Sectarian murder and hate speech
Last Sunday (Dec. 30), 20 Shiite Muslim Pakistanis were killed and 24 wounded, when a car bomb targeted a three-bus convoy as it headed toward the Iranian border in Balochistan in southwest Pakistan. The passengers were on a trip to observe an important day of commemoration in the Shiite calendar.
Officials said the blast targeted the three buses about 60 km west of Quetta, capital of the sparsely populated Balochistan province of Pakistan.
While it is too early to determine who specifically carried out this crime, it fits in a pattern of violent sectarian attacks perpetuated by violent extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They frequently use religious occasions to perpetuate hate crimes against their fellow citizens.
A month earlier, (23) Shiite Pakistanis were killed in an attack in Rawalpindi. Last week, a bomb exploded in a bus in Karachi killing seven and injuring 48 passengers. While it is not clear whether this attack was sectarian based, Karachi has been the scene for many sectarian motivated attacks.
Shiite Muslims and other minorities have been caught in the crossfire between the government of Pakistan and those extremist groups. As the government intensifies its campaign to root out violent extremists, they in turn have vented their rage against innocent citizens, targeting minorities in particular. A similar pattern has developed in Afghanistan as well. Sectarian attacks against Sunni Muslims have also taken place in the two countries.
Last September, the New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report demonstrating that sectarian attacks against Shiites were on the rise (“Pakistan: Shia Killings Escalate”). It documented that about 320 Shiites had been killed between January and August 2012; lamenting the failure to catch or prosecute attackers.
HRW report noted that “While sectarian violence is a longstanding problem in Pakistan, attacks against ordinary Shiites have increased dramatically in recent years.” The report documented in chilling detail incidents taking place in 2012. For examples:
In two separate attacks on Sept. 1, 2012, gunmen attacked and killed eight Hazara Shiites in Quetta. In the first attack, four armed men riding on motorbikes shot dead five men at a bus stop in the Hazar Ganji area of the city. The victims, all vegetable sellers, were returning from the vegetable market. Within two hours of the attack, gunmen riding a motorbike attacked a nearby bus stop, killing two people from the Hazara community. An eighth victim, also a Hazara Shiite, died in the hospital on Sept. 2.
On Aug. 30, gunmen riding a motorbike shot dead a Shiite judge, his driver and a police bodyguard, as the judge headed to work in Quetta.
On Aug. 16, four buses passing through the Babusar Top area of Mansehra district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (North-West Frontier Province) were ambushed by gunmen who made all the passengers disembark. The attackers checked the national identity cards of each passenger and summarily executed 22 passengers identified as belonging to the Shiite community. A spokesman for Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for the killings.
According to the report, similar attacks targeting the Shiite population have taken place repeatedly over the last year in Balochistan, the port city of Karachi, predominantly Shiite populated areas of Gilgit Baltistan in the northern areas and in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In an earlier report (December 2011), HRW noted how some of those attacks frequently coincided with Shiite religious occasions, especially Ashoura during the month Muharram. According to the report, “In December 2010, a grenade attack on a Moharram procession in the city of Peshawar killed one person, a child, and wounded 28. In December 2009, a suicide bomber killed 30 and wounded dozens of mourners at a Moharram procession in Karachi. On Feb. 5, 2010, a double-bombing of a follow-up Shia procession killed 25 and wounded over 50.”
Some misguided preachers have wrongly provided bogus religious justifications for some of those attacks, despite the fact that they clearly contravened Islamic principles about the sanctity of innocent blood.
Others have tried to justify the attacks on political grounds. They cite mischief by the Iranian government in other countries and persecution of religious minorities in Iran, including Sunni Muslims. Such justifications should also be rejected; Shiite Muslim citizens should not bear responsibility for any sins committed by the Iranian government or any other government.
All governments, as well as Muslim majorities, have a clear responsibility to protect all vulnerable minorities in their midst, regardless of any political or religious disagreements. They should reject out of hand all sectarian rhetoric and especially any vacuous attempts at justifying mass murder in the name of religion or politics.
Religious leaders bear a special responsibility to dispel any misconception that somehow attacks on minorities can be justified under any circumstances.
Political leaders should also be reminded of their duties to inform their followers to ensure the protection of minorities, regardless of what happens in other countries.
By making sectarian-based hate speech unacceptable, religiously, politically and socially, communities would deny violent extremists the sympathy and support that could help them carry out their attacks.
Saudi Arabia has been quite forceful in its approach to sectarian speech from any side. A senior official at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs stated this week that prayer leaders have clear instructions to avoid sermons that could foment sectarian strife. Those who break the rules are subject to severe penalties.