ACCUSATION is evidence, trial is by ordeal, and the sentence is always death. This is how it went with Mashal Khan and this is how it has been with the countless others who have preceded him. His final words do not matter, it does not matter that he professed his love for the Prophet (PBUH) as he lay dying from gunshot wounds inflicted by his pious tormentors, all that matters is the accusation and the accusation is evidence.
It doesn’t even matter that his murder seems to have nothing to do with his actual words, that it is likely that it was his vocal stance against the university administration that prompted the campaign against him. It doesn’t even matter that the university administration has displayed its complicity by forming a committee, not to investigate the killing, but to investigate the alleged blasphemy committed by the murdered Mashal Khan.
It doesn’t matter that after his death fake accounts bearing his name have cropped up like poisonous toadstools aiming at providing post-facto justification.
And so here we stand, bending over backwards to ‘prove’ that he was not a blasphemer, that he was a ‘good’ Muslim and did not deserve the fate that should, by implication, be reserved only for the not-so-good. But none of that matters either, because evidence is accusation, is a death sentence to be carried by public acclamation in some dark, murderous perversion of democracy.
It has always been so, in just about all such cases. Take Salmaan Taseer, for example; you’ll find countless people – their eyes blazing and their lips spewing venom – who will justify his killing. Ask why and you will be told that he was a blasphemer. Ask what blasphemy he committed and you’ll be met with stunned disbelief at the temerity of your question. Don’t you know that accusation is evidence?
The harvest of hate has ripened.
It was the same with the (in)famous ‘bloggers’. We still don’t (officially) know who abducted them or why or what treatment they were subjected to. What we do know (somehow) is that they are blasphemers. We’ve heard it from TV screens, from pulpits, from Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And that’s enough. Accusation is evidence and … well you know the rest.
We have nurtured our own disease, have fed this cancer of the soul, this cancer which has a mind of its own; this cancer with purpose. The fault lies with a society that sups on hate and willingly butchers its own children at the devil’s altar, mutilating their bodies and crushing their skulls like some kind of ritual sacrifice.
But let’s be fair; it’s not just us, impotent and exhausted as we are. The fault lies with each and every crumbing pillar of the state, every diseased branch of it. It rests with TV anchors and print columnists who lie in every breath, who condemn innocents to death for a salary raise and a bump in ratings.
It lies with those shadowy operators who use the fig leaf of blasphemy to mask the crushing of dissent. It lies with ministers launching witch-hunts for blasphemers as if there was some sort of epidemic under way, as if anyone was mad or suicidal enough to actually commit blasphemy while knowing the consequences. It lies with state agencies who aid and abet this madness to serve their own ends.
Last, but never least, it lies with those preachers who measure their strength in the amount of killers and madmen they can rally to their cause. And for the rest — politicians and the prominent — what does it matter if they did not attend the funeral of Mashal Khan? What does it matter if they release a mealy-mouthed statement of condemnation or remain silent, hoping that the storm will pass them by?
The corpse we planted in our garden has come to full bloom, the poison tree has borne fruit, and the harvest of hate has ripened.
Yet here we sit, begging like whipped and frightened curs waiting for a scrap to fall from our master’s table; grateful for a piece of gristle, a shard of chewed bone. Anything we can hold on to in the hope that the hand that whips us may absentmindedly one day stroke our mangy manes; desperate for any fragment we can shore against our ruin.
But we wait in vain because they are not just cowards, but complicit. And such is the level of their degradation, such is the shortness of their sight that they do not see that the noose they have fashioned will one day be fitted around their necks, snug and suffocating. They do not see that the fire they have started, the flames they have fanned, may first burn our huts and homes, but will one day reach their palaces too. And what will they rule over then, but an empire of ash?
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2017