What have we become?

Published February 15, 2022

IS there really no end to our days of shame? The savagery that we witnessed just two months ago in Sialkot erupted once again, this time in Mian Channu, Khanewal district, where, on Saturday, a violent mob bludgeoned to death a mentally ill man accused of desecrating holy verses.

Not content with that, they continued to beat the bloodied body of Mushtaq Rajput. The police could do nothing; it was from their custody that the victim had been snatched. They had failed to save a life, just as they had failed to save university student Mashal Khan in 2017, and Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara — whose remains were repatriated with state honours — last December.

True, a day after the Khanewal lynching, the police did rescue a blasphemy suspect in Faisalabad from an angry mob that had surrounded his home. But their quick action here, and in some other cases, is overshadowed by a barbaric public mentality for which no law is a deterrent especially in matters of faith.

There is a reason for that — one that we have underscored on these pages time and again. Successive governments have capitulated to the rising forces of religious extremism. From the TLP that has laid siege to the capital on more than one occasion, to the murderous TTP that has left no stone unturned to target men, women, children and security forces, the rulers have been open to engaging with all. What more can strengthen the sense of impunity in the dark forces that are propelling this country towards collapse?

We all knew that the government would swing into ‘action’ after Khanewal. We’ve seen it before. Religious leaders condemned the incident. Police rounded up suspects. And while there were no state honours for Mushtaq Rajput who was buried in the local cemetery, the prime minister pledged to crack down with the full force of the law. On what though? The issue goes well beyond the misuse of the blasphemy law.

Certainly, parliamentarians and the ulema should discuss it and revisit it. But when there is anger and toxicity in a society that has been fed on flawed ideologies and regressive narratives fanned by the state, it is time to acknowledge that the damage done is more insidious and deep-rooted than we think. And it will be years before it can be reversed. Only when it realises the futility of resorting to quick fixes will the state be in a better position to fight extremism.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2022

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