Different branches of the state have effectively worked together to turn the entire country into a slaughterhouse of which Kurt Vonnegut might be proud.
In an unbelievably horrifying incident yesterday, a few hundred students of Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan lynched to death one of their classmates on suspicion of uploading blasphemous content on the social networking site Facebook. As per the account of some students at the university: Mohammad Mashal Khan, a 23-year-old journalism student, was sitting in his hostel room when a mob burst in. They promptly dragged him out, before subjecting him to a gratuitous torturing spree that ended in him being beaten to death and subsequently shot. Video footage that is now doing the rounds in cyberspace show the crowd stoning Mashal, while chanting the slogans that we have all become far too familiar with. As if that were not enough, additional footage shows a few policemen standing around watching and doing nothing to stop this utter barbarity, while students are gleefully recording the murder for their own posterity. Mashal was not even the only victim. One of his friends remains in a critical condition, while a second has not been seen since events unfolded. After all this, no one can even confirm the nature of the alleged objectionable post. According to the police, none of the three was under investigation for blasphemy. This, then, naturally begs the question as to how it took just under one hour for a frenzied mob to play judge, jury and executioner in this most macabre performance?
The matter of Mashal’s ‘guilt’ is irrelevant. What matters is that we have now reached a point where the educated consider it an act of piety to commit cold-blooded murder, all under the banner of false piety.
Ever since Salmaan Taseer, the then sitting governor of Punjab, was assassinated for a crime he never committed while his killer was lionised overnight — not by the state itself but by those who blackmail the state — this curse of vigilantism has spread its cancer throughout each and every corner of Pakistan’s society. This is not to say that the country had a clean chit on this score, previously. The first symptoms of this were visible when then military dictator Ziaul Haq criminalised some offences. (Though it must be pointed out that the Ahmadi community were declared non-Muslim on Bhutto’s watch before him). Shortly after Zia, the then PML-N government in 1992 added other specifications to the Penal Code such as Article 295 b and c — yet failed to include basic safeguards against the misuse of the blasphemy laws, while leaving the definition of blasphemy itself wide open to competing interpretations.
The latest frenzy against ‘blasphemous content’ kicked off earlier this year when five bloggers went missing. Fingers pointed to those who are usually accused of having folk ‘disappeared’. Defence analysts and other ‘friendly’ television Talking Heads abruptly started condemning the bloggers as having committed blasphemy in what was to become a trial by media most foul. We have been here before. Mir Shakilur Rehman, Mir Ibrahim and many other employees of the Geo television network have, in the past, faced similar charges in a bid to silence the voice of dissent.
Most recently, vigilante action was triggered by the government and judiciary, who joined hands on this front. Functionaries of both repeatedly issued statements about their resolve in not leaving any stone unturned in the hunt for blasphemers. Not only a judge of the Islamabad High Court, but also the Interior Minister repeated these statements every other day for almost two weeks. This was soon followed by the FIA public awareness campaign that sought the citizenry’s help in naming and shaming alleged blasphemers. We see now how the vigilantism that was prompted by this recklessness has started bearing fruit, and what rotten fruit it is.
There is no use in repeating that this cancer needs to be removed. There is no use in pointing out that different branches of the state have effectively worked together to turn the entire country into a slaughterhouse of which Kurt Vonnegut might be proud. This lynching of a young man in Mardan is tragically not an isolated incident. Nor, too, are the numerous incidents of entire neighbourhoods being razed. These images are now forever burned into our psyche.