05/25/2016, 16.16
PAKISTAN
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Activists from different religions pursue peace-building in Pakistan, against hatred and terrorism

by Kamran Chaudhry

Tehreek Rwadari, an interfaith movement that promotes respect for all religions and peace building in the country, celebrated its first anniversary yesterday. At the event, activists stressed the difficulties minorities, women and children face, as well as the lack of security. Extremism, mistrust and intolerance are the root causes.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Activists from different religions came together at a seminar yesterday celebrating the first anniversary of Rwadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance), an association that promotes respect for all faiths in Pakistan.

At the gathering, held at the Lahore Press Club, participants identified the challenges facing the country and unanimously stressed the need to build a peaceful nation to counter hatred, terrorism and religious extremism. Several prominent political, religious and civic leaders attended the event.

Activists stressed the urgency for a national security plan, a ban on hate speech and racist comments in textbooks, as well as religious pluralism.

As ubiquitous intolerance is in society so it is in politics. “Talking about the blasphemy law has become a taboo,” said Saadia Sohail, a member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly. “Many parliamentarians told me that they worry when speaking on this topic in the media.”

For her, gender discrimination is an additional factor. “Speaking about pro-women bills is not easy even when you are on the government benches. When they are interrupted, male lawmakers rebuke women lawmakers because they were elected on reserved seats.”

During the opening speech, Samson Salamat, a Christian who chairs Rwadari Tehreek, called on all citizens to respect everyone’s culture, traditions, ethnicity and language in accordance with the principle of "live and let live."

“Our people, especially the children have been deprived of their right to recreation, social gatherings, games, education,” he explained.

Islamic laws have led to group violence, activists said, including the persecution of minorities and extrajudicial murders. For rights advocates, "Extremism is at the heart of the Taliban insurgency and rampant terrorism."

Rwadari Tehreek president Abdullah Malik knows all about this. “The administration has to be notified even for peace rallies,” he noted. “Often they tell us to go underground and that our names are on the hit list”.

In view of this, Salamat believes that "the Government, state apparatus, political parties and all other stake-holders should adopt short term and long term policies and strategies to counter the culture of hatred, extremism and violence in the name of religion and sect.  Mere lip-service cannot reverse the worst ever situation; hence, we demand practical steps.”

And it is not always one way. A protestant clergyman who spoke at the seminar pointed out that he has to face opposition from his “own people” for frequently inviting people of different faith at his Cathedral. 

(Shafique Khokhar contributed to this article)

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