A mob attacked a girls’ school in the city of Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday, demanding that teachers hand over the principal and a teacher, after rumors emerged that the teacher had insulted the prophet Muhammad.
Though it is unclear just what the teacher said, more than 200 people ransacked the school, set a nearby car on fire, and graffitied the phrase “school management are blasphemers” on the wall of the Farooqi Girls’s High School, which is considered one of the better schools in Lahore.
The police arrested the principal, Asim Farooqi, on blasphemy charges, which carries the death sentence in Pakistan. The accused teacher, Arfa Iftikhar, has reportedly gone into hiding.
Analysts say that the fact that that the incident happened in Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, raises serious concerns about the lack of control Pakistani authorities have over extremist elements even in progressive parts of the country.
Some say the blasphemy law is increasingly being used by right -wing groups to undermine moderate discourse in Pakistan.
“This has been done to serve some other vested interests, and we have demanded that Chief Minister of Punjab set up a commission to investigate the real reasons behind this,” says Adeeb Jadwani, a friend of the school principal, and the president for All Pakistan Private School Management Association in Lahore.
Mr. Rumi says that teachers, students, writers, and intelligentsia in Lahore are often held hostage to “fringe lunatics” who want to impose a particular brand of sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) on Pakistani society.
An example of the increasing power these right wing extremists groups have was seen earlier this year when Pakistan’s largest art school’s annual publication was banned, and writers and artists were booked under the blasphemy law for publishing art “objectionable” to Islam.
“The tragedy of this situation was that the law enforcement institutions, such as the police and the courts, did nothing to correct this. And instead of providing protection, they asked the artists to submit to the will of bigoted groups,” says Rumi, referring to the case against artists.
There have been at least four blasphemy cases against teachers in 2012 alone, points out Mr. Jacob.