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Pakistan: Riots Aftermath – Project Cleanup for Peace

September 21, 2012, was a day that will be remembered for a long time in Pakistan. On this Friday the government of Pakistan announced a day of protest against the film insulting the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) which was a source of a worldwide controversy as its trailer was released on YouTube.

The protests started peacefully with thousands of people taking the streets in solidarity against this video, but the absence of leadership on the ground led these protests turn violent.

The world then witnessed images of mobs looting and burning cinemas, breaking into banks and stores and general mayhem until religious leaders called for peace and the throng dispersed around the evening, not before 19 Pakistanis had lost their lives.

People gather at burnt Sarhadi Lutheran Church which was set ablaze by angry protesters during demonstrations against blasphemy anti-Islamic movie. Image by Owais Aslam Ali. Copyright Demotix (22/9/2012)

People gather at burnt Sarhadi Lutheran Church which was set ablaze by angry protesters during demonstrations against blasphemy anti-Islamic movie. Image by Owais Aslam Ali. Copyright Demotix (22/9/2012)

Sabahat Ahmed states in his blog at Pak tea house:

Recently, certain elements using freedom of conscious and freedom of speech as an excuse, have made an anti-Islam film either to show their malice towards Islam and the Holy Prophet, or maybe, to spread hatred against Islam. As a result of this, there has been a violent reaction among various organizations and countries. They, in order to vent their anger and displeasure, have resorted to furious protests, often leading to arson and destruction of private and public property. I always wonder that why don’t they try to give a satisfactory response to the criticism of the critics, and to make an effort to convey the true and real message of Islam to the World.

Ali Ahmed depicts the pretentious shock of the urban elite at his blog “My Bit For Change”:

The elite should stop reacting with such marvellous shock. And please, please stop mocking the mob. If you are privileged enough to have a voice, use it to address the larger disease, not selective symptoms. The ones responsible for law and order and the ones who claim to be our leaders, they are responsible for not just the violence on Friday, but the daily horrors Pakistanis outside the Red Zone have to deal with

There were others though in Pakistan, who felt that instead of just sitting and declaring these protests righteous or bad they should do something about the destruction caused. Thus Faran Rafi and a bunch of other volunteers from all over Pakistan started a Facebook event called “Project cleanup for peace“. Within five hours it had 2,500 volunteers and on 23 September just two days after the carnage they took to the streets in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

A lot of mess to cleanup. Protesters loot and burn a family park in peshawar. Image by Musharrat Ullah Jan. Copyright Demotix (22/9/2012)

Here is a video interview with Faran Rafi:

Faran rafis interview – projectcleanupforpeace from Faisal Kapadia on Vimeo.

I asked my Twitter followers this question:

@faisalkapadia (Faisal Kapadia): A bunch of youth recently had a cleanup event in karachi lahore and isloo after recent riots #projectcleanupforpeace your thoughts?

Following are some of the reactions to this cleanup operation:

@norbalm: in fairness they made some effort so not negating, but something constructive can also be done, seeking out the victims

@chatmasala9: round of applause for them

@Rida_Umar: Such exemplary projects by Pakistani youth. It definitely takes time for the revolution to occur,but it does happen.

@HaseebAfsar: It's great to see that there is positives in the society and it's about time this positivity is mobilised to uproot all evils

@silverskyN: #ProjectCleanUpForPeace was supported by individuals who were frustrated after the mockery made out of the #IshqeRasoolDay. The message was simple that we believe in respect for ALL religions, tolerance, co-existence and inter faith harmony. Although we are aggrieved, we do NOT support resorting to violence! Islam is a religion of Peace and Love.

So the protests have finished, the cleanup has been done, the walls painted over, the roads swept. What about those who lost their lives during this anarchy? Will Pakistanis ever be able to recover from the emotional and psychological turmoil and anger the country felt that Friday?

“They must” seems to be the resounding answer. They must learn to control at least some of their emotions so that more lives are not lost. These youths have shown the resilience in their cleanup efforts indicating a change.

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