will continue to rise, and the brunt of the fallout will hit local minorities already viewed through the lens of suspicion. It has happened before and it will happen again. In 2006, after derogatory Danish cartoons were published, mobs attacked christian schools and churches. And, again christians were wrongfully persecuted with their homes, schools and churches torched in, 2012, after the release of the film that eventually led to the youtube ban.

It is not only our beleaguered minorities that suffer from such ill advised distraction tactics. In 2012, after the devastating Baldia Town factory and Lahore shoe factory fires there was massive pressure on the government to deliver justice. Especially, in the case of the Baldia Town factory fire where the involvement of one the country’s major political parties, the MQM, was alleged. And, then lo and behold, just a few days later when a propaganda laden islamophobic film came out on Youtube the government was provided with a golden opportunity to mask its own failures. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, prime minister at the time, announced a national holiday, Ishq-e-Rasool day, during which people were, ostensibly, meant to protest peacefully. Instead, it led to mass violence and bloodshed that left at least 23 people dead and another 200 injured. The outcome was predictable from the start, the government was practically egging people on to riot by announcing a national holiday to protest that film. Combine that with a hair trigger issue like blasphemy, and violence is guaranteed to erupt. One can only hope that the current government’s use of a religious issue as a smokescreen will not have the same result.

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