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Silencing Mashal

Published Apr 19, 2017 06:56am


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MASHAL Khan was neither the first nor is he the last victim of the religious bigotry that has become so pervasive in our society. The gruesome lynching of the young Mardan university student shows how easy it is to inflame a mindless mob in the name of faith. The men who pumped bullets into Mashal and beat his lifeless body were mostly his fellow students.

Most horrific was the alleged role of some faculty members and university employees in inciting the students to violence and that too on trumped-up blasphemy charges. A seat of higher learning was the venue of the incident and a mob of educated men were involved in this beastly act. This kind of medieval barbarity is unprecedented even in this country where human life comes cheap.

It was murder most foul and the motive was to silence a brilliant student who dared to speak his mind and question what was going wrong at the university and in the country. It apparently angered some in the university management and they sought to teach him a lesson for being so outspoken. The charge of blasphemy came in handy to inflame sentiments.

There is no shortage of bigots devoid of any sense of reasoning. However educated they may be, they are ready to kill in the name of faith. It took no time at all for a mob to gather, many of them not even very religiously motivated, just a mindless lot. Even watching a grainy video of the violence makes one sick. One wonders if they were even human beings.

Another horrific part of the incident was the reported involvement of members of some political parties, including an elected district councillor, in the gruesome act. A video showed them celebrating the killing. That raises many questions about the conspiracy to murder. It is intriguing that persons with disparate political affiliations joined hands in carrying out the crime. It gives the incident a new twist. It seems a clear case of using blasphemy allegations to cover up the actual reason behind the murder.

Certain sections of society have whipped up sentiments over ‘blasphemous’ social media material.

Mashal was a progressive person who had a thinking mind, a rare commodity in the increasingly regressive atmosphere that prevails in our educational institutions. Decades of nurturing religious extremism by the state have produced a culture of violence and intolerance, causing the space for rational thinking to shrink.

The April 13 tragic incident cannot be seen in isolation. Over the past few weeks, we have seen a systematic campaign initiated by a section of the government, judiciary and media to whip up public sentiments over ‘blasphemous’ material on social media. Progressive bloggers are hunted and picked up without any evidence of their being involved in any blasphemous activity. The frenzy generated by the campaign has further empowered the radicalised section of society and hard-line clerics to question the religious belief of anyone who dares to differ with their retrogressive interpretation of religion.

Even the prime minister has not been spared the allegations of committing blasphemy for remarks he made in his speech at a Diwali celebration by the Hindu community. It was not just hard-line clerics but even some so-called TV commentators who led the campaign against him. Among them was a retired senior air force officer-turned-defence analyst. It reminds one of the inquisition in Europe during the Middle Ages, where everyone was suspected of having heretical propensities. Even an accusation is licence to kill, thus generating an atmosphere of fear. Silence of the administration regarding targeted religion-based killings has further emboldened the extremist elements.

One example of how the murderers are glorified is the construction of the grand mausoleum of Mumtaz Qadri on the outskirts of Islamabad. The murderer of the former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer is being projected as a martyr of the faith and as a saint. Thousands of devotees visit the shrine; among them retired judges and politicians. They come to pay homage to a convicted murderer. The administration appears completely helpless in the face of this defiance of law and justice. This weakness of the state, or rather its complicity, has been a major factor in causing incidents like the Mardan lynching.

Surely most of the perpetrators of this murder have been arrested and are likely to be indicted. But it is not just about this one incident, it is about the culture of impunity that legitimises killing merely on the accusation of blasphemy. Despite the public outrage over the savagery there are many clerics and members of Islamic parties who are not willing to condemn last week’s incident. Is there any complicity or fear of annoying their conservative constituency? It may be both.

Initially, the reaction from some mainstream political parties was muted and it was only after the media highlighted the crime that they picked up the courage to deplore the killing. It is both fear and political expediency that caused this ambiguity. The gruesome killing may have sent shock waves across the country, but as in the past, one fears it could also prove transient and be forgotten with the passage of time. It is not enough to condemn this act of terrorism, there is now a need to take concrete steps to counter the growing religious extremism in the country.

The latest tragedy has provided an opportunity for the political leadership to work towards amending the blasphemy law to stop its misuse and to prevent Mardan-like incidents from happening in the future. There is a need to build a national consensus on reforming the blasphemy law before it is too late. The scourge of extremism cannot be eliminated without taking some bold measures to deal with the sources.

By silencing Mashal, the extremists have sent a loud and clear message. But does the political leadership have the courage and will to confront the challenge upfront? One hopes the Mardan tragedy will shake them out of their apathy.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2017


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

Comments (47) Closed

hindu atheist Apr 19, 2017 07:05am

Extremely sad to hear this story. Mashal's father's words from another news item brought tears to my eyes. Hope Pakistan can come out of this. Sadly, things seem to be getting worse. Even in my own country, India, some of us may not like to agree, but we're headed down the same path.

Well, its always darkest before dawn. Have hope.

Shah Apr 19, 2017 08:05am

Mashal was innocent and was victim of conspiracy by university administration. This does not mean all who are posting blasphemous contents on social media are innocents and can be ignored. Its the duty of state to stop these contents and bring culprits to justice.

IFTIKHAR KHAN Apr 19, 2017 08:31am

The thought of stopping an avalanche of freedom of expression on social media now or in the future with such gruesome acts suggests pea-sized brains of the murderers of Mashal Khan. In fact such acts exponentially enhance the resolve for freedom of expression.

shabbir Apr 19, 2017 09:00am

So True! Thank You. We have to also highlight the role of all those ex-worldly and mostly retired people, who have morphed very conveniently into symbols of piety and intellectualism and have plenty of time available on private TV channels to promote bigotry and ignorance through use of sophistry. That too in the name of Islamic intellectualism, only to achieve their narcissistic objectives.

F Khan Apr 19, 2017 10:16am

Well written, direct and bold. Trust me Zahid Sb. what ever you write I doubt will wake our politicians from their slumber.Another 2 weeks it will be forgotten until the next mardan comes up.

mUMTAZ SHAH Apr 19, 2017 10:34am

There is big difference between the real respect for the faith and the fake emotionalism in its name. Who designed this mentality through in the last 3 decades, everybody knows it that enemy is within.

Just saying Apr 19, 2017 10:35am

Amending the law or even abolishing it altogether will not solve the problem. The "belief" is ingrained and cannot be removed.

Pak PATRIOT Apr 19, 2017 10:38am

In order to eliminate extremism from society, one should conduct a comparative study of Pakistan in the 50's 60's early 70's....... and Zia era and after. Let's figure how we as a people and society, socially and religiously functioned then and the Zia era and after, functioned and are functioning today. Simple ......what worked then and what is not working now.

asht Apr 19, 2017 10:41am

this is the true story am telling to viewer and its not relate to particular day chatting on day to day social matter My cousin in India said to me ,those people who are too much religious are very dangerous. that time I could not ask him that why they are dangerous. but after some time in my office during conversation with me fellow female office mate I ask her that question and I still remember her reply see gave to me that in her words , too much religious personal are dangerous because they thought and assured that if they commit some thing very unthinkable sin or great crime even then god would be save them from their greater sin .

Nasir Apr 19, 2017 11:42am

Well done.

shahid Apr 19, 2017 11:52am

One hopes that Mardan Tragedy will shake them out of their (politicians) apathy.

wATANPARASTH Apr 19, 2017 11:54am

A nail on the head for the issue well written in the op-ed; are there people to hear this man? Do we have the courage to follow?

aslum Apr 19, 2017 11:57am

Stop blaming political leaders. Your politicians are not from Mars. They "represent" people. So, unless people change mindset, you will not get good leaders

nuzhat shireen Apr 19, 2017 12:18pm

@yes it is always dark before dawn but how long is our waiting for dawn.

Take Apr 19, 2017 01:04pm

10/10 for author!

haider Apr 19, 2017 01:14pm

The killers of Mashal Khan did not misuse the Blasphamy law. They acted themselves. How can it be called misuing a law?if someone kills a person he is not misusing the law rather taking law in his hand. We dont amend lsws when people become the law. We actually apply the law or else there will be more lawlessnes.

GS Apr 19, 2017 01:15pm

What an article

An Indian dawn reader !

roshan Apr 19, 2017 01:55pm

People say its never late , but the way it is happening i dont think there is anything onr can do about that , the gruesome extremism is at its peak and no has the ability to reach there and destroy it .

BAXAR Apr 19, 2017 02:01pm

"However educated they may be, they are ready to kill in the name of faith." They don't have the required wealth to get away with crimes, so they use the second best option: religious bigotry. Till you don't stop the first category from committing against humanity, the second one will flourish day by day, as the target market is huge. The first one finds solace by the second as they divert all attention away from them. Is it a coincidence that it happens just when the verdict about corruption was a few days away? All attention now is on religious bigotry as the biggest problem in Pakistan, and not corruption.

BAXAR Apr 19, 2017 02:11pm

@Just saying "The "belief" is ingrained and cannot be removed." And the "belief" is that you can get away with anything if you have sufficient monetary or popular support. And the nation is providing sufficient evidence to reinforce that belief every passing day.

Ranjit Haripur Apr 19, 2017 02:14pm

Mashal's death is a slap on the face of us moderates and academicians who dare not stare down the religious extremists of our land and their violent ways.

Mashal khan Apr 19, 2017 02:18pm

insightful and beautifully written piece of article. Thanks Zahid Hussain sahb. I think Mashal's murder was a part of the recently unleashed systematic campaign of creating an anti socialmedia public opinion and spreading fear among progressive bloggers. Socialmedia is being linked to ISIS, terrorism, Blasphemy (Bloggers's kidnapping, Mashal's murder, public coverage to Pakistani ISIS girl's video etc..). These are ominous signs..... Surely, socialmedia is a threat to obscurantism and religious extremism on which the real beneficieries of the status quo nurtures. Everyone knows very well who this beneficiary is...

Sana Apr 19, 2017 02:27pm

@mUMTAZ SHAH An honest comment - "the enemy is within" unless Pakistan fights this "enemy" with education, tolerance and respect for those with differing opinions, there is no hope Incidents like that will continue to happen if kids continue to learn "disagree with me? I have to kill you" this goes for all minorities

syed Apr 19, 2017 02:46pm

justice administered timely would deter so called vigilante taking innocent lives

mUMTAZ SHAH Apr 19, 2017 03:30pm

@Sana , I do not understand why killing is the only solution for them when others disagree with them. They still live in medevial ages and blam that as this is an international conspiracy. The enemy is within, trust me.

SK9595 Apr 19, 2017 03:45pm

An excellent and gutsy piece!! Well done Sir.

ahaq Apr 19, 2017 04:14pm

The new information coming in the news suggests that people in University Administration were involved in this criminal act against a student who spoke against their Administrative practices. The blasphemy charge is being used as a hoax. A much bigger inquiry is required and Admin should be taken into custody to ensure that they do not tamper with evidence.

Ranu Apr 19, 2017 04:25pm

Yes, it reminds of medieval Europe where clergy ruled the lives of people. They found a way out of this rut. We also have to take the first step to unshackle the tentacles of this mindset.

Voice of Reason Apr 19, 2017 04:26pm

"But does the political leadership have the courage and will to confront the challenge upfront?"

Short Answer: No

Pakistani society in general has in general tremendous capacity to forget any incident no matter how painful or gruesome and not do anything about it. Everyone knows the laws need to change and intolerance needs to be confronted - but it will not happen. Your society never wants to take ownership of your own fate - you always look for others - whether it is China to help you or India/West etc to blame. How long before your society as a whole summons up the courage to confront those who are taking you to hell in the name of God?

Hussain Apr 19, 2017 05:56pm

For decades the sympathisers of extremists are in power and all those years these elites are busy siphoning the country bone marrow and busy building their wealth empire in foreign lands and the mullah and other extremist are their main tool to keep public attention away from corruption. Such phenomenon is the main causes in the complete destruction of institutions across the land. The mullah with support of Saudi money and agencies have gone strength to strength. So much so that no institution has the strength to enforce the rules of law. The murders of minorities e.g. Shias, Ahmadies, christians, Hindus etc now even do not make the headlines in the press. Mashable's brutal murder is a thickest black spot and a snap on the name of Islam and Pakistan. From fear The people mouths are muzzled & molten glass have sealed their eyes. Any one can accused be and lynched. Can this country recover to normality, I doubt. With the current shame democracy I doubt very much. God save Pakistan.

aBDUL RASHEED SHAIKH Apr 19, 2017 06:06pm

Pakistan desperately needs revamping of blasphemy law before killing of many more Mashal Khans.

zarrar hayat Apr 19, 2017 06:09pm

Unless our leading lights – the ruling elites – turn these words into a narrative by reforming governance, the criminal justice system, cleansing the curricula of hate materials, and until they commit to and work for protecting every single citizen of Pakistan, their lofty rhetoric will remain meaningless. And the directionless, disbelieving and frustrated youth will keep slipping into intolerance. Mashal Khan’s murder is not the only such incident, Pakistan has been witnessing such incidents for long and it is time to stand against it! Pakistan’s self-righteous elite: Will they do what is really needed to ensure no more Mashal’s are killed?

Masood Hussain Apr 19, 2017 06:11pm

I don't see any betterment in religious bigotry in the near future,in the country as long as religo-political parties are allowed to operate.

BAXAR Apr 19, 2017 06:16pm

@mUMTAZ SHAH " I do not understand why killing is the only solution for them when others disagree with them." Because killing does not create any repercussion for them, any other solution does.

syed Apr 19, 2017 06:57pm

Sorry, the entire article revolves around the blasphemy law. The reason why he was killed was an animosity between him and administration. The author should identify what were the progressive ideas this innocent mind had?

The blasphemy law has never been exercised in Pakistan. People have taken the law in their hands to settle personal scores. If the law is applied properly minorities shall be protected more then majority

kaliraja thangamani Apr 19, 2017 07:06pm

Nobody can write better than this, I salute the author for his forth right courageous views which implemented properly will lead the Pakistani society in a righteous,just and equalitarian path. Thank you Dawn.

Abraham haque Apr 19, 2017 08:10pm

Nothing will happen as the old saying is that society's decay starts with lack of moral courage

Raaz Apr 19, 2017 08:26pm

@haider You are right. Even assuming blasphemy took place, the law of the land should deal with it and punish the culprit. Saddened to see comments condemning the brutal lynching with a caviat that the murder is condemnable because the victim has not committed blasphemy.

net user Apr 19, 2017 08:33pm

extremism must be countered at every level otherwise many innocent will lose their life

ACFP Apr 19, 2017 08:46pm

Damned be the society that commits murders or cruelty Damned be the society that condones murder or cruelty Damned be the society that watches murder and cruelty and stays silence and let it continue

The leaders, be it political, religious or any other form are responsible for these murders and injustice.

KRANTI Apr 19, 2017 08:54pm

He told truth...

AKB Apr 19, 2017 10:36pm

Thanks to Zahid Hussain for this informative article. The best should have been the rounding up of culprits involved in the Murder of Mashal.

D Patel Apr 19, 2017 11:28pm

Wow!! Kudos to the author for such a great narrative with factual examples, of the current dire situation about the deep rooted faith based bigotry that pervades so widely among all sections of society including the intellectuals and the educated. This is the great wake up call for all civil people of Pakistan to actively fight this menace of faith based bigotry. I hope the word “Faith” used in this article may not be misused by the same bigoted people whose radicalism is exposed by the author.

D Patel Apr 19, 2017 11:51pm

@ACFP Sez "The leaders, be it political, religious or any other form are responsible for these murders and injustice."
Please suggest what and how can civil society do to bring punishment to those who are guilty of the crime?

KJ Apr 20, 2017 07:10am

This issue is about silencing the 'minority' - the definition of minority is not limited to religion. When good people in the society continue to look the other way, there is no cure for this problem. As we can see that after a little while, people quickly forget what happened, until next time, and the downward spiral continues.

Abid Apr 20, 2017 09:40am

"does the political leadership have the courage and will to confront the challenge upfront?"


mUMTAZ SHAH Apr 20, 2017 10:07am

@BAXAR , agreed dear