Not them. The snarling, swirling, berserk mob did kill Mashal - sticks wielded by their arms cracked his skull, and their blood-soaked feet stamped out the last vestiges of life. But responsibility extends beyond the confines of factual action and reaction. When the mob charged the university hostel, it was little more than a feral animal, overwhelmed by primal instinct, individuals fused into one throbbing, screaming entity. Its virility questioned, its honour threatened, and its very existence in jeopardy. Rallied by visions of a glorious duty to which there is no second. What reason is left in that maelstrom of guttural frenzy? Very little. Conscience? None.
Like the froth that forms on a stagnant pool stirred up with a stick, the mob is the residue of a decaying body – a symptom, not the cause. While our justice towards them will be swift, perhaps it is time we looked at the person who wielded the stirring stick, and more importantly, who allowed the pool to stagnate in the first place.
The instigators are not hard to find, for they are not trying to hide at all. Their murderous diktats, delivered in sonorous slogans, are printed boldly on walls and banners. They build mausoleums for the terrorist Mumtaz Qadri and raise his pre-teenage son to the status of a saint. They are not hard to find at all, if we are really looking. A state that has weaponised religion is harder to spot – behind a clean shave and a crisp uniform fundamentalism becomes patriotism, and objections become treasons.
Over the next few days and weeks these instigators will be denounced - directly by some and in veiled innuendos by most. Condemnation will rain down and strict actions proposed – and rightly so. Theirs is the provocative whisper in the ear of the ‘believer’, the threat of vigilante violence, and the promise of heavenly debauchery.
But responsibility, as we have noticed, extends beyond the confines of factual action and reaction. The real responsibility for Mardan, dear reader, lies with you. Your cowardice and timidity has given space to a narrative that will consume us all.
Don’t take offence, don’t raise your voice in indignation – I know you are humane, a voice of sanity. Your heart quickened with disgust at the horrific images in Mardan just like the rest, and your denunciation was as scathing as they came. But what use is your denunciation that echoes in empty chambers you have built for yourself? A war rages in the streets, and you are content at wrinkling your noses from your ivory towers.
Ideas are nurtured by blood and sweat, revolutions built on sacrifice. In the tussle over the religious extremism one side is out in droves going toe to toe with law enforcement and staring down any official who dares oppose it. The other laments in plush living rooms with like-minded individuals, leaves Facebook statuses to be read by carefully curated audiences and hides behind the veil of anonymity. Is this the extent of moderate Pakistan’s outrage, a social media condemnation and token tributes to Mashal?
There is yet strength in your numbers that you do not know. Stand on an intersection, block the parliament road, call your local representative, anything. Put your bodies on the line, and make your presence be felt. Politicians are creatures of pragmatism; like a fungus, they grow towards the path of least resistance. A backlash from the right-wing keeps them from acting as they should to tackle this problem; a backlash from the moderates and the left-wing is needed to push them into action. 50 madrassah students, 25 motorbikes, and a tree whittled down to sticks is all that is needed to block a street and get the government’s attention – and religious seminaries have done so since time immemorial to great effect. Tolerant, rational Pakistanis number in millions, yet outside of a few trembling candle vigils threatened by a stray gust of wind when was the last time moderate Pakistan protested this brutality, when have they marched on government or come out in numbers? When have you?
“This doesn’t affect me” you’ll say, “I have my own safety to think about” you’ll add. And that is undoubtedly true – nothing about this endeavor is safe. But if safety was the prime concern the great advancements of liberal and tolerant thought – from upheavals like the French Revolution to campaigns like the Civil Rights Movement – would never have happened. At some point personal safety needs to be put aside for your ideals. Change – real, hard, implausible change, doesn’t come easy.
Let’s look at the other objection – that this doesn’t affect you. Well, it was true when they burned a poverty-stricken Christian couple over a brick kiln in Kot Radha Krishan; you weren’t poor nor Christian. It was true when they killed Ahmedis in their mosques in Gujaranwala; you weren’t an Ahmedi cleric, you are a middle-class Sunni. What about now? When a young, educated, bright student, just like you is so many ways, was butchered by his fellow students in a university – is it still too far away, is it still not your concern?
I understand. I know you are scared, so am I. But think of this; “Mashal” means torch in Urdu – the burning standard that lights a darkened path and leads the way for the rest to follow. Think of that, and put some steel in your will. This is your responsibility.