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The darkness within

Updated Apr 15, 2017 08:57am


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A medieval brutality, a very cancer of the soul, has permeated this society. Not only has it pervaded the hinterland, it has also spread to places where minds are supposed to be enlightened by knowledge and learning.

Each ghastly detail of Mashal Khan’s murder on Thursday illustrates this chilling fact. The 23-year-old student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan was lynched on campus by a mob of fellow students over allegations of blasphemy.

Video footage of the savagery unleashed upon the young man shows an enraged crowd beating his naked body with sticks, kicking and stoning him while raising religious slogans. Another student was also attacked for the same reason and badly injured; his whereabouts are unknown.

But why should we be surprised at this display of bestiality masquerading as virtue? After all, the road to Mashal Khan’s murder is punctuated with many a landmark pointing to where we are headed: eight people, including a child, burned alive in Gojra in 2009 on allegations of blasphemy; governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, gunned down by his security guard in 2011 for coming to the defence of a blasphemy accused; lawyer Rashid Rehman, shot dead in May 2014 for defending a blasphemy suspect; brick kiln workers Shama and Shahzad, burned alive by a mob in November 2014 on allegations of blasphemy. And this is but a partial list, even in terms of the lives lost.

For the ruin of many a life has played out in the crucible of blasphemy: people driven out of their homes, deprived of their livelihoods, sometimes even languishing in jail for years because few lawyers now have the courage to defend them.

The culpability of the state — particularly some elements of it — in bringing matters to such a pass is undeniable. For even while spewing platitudes in the name of anti-extremism, it has fed the fires of intolerance and unreason, deliberately creating an environment where mere allegations of blasphemy trigger vigilante ‘justice’ and where appeals to moderation are conflated with defending blasphemy itself.

This is a Damocles’ sword that can conveniently be used to silence anyone professing views that question or contradict the state-approved narrative. And if innocents must die in the process, then so be it.

However, while the law should take its course in punishing those guilty of Mashal Khan’s murder, voices of sanity must speak up in the face of such cynical manipulation of religious sentiment.

Imran Khan, whose party heads the KP government, has rightly condemned Mashal Khan’s lynching, vowing to resist “the law of the jungle”. He is, shamefully enough, so far among the few politicians to have taken such an unequivocal stance.

Even most of the electronic media, otherwise so loquacious, has only covered Mashal Khan’s murder in a superficial manner, carefully avoiding the real issues that underpin the tragedy. Until these are debated, and the contradictions in society acknowledged, our descent into a dystopian nightmare will continue.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017


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Comments (79) Closed

Khalid Azhar Apr 15, 2017 08:47am

What is more unfortunate is that our Islamic Scholars will remain silent again which is contrary to an honest testimony.

KIRTIMAYA VARMA Apr 15, 2017 09:24am

Congratulations, Dawn, for this bold piece. The fact that such stories do get published shows that the Age of Enlightenment will surely come some day. In our part of the world--both India and Pakistan included--many foolish and cruel deeds are masqueraded as virtues born out of religious beliefs of self-styled authorities on religion. The press and the people should raise their voices against vigilantes who are becoming a threat to society.

CK Apr 15, 2017 09:26am

Nothing will change when hypocrisy is the binding force and hallmark of daily existence.

To get rid of it one should be able to introspect..... a quality best acquired only through well planned and well thought out education system.

nbtruth Apr 15, 2017 09:29am

Radicalization is threat to humanity. silence is not acceptable from rational people. anyone not willing to accept and respect other's view point is radicalized.

JA-Australia Apr 15, 2017 09:46am

Been hearing all this hand-wringing and introspection for decades. Not one single thing of substance is going to happen.

Pakistanis will make a lot of noise, act righteously outraged ... and promptly re-elect the same "business friendly" politicians who have nurtured this culture for decades.

In Pakistan, "business friendly" is code for politicians who will allow the corrupt middle and upper classes to keep avoiding income tax, stash their undeclared income abroad, and make noises about corruption.

Jazzy Apr 15, 2017 09:55am

@KIRTIMAYA VARMA : Age of Enlightenment may be in India but not in the Islamic republic of pakishtan.We can't even vote for a decent leader and Age of Enlightenment is step too far for us pakishtanis.Many thanks for your optimism for Pakishtan.May god bless you

kensam59 Apr 15, 2017 09:59am

Interesting article. Mob rule cannot be allowed in truly civilized society.

IAB Apr 15, 2017 10:14am

Shameful and a sad loss of a life with such brutality ............... The culprits need to be caught and an example set but punishing them. This mob lynching has to stop. When such culprits go scot free what is stopping the next mob knowing that the earlier ones were not tried or tested ...This is cold blooded mob murder induced by frenzy ..... These guys are as bad as the terrorists !!!!

Shaikh Muhammad ali Apr 15, 2017 10:30am

@KIRTIMAYA VARMA: It is indeed good to hear this view from the other side of the fence. Thank God there are people like us across the border too who think in the same fashion. This hypocrisy needs to stop and NOW. I guess education is the only answer but how long do we have to wait that remains a question in point.

Shak Apr 15, 2017 10:39am

A young man who talked about reforms at his university has been made quiet by using another reason which dare not be challenged.

SEEMI DAWOOD SHAIKH Apr 15, 2017 11:56am

Very well written article, this extreme mind set of Pakistani Youth is highly disturbing factor. We as a nation always have zero tolerance towards others opinion regarding any topic especially religion. Why all the Islamic scholars of Islamic Republic of Pakistan are quiet ? why all the patriotic anchors not talking on this issue openly. Regrets are all we have at the end of each day.

Jazzy Apr 15, 2017 12:51pm

Rest in peace mashal Khan.

ANIR Apr 15, 2017 01:31pm

@SEEMI DAWOOD SHAIKH They are quiet as they are afraid that they may be targeted verbally or even physically if they speak up. There is no safety for them in the society they live in.

tzaman Apr 15, 2017 02:56pm

Sur, you have rightly pointed out the darkness in our society. But has citizens of this country taken any cognizant of this tragedy. It is a tragedy for Pakistan, the modern, civilized muslim country slowly becoming an uncivilzed, unruly, dogmatic society. Nothing other than our past 35 years Zia's misrule is haunting us. How do we get rid of it?

abBEY Apr 15, 2017 03:07pm

good people are all around ...alas they do not speak. that is the tragedy almost everywhere be it india or pakistan or anywhere. we must speak up . other wise be ready for dooms day !

Nasir London Apr 15, 2017 03:16pm

Thank you DAWN for raising your voice of sanity speaking out in the face of cynical manipulation of religious sentiment that decieves all norms of religion of Islam.

shaikh Apr 15, 2017 03:34pm

This unfortunate incident will further tarnish the already unenviable image of the country.The law must run its course and punish the perpetrators.

wanghai Apr 15, 2017 03:45pm

it is not your university curriculum which shapes your thoughts. Because curriculum ends up teaching you how to labor in your field. what shapes your personality and thoughts is what you read, listen, watch extracurricular. if these students had even few times listened some one speaking to them about religious toleration etc. , they wouldn't have committed such crime. unfortunately, in our society , their ears mostly hear other way round . unless that isn't reversed, these things continue happen. moreover, i bet none of them would have habit of reading dawn news. if they had, their mind wouldn't have been that much narrowed.

talat Apr 15, 2017 03:48pm

absolutely agree with the editorial

Imran Apr 15, 2017 03:55pm

What is blatantly missing from any news is the role (if any) of student wings of political parties. For example, if PTI or JI's student wings are involved, then there is little hope for an impartial inquiry.

Imran Apr 15, 2017 03:55pm

@Jazzy In India they are killing people for transporting cows. What enlightenment!

Avtar Apr 15, 2017 03:57pm

If not such hard hitting editorials, I do not know what will awaken the establishment and the state or society approved narrative.

asif Ali Apr 15, 2017 04:24pm

@Khalid Azhar , They are not silent, they refused to preform his last rituals.

V C BHUTANI Apr 15, 2017 04:27pm

Dante: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

Krish chennai Apr 15, 2017 04:31pm

@wanghai : Sir, values are first taught by parents, then by the teachers in the educational institution, apart from academic knowledge, with the add-on of the internet today which carries news and information real-time on everyone's mobile phone.

Zak Apr 15, 2017 05:25pm

In KPK, Justice will be served.

Masood Hussain Apr 15, 2017 05:37pm

It is prevailing already Mr. I.K the Mians and Ranas of Punjab have been actively promoting Beastility.

A person with pride Apr 15, 2017 05:48pm

It is a sad commentary. It happened around the same time when 2 police officers in Georgia (USA) kicked and badly hurt a driver. They were fired within hours. Do , governments in Pakistan (Federal, provincial....) have the commitments, guts to prosecute murderer of Marshal Khan and let the public at large stomp o the haters. Don't think so. Live in darkness

joe chaku Apr 15, 2017 06:01pm

Pakistan is moving to the dark ages of violence and destruction.

MA Apr 15, 2017 06:16pm

It needs to be highlighted what did he wrote on hios FB account ?

Reality check Apr 15, 2017 06:24pm

A fruit of a militant mentality created to recruit 'mujahids' in the times gone by, the very mentality that has gifted us the curse of terrorism. Many of this mob of religious justice must be sinners of the highest order. What this act of savagery has done for them is provided atonement for their own sins that they'll continue to commit for the rest of their pathetic lives.. sad

ozz Apr 15, 2017 06:24pm

The state of Pakistan needs to rise to the occassion and set an example of those responsible.

Ms Mandeep Kaur Apr 15, 2017 06:39pm

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke quotes from

Ms Mandeep Kaur Apr 15, 2017 06:41pm

@JA-Australia They must elect down to earth visionaries as leaders.

parvez mahmood Apr 15, 2017 06:48pm

and we want democracy for this nation where expression of views invites death by mob

Asmat jamal Apr 15, 2017 07:02pm

The gruesome act of murder is the True face of the society in which we are living. Perpetual absence of justice from the society has made people savage. It is reflection on our institutions and our hollow claim of peace.

kit kit Apr 15, 2017 07:20pm

Until our leaders speak out and a against these mobs nothing will change.what is the point of their leadership if they cant lead to condemn extreme actions against its own citizens. es they are scared of the mobs and their voting power but the people elected these limp politicians as leaders so its high time they acted to their elected role

ahsan Apr 15, 2017 07:21pm

The only solution is " Billy the Kid solution". In this movie , Billy kills so many of the men who unjustly killed one of his friends that the US federal govt takes notice. Some day someone will take this step.

kit kit Apr 15, 2017 07:22pm

@ANIR But they have the role of leaderIts what the were elected for. If the cant stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen but the food is too good for nanwaz and sabaz so they wont go. well done IK for speaking. shows his brave satnce

Abdulla Hussain Apr 15, 2017 07:53pm

Very sad, this young man of 23 years cannot come back but the authority should take appropriate measure to make sure that public lynching never takes place again. If a person is at fault for any crime then the court of law should decide and punish or otherwise. I think the investigators will find joints.

Roy Meddock Apr 15, 2017 07:57pm

Where tolerance dies peace will not prevail - it is as simple as that. Where there is no moderation there can be no harmony. Where there is no peace the economy cannot thrive and poverty breeds more frustration and eventual violence.

Pendoo Apr 15, 2017 08:03pm

This is what happens when governmental bodies start to define religious boundaries, instead of providing security to their citizens and guaranteeing freedom for everyone to be able to practice their religion freely and openly.

R S Chakravarti Apr 15, 2017 08:10pm

@Imran That is similar.

Monsieur Apr 15, 2017 08:15pm

@Imran thats also known as breaking the law .....

AsH Apr 15, 2017 08:18pm

The truth is everybody will forget this in 2-3 days

Khanm Apr 15, 2017 08:41pm

Spirituality can go hand-in-hand with ruthless single-mindedness when the individual is convinced his cause is just...That is the irony we face day in and day out..folks.....seeing everything, yet a part of nothing..

Faris abdulla Apr 15, 2017 09:18pm

It is very sad to see such things are happening in India and Pakistan. It happens only in a society where religion takes over democracy and freedom of thoughts. It is a good sign that Pakistan political leaders condemned it.

Muneer Apr 15, 2017 09:26pm

@Monsieur.Which law,transporting cows from one place to another!

Uday kulkarni Apr 15, 2017 10:13pm

I learnt very important preamble mentioned in Canadian Naturalization and Citizenship book when I got my immigration & Passport to Canada many years ago which says; "Canada respects and expects all of its citizens to adopt its cultural & religious diversity as well as "RESPECT THE VIEWS OF OTHERS NO MATTER HOW CONTRADICTING IT MAY BE TO YOURS". I have over the years seen this dictum followed in practice in Canada and that Canada truly respects all kinds of divergent views and the entire Indian sub continental countries need to take a leaf out of a truly developed country like Canada.

AliPasha(USA) Apr 15, 2017 10:22pm

We cannot have the same mob mentality like the Indians.But somehow we do.

Modi Apr 15, 2017 10:30pm

@MA -that is irrelevant. Nobody should be harmed or killed under the garb of the blasphemy law. This law was promulgated to appease the Mullahs. I say damn the Mullahs. Now the Government should sternly control the Mullah's activities, teachings and behaviour.

RAJ Apr 15, 2017 11:07pm

Very tragic! I think instead of basic science or religious education, primary education should focus on rational thinking and civics education! I feel 60-70% of what is taught at early age in schools is useless. We should first teach kids how to live in a civilized & tolerant society. Actually science and religion can wait until later. It's all wishful thinking. We have it all upside down! Look at long term solutions if we want to hope for peace.

wasim Apr 16, 2017 01:26am

"dystopian"-- how can you explain the feeling of being punched in the upper rib cage many times and smacked behind the ear during my auntees funeral 4/15/.17 and no pysichal' evidence?

Asif A Shah Apr 16, 2017 05:53am

@Ms Mandeep Kaur I agree. However, in Pakistan,the good men should do something but carefully and diplomatically if they want to avoid being branded.

Alba Apr 16, 2017 06:00am

@Jazzy ... The Age of Enlightenment came in the 17th and 18th centuries when India was looted by the Persians and then occupied by the British Raj. The Enlightenment came to India second hand.

kaliraja thangamani Apr 16, 2017 06:04am

@Zak How wil Justice be done? You tell how it will be done. In Kashmir issue, how you are angry, why not now?. Please understand well about present day world well.

Alba Apr 16, 2017 06:04am

@nbtruth ... "...anyone not willing to accept and respect other's view point is radicalized." What you said is called bigotry. Bigots are people with only one idea who are never wrong.

Alba Apr 16, 2017 06:12am

@ANIR ... Fear is debilitating. Courage is exhilarating.

Alba Apr 16, 2017 06:15am

@SEEMI DAWOOD SHAIKH ... ... “We have inherited certain clichés about our history and the history of other nations without reading our history critically and without reading the history of others fairly and objectively."

Alba Apr 16, 2017 06:52am

@joe chaku .... Don't forget robbery from the top of society to the bottom. More poor people = more crime.

Alba Apr 16, 2017 07:07am

@kit kit ... The Sharifs are afraid of them. They only want to save themselves.

atta Apr 16, 2017 07:11am

No reason to blame the West when our sins go unpunished.

wanghai Apr 16, 2017 09:42am

@Krish chennai more than half of the University students storm to kill a student, which clearly shows how good teachers and parents are at teaching values. Schools, colleges, universities can be turned to institutions which groom students. Method is very simple:install multimedia in all classrooms, pervoide schools and universities with videos, documentaries which demonstrate harmony, love, peace, understanding between sects, toleration, forgiveness, openness etc. in some entertaining way. same technique can be used to groom students in variety of disciplines including, eating, sleeping, career grooming. When these students become parents, they will be good parents, and good at teaching values. moreover the plot of novels, movies which shows revenge must be replaced with forgiveness. These simple steps can make huge differences.

Arsha Apr 16, 2017 10:55am

What is most disheartening and scary is that the perpetrator were students. That shows how radicalized the youth has become. Usually youth is more liberal and anti establishment which keeps the society on a progressive path.

ViJay B. Apr 16, 2017 03:20pm

@Shaikh Muhammad ali " I guess education is the only answer"? It is university students who perpetrated this horrible murder. What kind of education are they getting?

Kuppudu Apr 16, 2017 08:02pm

Congratulations on this piece. But, it looks like you should keep a supply of such pre-written editorials and publish them with suitable modifications for a long time to come.

Syed Apr 16, 2017 11:12pm

We all should feel ashamed.

abul hasnat Apr 17, 2017 07:27am

Politicians in Pakistan should realize that the nation does not need speeches any more. They should have the courage to lagislate laws that teach tolerance not turmoil in the Country.

Munir Varraich Apr 17, 2017 09:42am

Dawn must go to the root of this issue - when, where and why this mindset was permitted to grow in Pakistan and who benefited from all this. Is it in the "larger interest" of the Pakistani state, or the religious lobby or the outside powers? In finding the right answers to these questions one perforce has to be "honest". The barbaric mindset will only be reversed when we have pin-pointed the culprit and destroyed it.

Muhammad Makhdoom Apr 17, 2017 10:49am

This is still to be confirmed whether the killing really pertains to blasphemy or some internal University Politics due to Mashal's bold interviews against irregularities. I hope authorities shall focus on the real issue instead of crying for mere allegation with no proof.

Wasim Apr 17, 2017 12:17pm

@Alba "What you said is called bigotry. Bigots are people with only one idea who are never wrong."

radicalization is a product of of bigotry. These are not two different things, but belong to the same spectrum of disorders.

Salman Tarik Kureshu Apr 17, 2017 01:20pm

@Khalid Azhar Is education really the answer? This members of this lynch mob were university students! The point is that they regarded themselves as champions of the fundamental values of our society. And, like it or not, the law of the land, the expressed opinions of scholarly authority figures, and the views of the man in the street would be sympathetic to them, even if disagreeing with the method adopted.

waqar Apr 17, 2017 01:55pm

@ Khalid Azhar , please go to the link and see what prominent religious scholars have said on this. This unfortunate incident happened in a very secular university by students belonging to a very secular political party. Dont start blaming religious scholars without even bothering to know the facts.

Dhruv Apr 17, 2017 02:27pm

What is far more disturbing is they were University Students not any illiterate or village people or any party affiliated workers.

arnav Apr 17, 2017 03:39pm

Sad sad very sad......what else...Such incidents are very common in India and Pakistan......very confused...Wish all could understand Sufisim..May his soul RIP.

Fazal Karim Apr 17, 2017 05:22pm

Changing society is long process. In the present scenario of catching votes least is expected from the political parties. What can be done and should be done is deterrent punishment to the killers who can be easily verified in video clippings. Criminal case should be dealt by military court as there will be pressure on police, lawyers

rana1 Apr 17, 2017 06:18pm

Dawn Thank you for taking up this issue.

Umair Khan Apr 17, 2017 07:40pm


Max T. Furr Apr 18, 2017 05:43pm

Excellent article. It portrays the very reason that nations and schools should always be secular, allowing all ideas to be expressed and allowing all individuals to practice their own religious beliefs, so long as no one is harmed or burdened.

John Stuart Mill wrote that silencing speech deprives society of the possibility of adding something significant to its intellectual pool of ideas. As well, he wrote that if all the world were of one opinion, except for one individual with a different opinion, the world would have no more right to silence the one than he, had he the power, to silence the world.

"A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," written by Thomas Jefferson, forms the basis for the reason all beliefs should be tolerated: .

This is why the U.S. has had so little religious strife even though our own Christian extremists try to undermine this ideal, believing their own view to be the only truth.