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Shoe and Ink attacks: Society’s descent into violence

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Syed Muhammad Fahad Ali |

Two very disgraceful and sordid attacks on two of the most prominent politicians took place in Pakistan this weekend. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Khawaja Asif, had ink thrown at him during a PML-N workers’ convention in Sialkot on Saturday. One day after this incident, a shoe was thrown at the former premier Nawaz Sharif at Jamia Naeemia during his visit to attend a ceremony marking the death anniversary of Mufti Mohammad Hussain Naeemi.

Following both incidents, the workers of the party caught the perpetrators and attacked them viciously. Khawaja Asif continued with his speech and asked the attacker to be released and pardoned, stating that the attack must have done it for money and he had no personal enmity against him. He also asked the police to not file any charges against him. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand shortened his speech after the attack and only thanked the organizers for inviting him.

Rather than punishing someone through the law, we want to inflict suffering on others and take pleasure in it. There is a need to acknowledge these tendencies, only then we can work towards amending them.

Last month, a shoe was thrown at the interior minister Ahsan Iqbal while he was addressing a workers’ convention in Narowal on 24th February. He left the convention after attack but asked the attacker to be released. All these incidents are equally condemnable and have no place in any civilized society. They also show the growing level of intolerance in our society where healthy means of dissent are absent.

Yesterday, another man was caught trying to hurl a shoe at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan while he was on his way to a political rally in Faisalabad. The man was caught and beaten up badly by the PTI workers. He claimed to have been sent by Rana Sanaullah’s son to throw a shoe at Imran Khan. The PTI chief later talked about the incident in a light tone, saying that his catch and throw skills are very good.

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Even though the most famous shoe throwing incident happened in Iraq, when journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoe at the US president George W. Bush on 14th December 2009, the trend started in Pakistan when a shoe was thrown at the former chief minister Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim earlier at the same year on 7th April. While politicians have been the chief target of these attacks, they are also chiefly to be blamed for it.

In January, there was a widespread public demand to publicly hang the rapist and murderer of 7 year old Zainab Ansari. All these actions are correlated since they show our society’s violent and voyeuristic tendencies.

The language used by some politicians in Pakistan created an environment of intolerance and hatred towards the political rivals. The Constitution of Pakistan has already defined ways to express dissent and report crime and corruption. Hurling abuses at political rivals, state institutions and any individual or entity in general breeds hatred among the masses; this hatred eventually manifests itself in the form of public violence.  

The purpose of such attacks: throwing shoes or ink is not to hurt the victim but to humiliate them and break their morale. It also creates a sense of insecurity which requires extra protection for the politicians. In a poor country like Pakistan which already struggles to feed its almost 200 million population, providing bullet proof cars and extra protection to every politician is a luxury we cannot afford.

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Such incidents also show the deep seated bigotry present in our society. There are healthier ways to express difference of opinion rather than physically and verbally attacking ones rivals. Public violence is a major issue in Pakistan whether it is in the form of lynching of Mashal Khan, the vandalism during the Faizabad sit-in or even a fight over a minor car accident. A number of thieves and criminals caught in Pakistan have been lynched by the public before the police could reach the scene.

A civilized society on the other hand reacts to situations differently, rather than resorting to violence, they raise their voices against any injustices and respect the rule of law. If justice is made a public affair, public attacks will also continue. While the attack on Nawaz Sharif is highly condemnable, he himself in many public rallies, refused to accept the rule of law and the rulings of the Supreme Court. If accountability and justice are handed over to the public, they will act accordingly.

All these incidents are equally condemnable and have no place in any civilized society. They also show the growing level of intolerance in our society where healthy means of dissent are absent.

In January, there was a widespread public demand to publicly hang the rapist and murderer of 7 year old Zainab Ansari. All these actions are correlated since they show our society’s violent and voyeuristic tendencies. Rather than punishing someone through the law, we want to inflict suffering on others and take pleasure in it. There is a need to acknowledge these tendencies, only then we can work towards amending them.

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It is our basic right to disagree with someone and express their disapproval in a healthy and acceptable manner. In this regard, it is the responsibility of our rulers, leaders, teachers and media to preach tolerance. If murderers and convicts are glorified, the society will follow in their suit and act accordingly, on the other hand, if preachers of peace, love and tolerance are glorified, the society will follow them and eventually desert all sorts of violence and resort to peaceful means of debate.


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