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No more lynchings of our Mashals

Will this be the last time a promising youngster is lynched at a supposed place of learning by a crazy mob in the presence of those who are bound to protect the right to life of a citizen from such inquisitional outlaws?

While deeply mourning the unforgettable, unpardonable but not unprecedented tragedy that has yet again exposed the bloody face of the spectre of vigilantism – even though for once one can see a late awakening of many hearts and minds – I am not sure we have the necessary will and vision to eradicate the root causes behind this, and tame the beast within us.

Mashal’s brutal killing on the fabricated pretext of blasphemy at a university campus seems to be a well-orchestrated crime by bloodthirsty zealots and a section of the Abdul Wali Khan University administration. The murder has touched the hearts of people across the land and nothing is helping the extremist sections of the clergy to find a pretext to uphold their appalling crusade and penchant for mob justice. For the first time in this land of the pure a victim of blasphemy accusations has been seen sympathetically, with demands being raised to revisit the bloodletting in the name of blasphemy and to make false accusers and murderers equally accountable.

Since nobody dares to bring the appropriate amendments to the loosely defined blasphemy laws – and they are rampantly being misused – the focus is now against its abuse and to bring false blasphemy accusers to justice. These people usually either get away scot-free or are liable to six months imprisonment under Section 182-PPC and seven years under Section 211-PPC for false accusation.

Indeed, blasphemy in any way or any pretext is condemnable and Muslims of all hues are very passionate about the sanctity of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Even a false accusation or rumour is enough to rouse the sentiments of the people. This is what makes it easy for certain self-appointed guardians of faith to capitalise on the alleged hate-speech to promote far greater hate-mongering and fanaticism.

Those who seek sadist pleasure by indulging in blasphemy in fact promote hate-speech and serve the interests of those who are against free speech. Since the state – ‘created in the name of Islam’ – is handicapped by its guilty conscience, it succumbs to the frenzy and conveniently fails in its duty to enforce rule of law, including the blasphemy law. We have seen investigators, prosecutors, witnesses, judges, politicians and journalists succumb under pressure from unruly mobs.

The laws are made to prevent hate speech, crime and lawlessness. But strangely enough, blasphemy, blasphemy cases and killings are on the rise after the introduction of changes and additions into the prevailing blasphemy laws. As rightly mentioned by Syed Talat Hussain in his column in these pages (‘Mashal’s murder’, April 17), there were only two cases of lynching of the alleged blasphemers between 1946 and the mid-80s and, after the amendments/additions brought into blasphemy laws, the numbers rose to 57 till 2014. No less intriguing is the fact that, compared to seven blasphemy cases between 1927 and 1985, there is a phenomenal rise in blasphemy cases – 1,335 blasphemy cases were registered between 1985 and 2014.

The prevalent blasphemy laws have become a tool in the hands of those who fan communalism/sectarianism, indulge in apostatising others and want to settle scores with their rivals or grab property. It is hence time to revisit these laws, which rather than preventing seem to be promoting inverse blasphemy and religious frenzy. It is quite apologetically and frivolously being propagated that lack of convictions in blasphemy cases is forcing people to take law into their hands.

What is true, though, is that the accused face extreme odds, persecution and even lynching. There cannot be any justification for the curse of vigilantism that brings a bad name to our faith.

Despite the efforts at creating inter-faith harmony, communalism and religious-based majoritarian nationalism are on the rise across the globe and the South Asian region.

It is pertinent to mention that the last of Allah’s Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), declared by the Almighty as a blessing for all the worlds. The social and political contract the Prophet (pbuh) signed in Medina included the followers of Christianity and Judaism.

Unfortunately, the decline of the Muslims led to the resurgence of the Khwarji, Takfeeri and Ibne Taymiyyah’s schools which have become the ideological bedrock of rising violent extremism. The common spiritual space espoused by Ibne Arabi and the religious tolerance and inclusive approach pursued by our great Sufis is being undermined by those who are quick to term people infidels or blasphemous.

The lynching of an inquisitive and promising young student in a university is not surprising since universities in the entire Muslim world have ceased to be places of learning for the last eight centuries. Since ‘nationhood’ and the building of the state in Pakistan is based on Islam, religion is seen as the sole defining ideology and source of knowledge, culture, societal evolution and human resource development.

Barring few exceptions, all schools, colleges and universities reject all sources of knowledge other than Islam. Thanks to the prevailing ideology, the domination of religious dogmatism in almost all spheres of intellectual discourse, a lack of scientific and enlightened education policy and a poisonous curriculum, our education system is attuned to produce half-baked illiterates and bigots. The hegemony of extremist religious ideology has promoted intolerance and violence.

The tragedy is that the state has for too long promoted violent extremism and terrorism. And we are now reaping the harvest of that violence. The spectre of jihad that we fomented is now eating us all. For the first and last time, in 1953 the state came down heavily against communal riots. After that, it gradually coalesced in while discriminating against its own citizens on religious and sectarian grounds. Resultantly, there is an increasing hardening of sectarian positions and targeting of people on that basis.

Mashal’s case warrants the full might of the state to overturn the Qadri example. An exemplary collective punishment is required for all those involved in the most despicable crime. But that will not be enough. To save our future generations from the heart-wrenching end of Mashal Shaheed and from the misadventure of Noreen Leghari, society and all institutions of the state must get together and act at all levels to defeat violent extremist ideologies and promote tolerance, understanding, accommodation and humanist values.

Let violence be discarded from our ideological, political and religious discourse. And let everybody respect the right to life, to choose and practise his/her faith, and to adopt a lifestyle of his/her choice; and let the state treat all its citizens equally and without any discrimination.

Alam, Imtiaz. No more lynchings of our Mashals. The News, April 20, 2017.

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