Two groups of people are clashing, and they are both on the far-right sides of the political spectrum.
On one hand you have conservative Muslims in Pakistan, who want to enforce blasphemy laws and move the country toward Sharia Law. On the other, you have conservatives in the Netherlands who are promoting a contest to draw Muhammad. The former group is now protesting in Islamabad, and threatening to blockade the city if Pakistan doesn’t cut diplomatic ties with the Dutch.
Protesters belonging to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party began the second day of their march on the capital from the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday.
Images from the march showed TLP activists toppling a container used to block their path in the Punjab town of Jhelum, as they continued on their way towards the capital.
Security has been increased in Islamabad ahead of their arrival, with roadblocks prepared to be placed on several major roads.
The TLP activists are protesting against a competition for cartoons depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad by far-right Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders, a known provocateur.
The event in the Netherlands is intended to demean Islam (it would be generous to say it’s only about exercising free speech), but both sides seem to agree that xenophobia and closed-mindedness are good. While TLP steadfastly believes its government must be a Muslim-only entity, Wilders and his kind think their government needs to take a more staunchly anti-Muslim approach.
Thankfully, neither the TLP nor Wilders and his group are getting much traction from either country’s government.
The Dutch government has distanced itself from the competition, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte clarifying that Wilders is not a member of the government.
“The competition is not a government initiative,” he told a news conference last week.
The Dutch government, however, maintains that banning the competition would be a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Foreign Minister Stef Blok echoed Rutte’s comments.
“The Netherlands very much adheres by freedom of speech, but we also adhere to treat religions respectfully,” Blok said according to Dutch news agency ANP.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan denounced the event, and one of his administrators said that the government would support Muslims “in raising [their] voice against this event.” But that’s not nearly as far as the TLP wants them to go.
I find myself agreeing most with the Dutch government in this case. I wouldn’t personally host an intentionally offensive Muhammad-drawing contest, but I wouldn’t ban this one, either. Likewise, I wouldn’t protest my countries ties with the Netherlands over something like this, but I would stop short of banning protests that don’t get violent.
Ultimately, both sides of this particular debate are wrong. But by threatening to blockade a major city, the Pakistani protesters run the risk of harming people who aren’t interested in a battle over this issue. That would be far more devastating than any drawing.
(Screenshot via Al Jazeera)