The violent reaction from the Christian community following the twin church bombings in Lahore cannot be justified or excused, but it can certainly be explained and most importantly, understood. This was not the first time the minority community came under attack. Terrorist organisations, spontaneous mobs, religious groups and individuals from the majority faith have targeted them in a series of incidents spread over decades. But never before has any assault on the minority community led to lynching and riots as witnessed in Lahore and other parts of Punjab. This is the same community that cancelled Christmas celebrations in the wake of the APS Peshawar incident. Why has this community, which has historically refrained from violence despite consistent persecution, reacted in such uncharacteristic fashion this time? Why do the victims seem to be behaving like their aggressors when they remain on the receiving end?

It is a clear indication of the erosion of trust between the Christian community and the state. It seems they are convinced that the government is unwilling and to an extent, incapable of providing security or holding culprits accountable. They have learnt this from experience. The latest attack has proven to be a test of their patience, and they’re lashing out in frustration. This is different from a neighbourhood cleric riling up a crowd of protestors on a matter of religious principle that presents the aggrieved party with no bodily harm. The Christian community has dead bodies and amputated limbs to show for its outrage. It is not a matter of perceived offences or ideological disagreements, but that of direct victimisation and injustice. While it is necessary to hold those involved in lynching and rioting accountable under law, it is important to understand that it is lawlessness and impunity for their aggressors, which has created the current scenario. Unless the government doesn’t fulfill its responsibility, it will only have more victims-turned-aggressors to deal with.

The government can of course always be expected to make the worst of a bad situation. It is unwise of Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan and others to rile up the issue of lynching, even though it is a heinous crime, because it allows an intolerant majority greater arsenal for justifying its own violence. When a clash between a Christian mob and a Muslim mob appeared imminent, the Punjab government had to call in Rangers to control law and order. This shows that they understand the gravity of the situation. But their statements reveal that they really don’t, and the decision had more to do with their lack of faith in the police. The government is advised to maintain presence of law enforcement agencies in Youhanabad and other sensitive areas until tensions go down. Certain people and groups may instigate violence and attempt to lead mobs to Christian neighbourhoods. The government must prevent further clashes and choose its words wisely.