Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Savagery, Not Blasphemy

"I lost my son, my friend and my light. It shattered my world."
"But my greatest sorrow was that no one in the village came to offer condolences."
"Universities are places of learning and knowledge. If such incidents are taking place there, what can we expect from the rest of society?"
Iqbal Khan Iqbal, social worker, poet, 70, Zaida, Pakistan

"A seat of higher learning was the venue. The motive was to silence a brilliant student who dared to speak his mind."
"The charge of blasphemy came in handy to inflame sentiments."
"It reminds one of the Inquisition in Europe during the Middle Ages."
Zahid Hussein, journalist, Dawn newspaper
Members of the Awami Workers Party hold banners depicting Mashal Khan during a protest in Karachi on Tuesday against the 23-year-old student’s killing five days earlier. Khan was shot and beaten to death by fellow students at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan who had falsely accused him of blasphemy. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws are usually aimed at Christians who make efforts usually to keep below the radar of Islamists looking for reasons to charge them with offences against Islam. Fascist mullahs who will insist on the arrest of a young Christian girl on the charge that she defaced a Koran. Or the arrest, charged with blasphemy, of a Christian woman who took the name of the Prophet Mohammad in vain, angered that co-workers would not permit her, as a Christian, to drink from the same well that Muslims take their water from.

Young Pakistanis who refuse to fit the mold of ignorance and hate-mongering are viewed with hostility and suspicion. Those whom they offend with their iconoclastic views agitate that they are offensive to Islam and must pay a penalty as punishment. The penalty under Pakistani law for blasphemy is death, in fact. And just last week, a young journalism student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, Pakistan, was set upon by agitated fellow students who beat him to death, administering their own penalty as punishment for maligning Islam.

At least that was what he was charged with, though he did no such thing. The young man, 23-year-old Mashal Khan, had alienated himself from university officials, whom he found reason to criticize. They, and religious student leaders had incited students to use Facebook to register their opposition to anything Mashal Khan would say or do. Mashal Khan's friends on campus described a mob bursting into the journalism department of the university on April 13, chanting "Allah is great", while searching for him.

He hid in his dormitory room. Which was where the ravaging mob found him after breaking down the door to his room, where they set upon him and beat him unmercifully, to his death. It took a few days before the news of this death reached the village where the young man's family lives. And when it did, the news came with the additional information that Mashal Khan had insulted Islam, thus deserving the brutal end of his life, by an enraged mob of religious fanatics.
Global News : Mashal Khan's dormitory room

Those details brought the entire village to the conclusion that since one of their own had insulted Islam, he obviously deserved to die. So no one from the village approached the grieving family of the student to express their condolences, in a society where people living in that kind of close proximity forge lifelong bonds. The student had, in fact, been a source of pride to the village, in his academic success. After news came to the village that police had cleared the young man of any offence against Islam that he had been wrongly accused, none still approached the family.

His father spoke of a young man whose intellectual curiosity drove him to explore Sufi mysticism, and to study in Russia, but who remained faithful to his upbringing as a Muslim. Iqbal Khan was both mystified and horror-stricken that his son had been assaulted and beaten to death by fellow university students who had been incited by university officials retaliating for the criticism of official university policies. That police have arrested 22 people who were implicated in his son's death comes as no solace.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to Pakistanis, urging them to condemn the killing -- while the National Assembly called unanimously for new safeguards in the blasphemy law in hopes of preventing its future misuse by false accusations and vigilante action. But this, in an aura where secular activists, bloggers, journalists and other are being increasingly accused of blasphemy from the nation's fundamentalist Islamists in a growing trend of dystopian mass hysteria over Islam by its fervent faithful.

When the Prime Minister issued a warm greeting to Hindus living in Pakistan as citizens during Diwali in October, his overtures were met with angry responses from Muslims. Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who offended Islam by deriding the Prophet Mohammad after her co-workers berated her for drinking the same water as Muslims, has been on death row for six years, charged with blasphemy. In her defense, the Punjab Governor Salmon Taseer spoke of the need to change the country's blasphemy laws.

For his trouble, he was assassinated in 2011 by his bodyguard, whose defence at trial was that he had acted in defence of Islam. The guard charged with the death of Governor Taseer, was executed. His grave has become a shrine, located near the capital of Islamabad, and devotees, viewing him as a martyr to Islam, flock to the site. Mashal Khan's violent death has spurred some to call for legal measures to be undertaken in deterrence of false blasphemy charges resulting in mob violence.

Calls that are dangerous to those bringing attention to themselves. Where pious Muslims lash out viciously at any whom they see as defaming Islam. In his ancestral village it is still believed that the young man had blasphemed the Prophet Mohammad. A local cleric warned villagers it would be unIslamic to attend the funeral, and condolences continued to be withheld from the grieving family.

The hostel caretaker where the student lived, insisted that Mashal Khan was still alive at the arrival of police, but they failed to approach the hostel until the student was dead. "They could have easily saved his life but they stood away from the mob … I heard one officer say it’s good that they sent this non-believer to hell", Rehman said, even while Mohammad Alam Shinwari, police chief of Mardan claimed that: "When we entered the campus, he had already been killed and the mob was trying to burn his body."

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