THE past couple of weeks have seen a series of chilling events related to blasphemy — or rather accusations of it — unfold in the country. On April 13, Mashal Khan was brutally lynched at his university in Mardan. This was followed by a similarly gruesome incident in Sialkot on Wednesday when three sisters murdered a man, Fazal Abbas, accused of blasphemy. Just as the nation was reeling from these bloody incidents, news emerged from Chitral on Friday regarding another blasphemy accusation. As reported in this paper, a mentally disturbed man created a ruckus during Friday prayers in a local mosque. His remarks worked up the crowd, which tried to get hold of him. However, the local preacher was quick enough to hand him over to the police, which surely saved his life. Yet the mob was not satisfied and stormed the police station to punish the ‘blasphemer’. Footage from the scene is horrifying: while security and administration officials try to calm them down, the assembled mob of thousands bays for the man’s blood. Security forces had to resort to tear gas shelling to disperse the mob.
Indeed, it appears that all sense of reason, logic and rationality is fast disappearing from this country, and even the flimsiest of accusations seems to be enough to set a mob upon an individual. Few are concerned with the facts of the case — with details such as whether the offence even took place, what was the mental condition of the suspected offender, whether any personal enmity was involved, etc falling by the wayside. There is an instant demand for ‘justice’, as the mob plays judge, jury and executioner. While Mashal Khan and Fazal Abbas’ lives were lost to this madness, there was a silver lining to the Chitral case: the cleric played a commendable role by handing over the seemingly deranged individual to the police. The law enforcers, too, did the right thing by sending him for a medical examination. As is more often seen in such circumstances, clerics are the ones working up the mob into a murderous frenzy. But in Chitral, the preacher’s quick action helped save a life. Indeed, in order to help prevent further such incidents, the state should work with religious parties to help calm down mobs whenever blasphemy accusations spring up. Changing society’s mindset may take decades; using clerics to control mobs may be an essential first step.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2017