Caught in a
By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn IL
again in the enchanting city of Lahore, during a
short winter get-away from the icy winds of Chicago
last month, I was leisurely walking along a street.
With me was a friend, Sally, a Tribune writer who
was on a tour to South Asia to gather interesting
and not very well-known facts about our culture
for use in the novel she was working on. We stopped
by a sugarcane juice vendor, and just as she had
finished her third glass of the body-nourishing
nectar, we saw a huge mass of people coming in our
direction. They were carrying placards, banners
and signboards with various messages boldly displayed.
The procession demonstrating mainly against the
publication of blasphemous cartoons, had other messages
too, such as denouncing the role of the government
in protesting against this blasphemy, boycotting
Danish products and imposing a ban on the import
of goods from some European countries. One or two
signs described Bush as a mass-killer, another sign
demanded basic necessities for the poor.
“Islam is the most reasonable religion, and
the Prophet Commands respect,” said Sally.
“Let’s join in the rally and voice our
condemnation of the cartoons.”
Such a comment from a non- Muslim naturally gladdened
my heart, so we got into the crowd amid loud chanting
of Allah-o-Akbar. People in the procession were
of all ages and genders, looking very solemn, as
they walked on with brisk, thundering steps. From
all angles it appeared to be a peaceful rally, but
when I looked back I saw a small group of people
carrying cricket bats, clubs and sticks. They also
had gunny bags full of what looked like stones.
I asked one of them the reason for carrying all
these. “Can come handy if the police attacked
us,” he said.
Suddenly, Sally shouted, “Get away from here.
What on earth are you doing?” I turned around
and saw an innocent-looking guy searching for something
on the ground just below Sally’s skirt. He
raised his hands and said, “I am sorry, I
am sorry, I was just looking for the pacifier my
baby just lost.” That seemed to pacify Sally
too, but a fierce- looking bearded man standing
nearby, emitting flame from his eyes, caught hold
of this man and shouted, “You should be ashamed
of yourself. Why don’t you have a beard on
your face? Do you consider yourself Muslim?”
The man hurriedly made good his escape from the
A few minutes later, “Allah!” Somebody
said in a deep, sonorous voice, which got Sally
shaken. It was repeated at short, regular intervals.
Though Sally was a God-loving girl, she could not
take it any more, so we got away from this Allah-chanting
Just when I thought everything was going well, an
object was seen flying in the air, which then got
lodged on Sally’s head. It was a soft, black
Jinnah cap. After a moment’s shock, she just
laughed and adjusted it properly on her head. “May
as well wear it till the owner comes to reclaim
it,” she put in.
Soon, we heard a chorus, “Bush, stop the killing
of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Then someone said loudly, “Fulfill our basic
needs. Don’t crush the poor.” We walked
on and I saw one of the guys getting restless. He
looked here and there and asked me, “Do you
know if there is a washroom nearby?” I shook
my head and he kept asking other people the same
question. Then he rushed out of the procession.
Most of the shops on the road were closed, but some
shopkeepers dared to keep their shops open. The
hostile group which carried bats, clubs and stones
got agitated at seeing these shops open. Some members
came out waving their bats and sticks, and the next
moment they began attacking the poor shopkeepers.
Soon it was free-for-all. They started looting shops,
smashing the windshields of the cars parked on the
road, and damaging motorcycles.
Pretty soon, we saw a couple of police trucks approaching.
The cops came out and the crowd throwing stones
at them. I was struck with panic, for I knew that
if the police started hauling people, Sally, a foreigner
sporting a Jinnah cap would be one of the first
victims. In a jiffy, I grabbed her arm and whisked
her away from the rally, which had become violent.
We jogged, and then ran to avoid the unpleasant
Later, in a coffee shop, Sally, taking off the cap
and respectfully putting it on the table, said,
“What was all that about? What was the objective
behind staging such a protest? Certainly, it was
not against the publication of those cartoons! If
it was for that purpose, the meaning was lost. People
were just expressing their grievances, letting out
their frustrations in a way that could never achieve
anything. There was no clear objective, and yes,
I had to painfully agree to what she said. After
a moment’s thought I said, “You are
right Sally. It was just a venting out of long-endured
frustrations of the poor masses. They do not live
in livable houses, jobs are scarce, no good schools
exist for their kids, there is contaminated water
to drink, non-availability of electricity in most
houses turn them into hell, unapproachable medical
facilities and a host of other problems plague their
lives. As for unity, there is no such thing among
our people. The whole Muslim community is disunited.
That’s one reason we suffer all over the world.”