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Cancer with purpose

Updated Apr 17, 2017 10:30am

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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.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2017

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Zarrar Khuhro is a Dawn staffer. He is a co-host of the TV talk show, Zara Hut Kay.

He tweets @ZarrarKhuhro


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



Comments (66) Closed



brr Apr 17, 2017 02:19am

The self-righteous killers believe their god is with them, they dont need a reason, or logic.

JA-Australia Apr 17, 2017 02:24am

The first point is that it is never OK to take the law into your own hands. People do so either in extreme anger, or when they have given up on the authorities to do their job and enforce the law. Mardan is a condemnation of the government's failure to enforce the (blasphemy) law.

The second point is whether there should be a blasphemy law in the first place. Countries across the board have laws against racial and religious vilification. France, Germany and other European countries have very strict laws against anti-Semitic speech. These are all criminal offenses and the authorities enforce them vigorously. The same Danish authorities who allowed anti-Mohammed (PBUH) cartoons also prosecuted two Arabs who "insulted" the memory of the Holocaust.

Any society has the right to set limits on speech that it considers objectionable, and it is the job of law enforcement and elected officials to enforce those limits. If they fail to do so, then mob violence like Mardan will take over.

Salee Apr 17, 2017 02:49am

Lynchings were a common occurrence in the US as late as the 1930 albeit minorities were the overwhelming victims. What stopped them were a strong imposition of laws. The mass crowd cannot be reasoned with.

Abbas syed Apr 17, 2017 03:05am

I applaud courage of both, Zarrar Khuro for writing this article, and Dawn for printing. Compare this with the Prime Minister and his Interior to condemn that brutal incidenct and only after PTI chairman Imran Khan issued Statemen of confemnation.

Alba Apr 17, 2017 05:16am

" 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." _ There would be a charge of "depraved indifference murder" under New York criminal statutes against members of the administration.

Sojourn truth Apr 17, 2017 06:15am

How sad it is that some students take the law and order in their hands and give the ultimate punishment.It is so sad that the some perpetrators of this heinous crime feels secure to obliterate someone.My heart feels the sadness of this crime. Authorities have to move cautiously so as to not to make these killers another Mumtaj Kadri(s).Parents send their children to university for education and students should be occupied with their education only, nothing else.

Dadeejee Apr 17, 2017 07:24am

Deeply moving article about the terrible tragedy that befell Mashal Khan and countless others in the past. I have seldom felt so sad and heart broken. I beseech you, Mr Zarrar Khuhro, to please continue to struggle to your utmost to help destroy thoroughly "the harvest of hate (that) has ripened" and never to germinate again, ever.

syed Apr 17, 2017 07:31am

well said. Even questioning the "evidence" is evidence of complicity of the person questioning. We are incapable of learning and that is the worst punishment history can hand out to a society ...

SaliM Apr 17, 2017 08:00am

Searing article

Syed F. Hussaini Apr 17, 2017 08:05am

Hopeless we hope disaster would liberate us.

Maaz ur rahman Apr 17, 2017 08:19am

aptly put

Nadeem Apr 17, 2017 09:09am

Yes, too many vested interests in keeping things the way they are. Power and money are both flowing to a few from this cancer so why try to get rid of it. Will the cancer one day consume the whole body, causing death? Sure, but they don't care

Murtaza Apr 17, 2017 09:28am

Brave and true words

zaHIDA Apr 17, 2017 09:30am

Thank you for putting my thoughts into words, at least for a catharsis.

LALAT Apr 17, 2017 09:40am

What an awesome piece of writing. Written from the core of your heart, Mr. Zarrar. Thank you

Aaron parayil Apr 17, 2017 10:11am

As an India I have to admit, this probably might be one of the most honest and thoughtful article I have read in The Dawn.

shalone Apr 17, 2017 10:51am

@brr If these killers believe that God is with them, should know that God gives us life and take our life away. He does not need help from people having no heart to kill people who cannot defend themselves all alone facing a mob.

gul Apr 17, 2017 11:03am

Absolutely correct analysis

Shakeel Ahmed Apr 17, 2017 11:28am

"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."

Yes sir, The Second Amendment in the constitution in 1974 was the beginning of it all and then Zia took it to full harvest.

Arsha Apr 17, 2017 11:30am

@JA-Australia how many instances of mob violence have you seen in West against people hurting religious sentiments. That shows the difference in people, their tolerance and their level of maturity.

Asif jamil Apr 17, 2017 11:50am

As a human being I am very deeply effected by the gruesome lynching of this innocent boy. Reading Zarrar Khuhro's heartfelt comments has given me some solace that there are still some right minded and kind people in Pakistan. But my biggest concern is what is the government and the clergy doing to eradicate the cancer of hate and ignorance from the society?

NoNy Apr 17, 2017 11:54am

bravo. There comes a time when you have to stand up and push all those red lines back and create some space so that a normal human being could peacefully breath at least.

Fudayl Z. Ahmad Apr 17, 2017 12:20pm

Good article. To many people, it is not just about killing people for alleged blasphemy; the emotional and uneducated people are often heartless and brainless in most aspect of their lives. In developing societies like Pakistan, their crimes against humanity and nature are more visible. One will find another characteristic of these emotional and uneducated people - they are mostly among the have-nots.

NP Apr 17, 2017 12:42pm

Very good and deep sighted articale, an eyeopener for all those, who are obsessed with hate and are blood thirsty.

rana Apr 17, 2017 12:43pm

@brr deceased was irritating and injuring the religious feelings of other since a long.

Sajad ahmed Apr 17, 2017 12:54pm

In my analysis it is evident that Mr. Mashal Khan was not killed due to blasphemy, but he was killed on account of keeping free and liberal mind. He was free thinker, therefore, blasphemy was an excuse to kill him. Actually, there is a dispute between liberal/free thinkers and the orthodox who stress upon not to think freely and follow the beaten path. There is a war between ideas. In our society, sufficient number of liberals exist, they reject ideal extremism. Millions of Mishal Khan live in our society; how many Mishals they will kill? Everybody should have liberty to express himself according to his own template and live the life on their own accord.

Namo Apr 17, 2017 12:56pm

This is the current sad status of Pakistan.

AZAIN AHMED Apr 17, 2017 01:04pm

what an article!

Gil Apr 17, 2017 01:05pm

Thanks Sir That you are not silent!

Asif Apr 17, 2017 01:21pm

Extremist religious mafia is getting out of hand. Journalists and people like Zarrar Khuhro are the voice of reason and brave to speak out against this mafia.

People throughout the country should come out and protest against this brutality. Words can't describe this horrific act.

Zalaan Utmani Apr 17, 2017 01:33pm

Thank you Khuhro Saab. I was waiting for someone like you to put these feelings into words. We are scared, the state has become senseless and the society went back to stone age.

JA-Australia Apr 17, 2017 02:30pm

@Arsha The reason mob violence is rare in the West is precisely because the laws, including speech laws, are enforced and the rule of law is maintained. The authorities make it clear that violation of the law will not be tolerated, either by alleged offenders or by vigilantes handing out street justice. There are rare instances when vigilantism erupts, like Bernhard Goetz of NYC, when people of NYC lost faith in law enforcement.

John Adams famously said that the US is a "government of laws, and not of men." In Pakistan, by contrast, there is an obsession with personalities rather than respect for the law. The requirement to have a Muslim President and PM assumes that only Muslims can be honest; that patriotic Christians, Hindus, Parsis and others are not to be fully trusted. Can there be a bigger slap in the face to the white strip in our flag, representing minorities, than to tell them they are formally second-class citizens, forever barred from leading their own country?

Gil Apr 17, 2017 02:39pm

Thanks Sir

That you are not silent!

shahid Ahmed Apr 17, 2017 02:40pm

The poisonous tree we had planted borne fruit. Yes you are true Mr Khuhro

Irfan Husain Apr 17, 2017 02:42pm

A blistering indictment of the mindset that produces the killers behind Mashal's murder.

butterfly Apr 17, 2017 03:13pm

More than anything else, I am appalled by the lack of any sensitivity on the part of the onlookers. It tells us what kind of a society are we becoming! The world is becoming a dangerous place to live in! People like to take videos, gossip about an incident and add fuel to fire, instead of trying to calm it down! I remember i was standing at a local bus station and a guy touched me inappropriately and ran away... I cried out loud and shamed him for his act.. so many grown up men around me did not even bother to move, let alone do something about it! similarly, a fight erupted between two girls living in my hostel who became insane and went on to kick each other in the stomach and pull other's hair like animals! Despite being lot weaker physically from all the lot, I sped forward and tried to separate them, while 20 other girls kept looking with awe and excitement! Let me reassure you, Mashal is not dead, Humanity sure is!

butterfly Apr 17, 2017 03:17pm

I am pretty sure those who actually planned Mashal's murder killed him by not even touching him, they used these hot headed youth to do their dirty work for them! next time anyone, think twice before you believe hearsay! I think the worst person is that who gets brainwashed and used! Such person commits a crime he did intend to commit but fell prey to his immature mind which takes lies and false allegations at face value!

bkt Apr 17, 2017 03:30pm

Excellent analysis, well written, succinct and completely.

Usman Apr 17, 2017 03:31pm

@JA I spot an apologist. This ifs and buts and defending the non-implementation of blasphemy law brought us here..... Its painful to see your eroding the beautiful and painful words of Zarar with your apologetic attitude. Just remember , There is nothing , nothing whatsoever , which can can justify mob-slaughter

Alok Kumar Apr 17, 2017 03:37pm

All religions advocate compassion and love.Any violence on the name of religion should be denounced by all religious clerics. If they remain silent this is their complicity with the crime.

Feroz Apr 17, 2017 03:42pm

@butterfly Very true, everyone wants to watch a spectacle like a bull fight. Fight on the road and people will gather, a huge fire and people will gather in hundreds to watch, a lynching of course a bonanza for voyeurs. Feelings and conscience is dead, so is empathy at the cost of apathy !

BAXAR Apr 17, 2017 03:46pm

@Sajad ahmed "In my analysis it is evident that Mr. Mashal Khan was not killed due to blasphemy, but he was killed on account of keeping free and liberal mind. " You think that the mob can judge the level of freedom of a mind. Generally, a mob doesn't even know its own state of mind, it is driven by a need of violence and it justifies the motivation with the number of people endorsing it. Our democracy works the same way.

UKumar Apr 17, 2017 03:49pm

While it is unconscionable that a life was taken, the other missing question is why are guns so freely available? Why are they allowed in colleges or other public places?

UKumar Apr 17, 2017 03:50pm

@Usman Nothing justifies taking any life mob or no mob.

BAXAR Apr 17, 2017 04:04pm

@butterfly "More than anything else, I am appalled by the lack of any sensitivity on the part of the onlookers." If you were there, would you have confronted the mob? Would you not have been worried about the mob turning on you as facilitator? Sorry sir, I don't think me or you would have acted differently than the onlookers.

JA-Australia Apr 17, 2017 04:11pm

@Usman Where do you see me defending the mob? Explaining and understanding why things happen is not the same as defending them. It is the first step towards finding solutions instead of just hand wringing.

Syed H Apr 17, 2017 04:20pm

@JA-Australia Your point about how many nations have legal limits on certain forms of speech such as Holocaust denial, and that in Pakistan the forms of speech that are sensitive for our society are the ones the blasphemy law targets, is a valid one. But it would not be fair to leave it at that.

The elephant in the room here is the religious establishment. The blasphemy law and the broader climate of intolerance has its roots in this establishment's empowerment since the 1980s. Unable to ever win anything but a tiny share of the vote (unlike the radicals over the border), they seek to manifest their malign influence on Pakistan through the creation of a climate of fear and intolerance, with blasphemy as a tool. Discussing blasphemy primarily in terms of legal technicalities and comparisons with other nations can make us lose sight of this. We need to do what the Turkish state did decades ago: realise that religious authority and education are too important to be left in private hands.

Imran Altaf Apr 17, 2017 04:58pm

In the meantime our lawless Government sits back to watch.

Khilari Apr 17, 2017 05:07pm

Well said. Count me in your voice.

khanm Apr 17, 2017 05:56pm

what has gone wrong in our country, why there is so much of hate, anguish pain, frustration, killing, and hate. I contend that most emotional distress is best understood as a rational response to sick societies.It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. We have lost it, or we have never had it; and, because we do not know how to judge anything, we have been led here and pushed there, beaten up, driven, politically, religiously and socially. We don't know, but it is difficult to say we don't know.We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. 'We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.' ...It is time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. For I have lost my faith and trust...I could never trust anyone who's well-adjusted to a sick society.

ALF Apr 17, 2017 06:13pm

We shouldn't wait for another incident to happen, criticize & mourn for a few days and then get busy with the normal life till another occurrence. The right minded people in media, clergy and other walks of life must come together immediately to create awareness and educate the people. The first thing could be: all prime time shows on TV should get rid of these useless talk shows with politicians, instead bring in the learned people ( likes of late Ashfaq Ahmed) who can preach love, peace and harmony. I am sure constant airing of such programs can diffuse the situation and put the people back on to the right path.

Nasir London Apr 17, 2017 07:04pm

Why the Authrities are failing at every level in every Institunal Department, Zarrar Khuhro diligently and with amazing insite of the system we live has put it very few words, " the lie in every breath that condemns innocents to death for a salary raise and a bump in ratings". We promote people in their positions not based on performance merit but who knows who. The result is incompetant administrators and corrupt administration.

DAWN should reserve it full front page to the article printed in large and bold letters for the AUTHORITIES to take note of the prevailing state of the law and order in the country.

Azam Apr 17, 2017 08:28pm

Brilliant anatomy of our seemingly mortal disease (that is self inflicted)

MS H Nath Apr 17, 2017 08:42pm

@Sajad ahmed Dear Sir, after your dinner, kindly talk to the Imam who refused to say the prayers for Mashal. You may become the next Mashal. In some heart, God lights a spark of spirit that elevates them to higher things and make them capable of upholding their values... Mashal was one. There are NOT many Mashals out there.. there may be many who romance the idea that the Mashal was freedom they desired for themselves, but was afraid to make sacrifice and grab the freedom?

TQ Apr 17, 2017 08:46pm

Excellent article Mr. Zarrar.

A very honest and deeply moving article highlighting the cancer of this society.

Bahadur Apr 18, 2017 12:23am

Is this because of Pakistan's blasphemy law? If it's, they should change the law. People need to know that just because somebody is accused of doing something 'bad' doesn't mean they did it. Let law officers investigate and justice system decide the case.

Idrees Khawaja Apr 18, 2017 12:44am

Think of the hype created by the state on the blasphemy in the weeks proceeding the incident - who and who were part of this?

Rp Apr 18, 2017 12:52am

@butterfly - I am not - some of the onlookers must be enjoying to watch what was happening, some must be scared of the mob or worst being themselves labeled as blasphemers and some just oblivious to what they were watching! The problem is the current situation of law not only allows the criminals to be ignored, it also doesn't do anything to protect the innocent. If something similar happens to few sons and daughters of prominent mullahs, everything will change with the speed of lightening! Suddenly blasphemy accusation will start to be dealt with extreme scrutiny!

oricle Apr 18, 2017 03:21am

It only goes to show the mindset of the supposedly educated administrators, need I say more of the uneducated in Pakistan.

Raja Islam Apr 18, 2017 05:55am

@JA-Australia The problem with the law here is that someone can be sentenced to death for his/her views. No one should have the right to kill or jail anyone on the basis of disagreement on views religious or otherwise.

JOE FL Apr 18, 2017 06:49am

The article is a searing and deeply moving description of the public's condition. The blasphemy law is crushing the human consciousness so that even innocent wonder cannot be discussed, much less resolved, on fear of death from the mob.

Syed F. Hussaini Apr 18, 2017 07:44am

@khanm

Thank you, Sir!

Rahul verma Apr 18, 2017 10:29am

"When accusation is evidence, the sentence is always death" - This reminds me of Kulbhushan Jadhav.

Patrick Apr 18, 2017 10:37am

These thugs believed they were doing right in the name of their religion. Either amend the teaching or the text of the religion

BAXAR Apr 18, 2017 01:21pm

@khanm "what has gone wrong in our country, why there is so much of hate, anguish pain, frustration, killing, and hate." To fight for justice is the first duty of human beings. When they compromise justice for an illusory well being, the result is what you mentioned. People who don't demand justice, will get those ills for free.

Alka Apr 18, 2017 03:13pm

@Salee Excuses excuses and excuses.