For four days, Pakistan has defied doomsday predictions of going up in flames over the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. Pakistanis have protested across the country but they have been peaceful and no incidence of violence has been reported from anywhere on this count.
When Egypt and Libya were rocked with violence on Wednesday, the general apprehension was that things could get worse in Pakistan where the U.S. embassy has been set afire once. But, all institutions appear to have worked quietly to ensure that protests remain peaceful.
On Wednesday itself, the government condemned the film through a statement issued by the Foreign Office. The following day, the political class got its act together and unanimously adopted a government-initiated resolution condemning the film. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) “proactively blocked’’ access to the anti-Islamic video available online via YouTube. All service providers were asked to immediately block the video.
Though the country has seen raging debates whenever PTA has blocked content online, this time round the ban was quietly accepted by even the keenest advocates of free expression.
All the while, social networking websites — a major platform of discourse — were awash with messages advocating calm with many pointing out that the best response would be to ignore the film. Their basic submission was that protesting against it violently would only perpetuate the stereotype of Muslims that the film was trying to project.
The pre-emptive measures notwithstanding, the arrival of Friday brought along with it fears of an outburst after the juma’ prayers and security was strengthened accordingly. While security had been tightened around the U.S. and Western diplomatic missions in Islamabad on Thursday itself, many of them gave the day off to their staff for fear of being targeted.
Advisories were issued to foreigners to avoid crowded places.
The precaution appeared in order as many religious organisations — the Jamat-e-Islami and Jam’at-ud-Dawa included — called for protests around the country after Friday prayers. People did protest though not in large numbers. Barring attempts to barge through police barricades, the day passed off peacefully and even the day after — when protests continued in West Asia and North Africa — peace prevailed.
The media also weighed in. Though it was unclear whether television channels were advised by the powers that be to refrain from whipping up passions as is wont, most networks played down the global protests. Analysts maintained that the security establishment — which is accused of having control over some of the jihadi outfits — reined them in for fear of putting the recently repaired bilateral relationship with the U.S. back in peril. And, with that kind of messaging going out, the collective effort to register angst without resorting to violence appears to have paid off for now.