Prime Minister Imran Khan while addressing a press conference after inaugurating round the clock facility at Torkham border on Wednesday rightly condemned the Ghotki incident and termed it a conspiracy to sabotage his coming visit to USA and his address to the UN General Assembly. One tends to agree with him considering its timing. At a time when Pakistan through its diplomatic offensive has put India on the back foot at the global level concerning the abuse of human rights in IOK and the lurking humanitarian crisis as well as the treatment meted out to minorities in India, such incidents can provide an ammunition to our enemy to get back at us and use it as a weapon to challenge our credentials on human rights.

In the ensuing session of the UN General Assembly Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India will be addressing the world forum on the same day and the latter would be delivering his address before our Prime Minister. There is a strong possibility that the Indian Prime Minister in his address to the General Assembly as well as interaction with the US leaders and media would try to propagate this issue to counter our diplomatic offensive. The Indian media is already in an anti-Pakistan campaign mode on the issue.

Reportedly an unruly mob ransacked three temples, a school and multiple houses belonging to the Hindu community after the principal of a public school (A Hindu) was accused of blasphemy by a student. The order and sanity was restored through combined efforts of the leaders of the local communities and the administration. Whether it was really a conspiracy or yet another manifestation of the despicable social behavior that was on display at Gojra and Badami Bagh Lahore against the Christian community, lynching of Mashal Khan at Wali Khan University, murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti or the Asia Bibi case, the fact remains that such incidents do tarnish image of Pakistan and its credentials as a safe country for the minorities.

The carnage of Christian community at Gojra in August 2009 would put to shame even Adolf Hitler, the architect of “The Holocaust”, for having under performed. The most sordid aspect of that gory incident was that those who were lynched and whose houses were subjected to arson were not at all involved in the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran. According to the investigations into the incident, some children belonging to the Christian community had cut out some pages out of an Islamiyat text book and used them as confetti at a wedding ceremony in the village without being aware of the gravity of their actions. The Imam of the mosque of the locality used the incident to incite the people against the Christian community. A Christian locality near Badami Bagh Lahore was also attacked on 8th May 2013 when a Christian man was accused of blasphemy. The mob reportedly burnt 160 houses, 18 shops and two small churches in the locality exhibiting ultimate bestiality.

The most regrettable fact about such incidents is that in most of the cases the accusations of blasphemy could not be proved in the court of law when they ran the full course of the judicial process. The acquittal of Asia Bibi in the most high profile case by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the basis of material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses that cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts is a ranting testimony of the misuse of the blasphemy law.

All these acts are against the teachings of the Holy Book. In Sura Maidah the Quran enjoins the Muslims to do justice and shun hatred against other communities in these words “Oh Ye who believe, be steadfast witness for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly, that is nearer to your duty”. These regrettable episodes in fact are a ranting manifestation of the religious bigotry and intolerance afflicting our social fabric.

Blasphemy is a very emotional issue for any Muslim, if committed deliberately by an individual or an organization with an explicit purpose to cast aspersions on the person of the holy prophet or desecrate the Holy Quran. But even then it provides no justification whatsoever to the people to take the law in their own hands and perpetrate mob justice on the offenders. There are laws in the country to deal with such matters and it is a responsibility of the state to initiate action against the accused person or persons whatever the case may be and the accused also have the right to be given a chance to defend themselves and prove their innocence.

The growing graph of such happenings is indeed very ominous for peace and respect of law in the society. These criminal acts perpetrated on the hapless victims by the charged crowds abetted and egged on by the religious extremists have not only soiled the image of Islam but have also dented reputation of Pakistan as a progressive Islamic state where liberal minded Muslims and minorities enjoy protection of life and property as equal citizens in the light of the Islamic teachings, sayings of Quaid-i-Azam, Pakistan Resolution and our constitution.

The government and the civil society have to stand up and refuse to be a hostage to the bizarre brand of Islam bandied around by the religious fanatics. A loud and clear message should go out to them that there would be zero tolerance against their creed of hate and violence. Allowing the law to take its course, however, is only one aspect of dealing with the problem. Since it relates to the religious sensitivities of the people misguided by religious extremists, it also needs to be fought on the ideological front. The religious leaders and media can play a very significant role in erasing the bad influence of the ideologies preached by the religious extremists and creating awareness among the masses about the true spirit of Islam and its emphasis on building a harmonious society boasting peace and tranquility as its hall mark.

The threat that we face from religious bigotry, extremism and culture of hatred is much greater than the external dangers to our social harmony, security and territorial integrity. We shall be able to quell the external threats with greater confidence if we are strong internally. Any slackness on the part of the government or the civil society towards that end would, God forbid, can have disastrous consequences for our very existence as a sovereign state.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

These regrettable episodes in fact are a ranting manifestation of the religious bigotry and intolerance afflicting our social fabric.