They ‘only’ beat up a young man, broke his glasses and threatened to kill him. The reason the incident came to light in the first place is only because the man who was beaten up happens to be a journalist, known to be decent, honest and professional
A recent incident in Karachi highlights how some sections of society are intimidating people in the name of Islam. Pakistan’s largest, most liberal city, with over 18 million inhabitants has exemplified diversity and plurality. It is a microcosm of the country itself, home to people of virtually all religious sects, and ethnicities in Pakistan. It’s also a city that has a lot of violent crime, which is far more serious than the recent incident in a residential area of Karachi, where some men beat up a neighbour ostensibly for watching TV and listening to qawwalis.
Why is this incident cause for concern? The men weren’t armed and they didn’t break any bones. They ‘only’ beat up a young man, broke his glasses and threatened to kill him. The reason the incident came to light in the first place is only because the man, Zain ul Abideen, who was beaten up happens to be Op-Ed editor at country’s leading daily The News. He is known to be decent, honest and professional.
They weren’t attacking Zain for his profession but to intimidate him into giving up his lifestyle, which to begin with is hardly wild by any stretch of the imagination.
“When I asked who they were and why they should have a problem with how I lived in my own house unless it affected them in any way, one of them said, ‘We do have a problem with these things but we will solve your problem today’. Then they started beating me,” he relates. “One of them punched my face, breaking the glasses I was wearing, which caused mild bleeding from the upper, outer part of my nose. As they delivered more kicks, slaps and blows, they kept saying, ‘We will not let you go unless you repent and say you will not turn your TV on and you will stop listening to music’.”
“Butaa, ub TV dehke ga, suney ga qawali?” (Will you watch TV again kiddo, will you listen to qawwali?”)
They left threatening to open fire next time not just to smash his windows, but to kill him and destroy his house. (“Phir tumharey ghar per firing hogi, hum sheeshey nai torengay, tumhey jaan se maar daingey. Tumhaara ye ghar nehi rehe ga”).
This incident, which took place on Aug 27 in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Block 2, pales besides the violent crime Karachi witnesses every day. But the reason it needs to be taken seriously is that the men who administered this beating are said to have militant affiliations, according to information that has since come to light.
They have been identified as four brothers. Area residents say that the family is known to be dangerous, with twisted notions of right and wrong. “They have banished TV from their house and family and don’t tolerate ‘obscenities’ such as music,” according to one resident.
The police have taken no action despite the complaint lodged with them on the night of the incident, followed by a subsequent written complaint lodged on August 29, identifying the attackers and adding details of what had been discovered about them.
Compare this inaction and reluctance to register an FIR based on these complaints, to the prompt registration of cases of blasphemy on the flimsiest of grounds.
The situation is ominously reminiscent of the Taliban's Promotion of Virtue and Elimination of Vice squads and similar vigilante groups operating in Saudi Arabia and in Iran, aimed at policing and controlling public and private morality.
The modus operandi of groups such as the one operating in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in the name of religion includes blackening women’s faces and limbs on billboards and attacking musicians and music shops (See the report by Pakistan Press Foundation detailing such attacks over the past decade, Threats/violence against musicians and attacks on music shops 2000-2011 http://bit.ly/Um4gpQ <http://bit.ly/Um4gpQ> ).
Who knows how many such groups exist in residential localities around the country and intimidate ordinary citizens? This one case has come to light because the man who was beaten is a journalist who shared his experience with colleagues. How many people quietly comply because they don’t have the resources to take a stand, or to flee their neighbourhoods for safer ones in Pakistan or abroad?
Allowing criminals to operate with impunity in Pakistan's neighbourhoods and terrorise people into being 'good Muslims' (according to their definition) is not only detrimental to law and order, but also prepares fertile ground for the larger terrorist network.
The police need to take action against thugs at the local level, not just because that's their job but also because allowing such activities to go unchecked creates an intimidating atmosphere in the name of religion that helps develop support for that larger terrorist network.
The writer is a former op-ed editor of The News. She blogs at www.beenasarwar.wordpress.com> and is on twitter @beenasarwar