Riot clean-up in Pakistan

Recently the news has been filled with so-called ‘Muslim rage’ in response to an anti-Islam film made by an American citizen. Pakistan hit the headlines accompanied by images of mobs hurling stones and vehicles blazing. However, another group of Pakistanis took to the streets with a different message

Faran Rafi is a 23-year-old recent graduate of Lahore University of Management Sciences. On seeing the protests he started sharing the idea of cleaning up the mess left behind by the protesters, using Facebook and Twitter. Within a day Rafi had more than 5,000 people registered on his Facebook page and a wealth of support on Twitter.

The following day in Islamabad over 100 people turned up to help – they were from all walks of life, and different ages. “We had retired army officers, teachers, journalists, young entrepreneurs, film-makers, students, between the age of 6 to 60,” says Rafi. Armed with brooms and rubbish bags, the group set about picking up spent teargas shells and broken glass, sweeping the streets and repainting walls. Some carried placards with messages of peace. Simultaneous clean-ups also happened in the cities of Lahore and Karachi, where there had been other riots.

When asked what motivated him, Rafi said: “It was evident that the image of Pakistan that was being projected outside the country was going to be of nothing other than violence and rage. However, the situation on the ground is much different.

“Armed with brooms and rubbish bags, the group set about picking up spent teargas shells and broken glass”

“What the western and other media portrayed Pakistan as seemed more like a country filled with angry, violent extremists who would only do harm to the society. This was done to prove to the world that the image they have of our country and religion is wrong. Most Pakistanis are not like that. We are promising young individuals who want peace and harmony in the world. We are the people who want to develop our nation and take it forward. We believe in inter-faith harmony and justice. Although, yes, we do condemn the blasphemous film, it does not mean that our only resort is to create havoc. We believe that as individuals it is our responsibility to set a positive image of the country and the religion, to show the world that we are just like them. Thus, this Project Cleanup for Peace was initiated to gather masses and help them do something productive.”

During the clean-up the police were praised for providing the group with impromptu security and transport, and the Government of Punjab awarded certificates to participants in Lahore.

Rafi was concerned that some cynics thought he and his friends were funded from outside Pakistan, but explained: “All the money used in the project was from our own pockets. I know students told me that they spent their savings and pocket money to get paint and other materials.”

The experience has had a huge impact on the group. They plan to conduct a clean-up drive in underprivileged schools across Pakistan – going to schools which lack basic sanitation facilities to provide a more permanent solution to hygiene, decorate class rooms, fix furniture and make other repairs as necessary.

Sadly, the story of Project Cleanup for Peace and the demonstration of ‘Muslim love’, which has been reported briefly in The Daily Beast and Radio Liberty, has so far been missed by the mainstream media.