Deluded Defenders of God

‘Either grant me the bliss of the ignorant or give me the strength to bear the knowledge.’ Mashal Khan

Seventy years ago Pakistan was born from a vision of hope. It was born with egalitarian ideals including rights for minorities who would be permitted to live with full protection and freedom from oppression. It was never intended for Pakistan to be a religious state and especially not one with religious divisions. Yet sadly, this is what is has become synonymous with, especially in the last decade or so.

The Blasphemy laws of Pakistan date back to the 1980s , where a number of clauses were added to the Pakistan Penal Code, these are categorised in two sections, the anti-Ahmedi laws and the blasphemy laws. The Anti-Ahmedi laws state that Ahmedi’s are forbidden to call themselves Muslims, use Islamic terms to describe their religious practices or places of worship. The laws have been modified over the years. In 1982 a clause prescribed life imprisonment for “wilful” desecration of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and the penalty recommended was “death, or imprisonment for life”, in that order.”

Since the 1990s at least 65 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered.

The latest killing in the name of God occurred six days ago.

The victim was 23 year old student Mashal Khan. Beaten to a pulp at Abdul Wali Khan University where he had been studying Journalism.

His crime was simple. He dared to critically think in a society which suffocates those who have the gall to do so. He had the nerve to openly share his humanist views on social media. He had the audacity to question the University’s officials.

His punishment was inconceivable. Stripped naked, severely beaten and then shot. But it didn’t stop there, his lifeless body was thrown from the second floor of the building and beaten by wooden planks.

A crowd of over a hundred gathered and watched. Reports suggest over 20 police officers were on site during this heinous atrocity.

They intervened only when the mob was about to set fire to Mashal’s dead body.

45 people were arrested after the attack.
The mob included officials from the university who accused him of blasphemy. A term that apparently gives you licence to kill whomsoever you choose. McCarthyism is reincarnated.

Initially there were claims that Mashal was an Ahmedi Muslim. Like that would make any of it any better or justifiable. Like it would suddenly stifle the criticism just because he adhered to beliefs you don’t ascribe to.
But these were quickly discarded. He was a Sunni Muslim and there was no evidence of blasphemy.

His grieving mother lamented ‘tell me the mistake of my son.’ His ‘mistake’ was freedom of thought. A gift that distinguishes us from animals. A gift that set him apart from those who set upon him braying for his blood. It appears that those who killed him didn’t even possess the kindness that animals display to each other.
As Mashal wrote himself last month ‘The more I know people, the more I love my dog.’

I have agonised over mob mentality for a while now. Its prevalence disturbs me deeply.
The very fact that university officials were among the mob that murdered Mashal is beyond depressing. A university is universally recognised as a sanctuary for debate, discussion and development of ideas. But not in Mardan, Pakistan.

So what’s next?
Some politicians and government officials have condemned the attack including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chairman of PTI, Imran Khan. But to what effect?
Take for example Nawaz Sharif, he stated that he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the murder of Mashal Khan. He went on to further say ‘the state will not tolerate citizens that take the law in their own hands.’
Yet at the same time, Mr Sharif has widely supported a crackdown on blasphemous content online. Content, if found, could lead to death. Freedom of expression comes with limitations. Nawaz Sharif is in favour of this.

Imran Khan, visited the family of Mashal Khan and later tweeted that he would bring the perpetrates to justice. But how is this possible? How is it possible when vast swathes of a society believe that if you do not agree with an individuals’ values you can accuse them of blasphemy and kill them.

Take for example the assassination of Salman Taseer in 2011 by Mumtaz Qadri. Taseer was a revolutionary, dedicating his life to protecting the lives of the minorities living within Pakistan, yet more people turned out in solidarity towards Qadri then they did for Taseer!
Take for example the case of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. She was accused of blasphemy after a group of women she had been arguing with over harvesting berries accused her of insulting Prophet Muhammed.

These cases are endless. So what is the solution?
A tolerance of a plurality of thought. It is the backbone of a free and healthy society.
But this puts those in power in jeopardy, it allows room for criticism, accountability and justice.
This is the problem in Pakistan, the religious elites seek to manipulate and control the masses by promoting uniformity of beliefs. They exploit the uneducated by means of religious knowledge. Yet the knowledge they teach is so far from the truth it does more harm then good. And the state is too weak to dismantle their power.
And on it goes. How much more blood will be spilt in the name of blasphemy, when the biggest sin in the eyes of God is the murder of an innocent individual.
How many more Mashal Khan’s will be murdered before Pakistan realises its visionaries and future leaders are being annihilated in front of its very eyes paving the way for a darker, more draconian future?

Mass education and re-education is required, starting with the youth so that they have the tools to build a safer, diverse and open society.

It seems the solution lies in Mashal’s scribblings on his hostel room wall

‘Be curious, crazy and mad.’

5 Replies to “Deluded Defenders of God”

  1. Sabbiyah this was a very well wrtten attical of topical debate. Well done….

    Heart breaking that in these days, barbaric and medieval acts of punishment are carried out under the illusion of religion. Every Faith preaches tolerance, forgiveness, love and peace. Its just a shame some of it’s followers choose not to remember that Life is not abut the “human race” it’s about “ManKind”.
    More people die or have died for their beliefs and greed, apposed to any other reason with-in the the last 2000 years. It seems to me, to be, if your not in my gang your against us and therefore my enemy who must die.
    Mankind should be the only religion and way of life. Look after each other, live in peace, enjoy this beautiful planet and all its wonders.

  2. I visited KPK in Pakistan a number of times between 1999 and 2014. I’m Irish and do not practice any religion, although I was brought up Catholic. After 9/11 and the chaos and devastation that ensued, there was a marked difference in the people. Maybe this was more noticeable to me as an outsider than to others. When I went the first time I wore a chardar (?) and covered my face while visiting my friends village in DIR. Most of the people at the time, including the older ones that they didn’t expect me to do this. I found the people so welcoming and no one asked me about me about my religion. Later visits that attitude was changed. I found the younger people to be more ‘ backward’ in their thinking than the older people. You could definitely feel that people were watching every word they said, they seemed more paranoid. There was no longer music being played in the Houses, no one went out much and not at all after dark. Women that on previous visits wore a loose duputta wore their faces covered. I don’t think because of a change in belief, but because of fear. I feel like KPK (I have no experience of the other provinces) were definitely suffering from a form of post traumatic stress. The mullahs were in power and I know my friends that now live here were disgusted with what was being ‘preached’.
    I’m from a country that was ruled by a religion for many decades. They managed the schools, hospitals, every government institution. They committed many terrible atrocities, that we are still discovering. We are still suffering the Aftermath as a nation 20 years later, until the last generation that were brainwashed dies, they will have a certain influence. Education is the key. Generation after generation of education.

  3. very true, pathetic laws, thoughts, rule of law. I don’t know what to say about people using religion for their inhuman and brutal acts.

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