Protesters burn an American flag outside the US Consulate
Members of interreligious forums yesterday urged restraint in demonstrations against a controversial film that provoked violent protests across the Middle East and Asia.
Muslim cleric Allama Shafaat Rasool said the film, Innocence of Muslims
, which has appeared on the video sharing site YouTube and which mocks the Prophet Mohammad, threatens to deepen religious tensions and promote extremism.
“I could not sleep a whole night after watching the video," he said. "The pain equals that of all the cancers in the world combined, but we have to control our emotions.” The imam was speaking at a conference in Lahore sponsored by the Council for Interfaith Dialogue and the United Religious Initiative Asia.
“This is no ordinary incident, as I fear more young Muslims will turn into terrorists if they continue targeting Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.”
Hundreds of students staged protests during the conference.
Wearing bandanas and carrying batons, they burned an American flag and threw petrol-bombs at the heavily fortified American consulate.
Minister of Interfaith Harmony, Dr. Paul Bhatti who attended the conference, said the violence needed to be quelled. Five people have died since protests erupted last week, and several police vans and petrol pumps have been burned by angry mobs.
“The demonstrations are exceeding their limits. Our country is passing through a critical phase and we have to maintain peace,” said Bhatti, who is expected to raise the issue of threats posed by the video at a UN Human Rights Commission meeting in New York later this month.
“The actions of a few individuals does not define the character of the whole American nation,” he added.
Meanwhile, the unrest has raised security concerns for Christian churches, two of which were attacked in Sindh province.
Protesters threw stones at the Sacred Heart Church on Monday in Karachi, while an armed mob opened fire outside the gates of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Hyderabad the previous day.
“I was in a vehicle and my driver was opening the gates of the cathedral when he was struck by a bullet,” said a nun who asked not to be identified out of fear for her safety.
Shahid P. Meraj, vicar of the diocese of Lahore Church of Pakistan, warned against further attacks on Christians during his address to the conference yesterday.
“There is a growing misunderstanding as many confuse Pakistani Christians with Americans,” he said.
“One religion does not govern the whole country. Stoning any religious place of worship spreads the wrong message.”
The interfaith conference concluded with a declaration demanding a trial for the filmmaker behind Innocence of Muslims
in an international court, as well as the removal of material deemed hateful in textbooks, and an end to the misuse of blasphemy and forced conversion laws.
Rethinking freedom of expression
Church condemns ‘blasphemou?s’ movie