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Pakistan Literary Festival Stands Up to Violence

The Pakistani city of Lahore recently held a three-day literary festival. The event looked a lot like literary festivals in many other cities. But for some Pakistanis, its importance went beyond works of poetry and prose. For them, the show symbolized a fight against violent extremism.

Pakistan has seen a rise in violent extremism in the past 10 years. Thousands of civilians have died in bomb attacks. People have been targeted and killed for expressing liberal ideas in public.

Many of the festival’s sessions had discussions that went beyond literature. Subjects included politics, the ideas of tolerance, and the struggle for defining an ideology of Pakistan.

Best-selling writer Ahmed Rashid worked as an advisor to the literary festival. He says the event was important because of those discussions – discussions that, in his words, “would be impossible on the TV channels.”

The public here have heard discussions about everything from rape and women’s issues, to the nuclear weapons, to China, to the role of neighboring states, to controversial novels from the Arab world, a lot of which is what TV programs would not air in Pakistan.”

As a result, organizers feared the festival would be a target for extremists. Security measures were tight -- with metal detectors, fully-body pat downs and bag searches.

Just days before the festival was to open, a suicide attacker bombed the city’s police headquarters. Several people died in the attack. A day before the festival opened, the chief minister of Punjab province ordered everything to stop for unknown reasons. Later, the minister let the preparations continue.

The festival went forward. People arrived by the thousands. More than 100 young volunteers guided people toward different meeting areas and discussion sessions.

Volunteer Ali Arshad loves reading and watching movies. He volunteered for the literary festival because, in his words, “I think this is what’s going to trigger a change in our society.”

He volunteered at the festival despite his family’s concerns about security.

Mr. Arshad said, “It's literature. I love literature. I’ll do anything for it."

I’m Caty Weaver.

This report was based on a story from reporter Ayeesha Tanzeem in Lahore, Pakistan. Ashley Thompson wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

prose n. written or spoken language in its normal form

symbolizev. to stand for something; to be a symbol for something

liberaladj. not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving that are not traditional or widely accepted

tolerance – n. the ability to deal with or accept something, including behavior or opinions that one does not agree with

controversial – adj. relating to or causing much discussion, disagreement, or argument

detectorn. a device that detects the presence of something

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