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Islam and Sectarianism ( 21 March 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Insecurities and Ghettoisation



By Muhammad Amir Rana

March 22nd, 2015

THE continuing trend of people being killed in Pakistan by infuriated mobs reveals that there is some serious problem with our society and social behaviour. Lynching can neither be allowed nor justified irrespective of who does it.

The killing of two citizens by a protesting mob on the suspicion of the former’s link to the terrorist attacks on two churches in Lahore was a symptom of stress disorder. The horrific act carried out by non-Muslim protesters surprised many and annoyed certain segments of the Muslim majority — particularly those who deal in the hate business.

People are hardly able to show restraint when they feel their sense of individual or collective identity is being threatened. Such situations can turn mobs violent. The prevailing environment of insecurity and violence is exposing the fault lines that exist in the country.

Sectarian and communal violence, which manifests itself in the form of faith-based discrimination and violence against individuals, worship places and religious symbols of other sects and faiths, is among the foremost critical challenges affecting Pakistan’s security, stability and social harmony.

The challenges that non-Muslims face in Pakistan are by no means identical either in nature or intensity. However, while some religious minorities are more vulnerable than others and the threats are greater in some parts of the country compared to others, the overall situation of religious minorities has worsened across the country in general in recent years.

Apart from sectarian and faith-based attacks and targeted killings by violent sectarian and militant groups, sectarian and faith-based discrimination is also increasingly penetrating individuals’ attitudes and behaviour in Pakistan.

The growing intolerance towards other sects and faiths at the societal level and exploitation of people’s religious sentiments by the clergy in Pakistan has often manifested itself in the form of mob attacks carried out by Muslims on minorities, such as the Gojra killings in 2009 and attacks on Christians in Lahore’s Joseph Colony in March 2013, as well as sectarian and communal clashes.

Other major incidents include the clash between Christian and Muslim communities in Gujranwala in 2012, and Shia-Sunni clashes in Rawalpindi in 2013 that triggered sectarian violence in other cities.

The constant shadow of fear makes people behave ‘fearlessly’. Many experts and social scientists think that such insecurity leads crowds to believe in a sort of oneness, which shapes their collective actions. In that perspective, this phenomenon cannot be confined to certain communities. There are a few other factors which shape behaviours at times of crisis.

The lynching of two Muslims happened in a big Christian ghetto in Lahore, which also indicates that a typical ghetto mentality built around fear and insecurity may have triggered the violent reaction. Strangely, the phenomenon of ghettoisation is not only confined to poor religious and sectarian minorities in Pakistan; religious and social elites also prefer to live in their ghettos. Their luxurious housing societies have no comparison with the lower-middle classes’ ghettos and the slums of the poor.

The phenomenon not only highlights the economic and social disparities in society but also indicates increasing segregation on the basis of exclusiveness and fear of each other. The phenomenon is not merely linked to urbanisation but also shapes critical behaviour and thinking patterns among religious and sectarian minorities.

A recent survey-based study of the lives of religious minorities in Pakistan and their relationship with the followers of other faiths reveals that non-Muslims feel threatened by the overall deteriorating security situation countrywide.

Also, they believe that they are not part of the larger social and cultural mainstream. The sense of insecurity encourages them to live in ghettos; this may provide them a sense of community and some comfort of social interface, but such solutions only trigger more insecurity. The sense of exclusiveness and insecurity gives rise to reactionary behaviour which assumes that hard reactions can provide some deterrence against multiple kinds of bigotry.

The link between ghettos and insecurity also indicates increasing mistrust among different socio-religious communities in Pakistan. A critical dimension of the increasing ghettoisation is the housing societies launched by religious and militant groups. These have become a major source of building organisational assets for them.

Such projects also help them establish their turf and support base in a specific area, usually in walled-off communities, where they aspire to live according to their beliefs, something they claim is denied to them outside their residential projects.

Residence or acquisition of property in these projects is not open to all; it is usually by invitation only. The number of such projects is on the rise across the country.

According to media reports, in Lahore alone there are at least 12 such schemes. Various religious sects and parties have launched housing schemes in the city with residence rights reserved for members of the sect or party alone. Jamaat ud Dawa’s Markaz in Muridke, Tanzeem ul Akhwan’s Owassia Housing Society, and Al-Maymar Trust’s sponsored housing schemes in Karachi and Lahore are a few examples. These projects house the party secretariats while serving as residential societies.

A look at the patterns of irregular settlements in and around the urban centres reveals how these contribute to sectarian and communal tensions. The slums — mainly containing Christian residents — were located outside the cities of Punjab. But during the last two decades the expansion of the cities has made these settlements more lucrative for the land mafia. In many cases, such elements triggered communal tensions to pressurise the non-Muslims in order to grab their lands.

This highlights the state’s failure in providing housing to the common man, which has resulted in grave socio-political consequences. The lack of urbanisation policies and regulation of slums and ghettos is another issue which the state is guilty of. Ironically, it does not realise the impact of its poor urban policies.

Ghettoisation of different kinds has become one of the major hurdles in the way of social cohesion and harmony in the country. This has a trickle-down effect in times of increasing insecurity in society.

Muhammad Amir Rana is a security analyst.