“THERE is a Mashal in every home. We have to protect them,” said the father of Mashal Khan. How often does one find such dignity in the face of an unspeakable tragedy as that which has befallen Iqbal Jan’s family? His stoicism is not only deeply moving; it is also inspiring. For the rest of his days, Mr Jan must live with the knowledge that his 23-year-old son, accused of having committed blasphemy, met a terrible, premature end at the hands of a rabid mob, beaten mercilessly and then shot. Only police intervention reportedly prevented his body from being set on fire. It is a calamity that is personal to him and his family in a way that it cannot be for anyone else, however affected by this ghastly murder. Yet Iqbal Jan has chosen not to make it only about his personal loss. He has asked that his son’s killers be punished, not to bring closure to his family but so that no other family experiences the grief they have to endure.
More people must heed the call that Mashal’s father has given, his plea for peace and tolerance against what he described as forces of darkness that drown out the light. While Imran Khan spoke out promptly to condemn the murder, others were slow off the mark, apparently waiting for the blasphemy allegation to be refuted by authorities before they committed themselves. They betrayed their narrow thinking, not to mention their cowardice, by their silence. This lynching, and those that have come before, are about much more than blasphemy. They are about the utter absence of the rule of law and the conviction among certain segments of society that acts of extreme violence can be committed with impunity as long as the tag of blasphemer is attached to the target. More evidence, some of it on video, has emerged about the motive behind the murderous attack on Mashal and the threats — what else but of being accused of blasphemy? — given to those on the scene not to reveal the identity of the person who shot him.
Sometimes out of tragedy, a chance at redemption presents itself. This is that moment. It is an opportunity for this country’s leadership to rein in what has become an out-of-control epidemic of ‘vigilante justice’, an aberration of the very concept of justice, driven as it is by raw emotion — often manipulated by vested interests — rather than based on evidence and administered by a court of law. There has been talk now and then of enacting legislation to make false allegation of blasphemy a punishable offence. Several senators on Monday once again called for such an amendment to the blasphemy law. The state must rise to the occasion. The least we can do is ensure that Mashal did not die in vain.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2017
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