Saad Rasool |
The barbarity of events that transpired in Abdul Wali Khan University of Mardan, against the helpless Mashal Khan, puts age-old tales of savagery and religious fanaticism to shame. Carried out in a premeditated manner by university students, the horrific scenes of Mashal Khan’s murder would make the most heartless of tyrants cringe and tremble.
And all this, plus more, was perpetrated in the name of our religion of ‘peace’, and in the name of He (SAWW) who was “not sent, except as a mercy to the worlds” (Quran 21:107).
It is important to point out that this is not the first time that our people have committed acts of cruelty in the name of ‘Rahmatal-Lil-Aalameen’ (SAWW).
There is no way to describe the cold-blooded murder of Mashal Khan. There is no way to depict, in prose, the cruelty of the event. There is no way to do justice to the repugnance that it swells within human conscience. And so, in respect for the family of Mashal Khan, and to the readers of this piece, I will make no attempt to put in words the heart-wrenching scene.
Mashal is not the first and probably not the last person killed
However, it is important to point out that this is not the first time that our people have committed acts of cruelty in the name of ‘Rahmatal-Lil-Aalameen’ (SAWW). Eight people, including a child, were burned alive in Gojra, in 2009, on allegations of blasphemy. In November 2010, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death on (alleged) charges of blasphemy. In 2011, Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by a Police official, for advocating a rethinking of the blasphemy law. Soon thereafter, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was killed for the same reason.
In August of 2012, Rimsha Masih was booked on unproven allegations of blasphemy. In March of 2013, a mob torched over 100 houses in Joseph Colony in Lahore, instigated by accusations of blasphemy (tragically, all 115, accused in the incident, were acquitted by the court in February of this year). A lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was shot dead in May 2014, for defending a blasphemy suspect. In November 2014, brick kiln workers, Shama and Shahzad, were burned alive by a mob, over allegations of blasphemy. And the list goes on, interminably.
In 2008, Tasleem Khatoon, eight months pregnant, was killed by village elders on account of honor. The same year, five women – including three teenagers – were killed in Balochistan to settle an honor dispute.
Sadly, the accusation of blasphemy is not an issue that incites barbarity in our people. For anyone who harbors the hopelessly foolish illusion that, in our society, allegations of ‘blasphemy’ are the only irrational strand that enrages people to such unconscionable acts of brutality, it is time to be reminded of another recent story: the tragic tale of Aish Muhammad, a class 9th student in Lahore, who has suffered the unforgiving lash of our inexcusable society.
As it turned out, a local PML (N) counsellor Muhammad Hanif, suspected that Aish Muhammad (a 14-year-old boy) was having an illicit relation with Hanif’s daughter. Enraged, under the pretext of ‘honor’ coupled with ‘religious morality’, Hanif got some of his goons to kidnap Aish Muhammad (and his friend Waqar), on their way back from school, on 28th February. The two young boys were taken to the Ravi banks, where Aish Muhammad’s eyes were gouged with knives (how dare he look at a girl!), and then he was castrated.
Read more: Honor killings: Pakistan’s continuing shame
Some passerby found him wandering, blind and bleeding, along with the Ravi. He was taken to the hospital, where his family was informed of the incident. And despite this unspeakable cruelty, the family could not get an appropriate FIR registered, or the police officials to listen to their plight. Until, earlier this week, when they staged a protest, attracting media attention, at which point our State institutions had no option but to pay attention to this eye-less, castrated boy… who is but a symbol of our blind and impotent society.
Violence and barbarity are now the first line of defense, anytime our perverted cultural or religious sensitivities are questioned or challenged.
Again, if anyone is of the opinion that this was an isolated act of barbarity, let us be reminded that our cultural and religious notions of ‘honor’ have claimed hundreds of lives in the recent past. In 2008, Tasleem Khatoon, eight months pregnant, was killed by village elders on account of honor.
The same year, five women – including three teenagers – were killed in Balochistan to settle an honor dispute. In 2010, Ayman Udas was shot dead in Peshawar, on account of honor. In May 2014, Farzana, a pregnant woman, was stoned to death outside the honorable Lahore High Court, for having married a man of her choice. In July 2016, Qandeel Baloch was strangled on account of having offended her family’s honor.
In terms of the law, there is no confusion that all these events are cold-blooded murders. There is no provision of our Constitution, or subordinate law, which excuses such bursts of brutality. None. And so, law (or its reform) has no ability to fix this collective instinct of barbarity in our society.
This is an unabashedly moral and religious argument… in a society where more than 95% of the people claim to believe in some version of Islam.
The truth is that our religio-cultural identity, in Pakistan, is deeply flawed. Violence and barbarity are now the first line of defense, anytime our perverted cultural or religious sensitivities are questioned or challenged. And while propagating violence, in the name of religion or culture (read: honor), we have no respect for reason, compassion, or even the law.
The problem, and consequently its (possible) solution, exists entirely in our cultural and religious paradigm. And in our inability to confront the vigilante brigades who wish to impose their own religio-cultural tyranny over the rest of us.
‘Rahmatal-Lil-Aalameen’ (SAWW), who tended to the illness of a woman that threw garbage on him (SAWW) every day, will never forgive those who stoned pregnant women, gouged a teenager’s eyes, or killed Mashal Khan and then proceeded to torture his dead body.
To this end the complicity and impotence of our political parties, State institutions, judicial organ, and religious clerics is unforgivable. If PML (N) leaders spent as much time and efforts countering this menace, as they’ve done in defending Panama Leaks, we might have had a fighting chance. If PTI spent as much time fixing the culture of Abdul Wali Khan University, as it has on dharnas, perhaps Mashal Khan would still be amongst us today. If Police had shown as much enthusiasm in Aish Muhammad’s case, as it did in defending Takht-e-Lahore against the unarmed PAT workers in Model Town, we might have had a fighting chance. If the judiciary had taken as much interest in these and other incidents, as it did in Arsalan Iftikhar case or the writing of Swiss Letter, the culprits of Joseph colony would not have been acquitted.
If our (despicable) religious clerics demonstrated as much effort in reforming the narrative of Islam, as they do in launching “Islam Zindabad Conference”, or “Defa-e-Pakistan Rally”, we would not have vigilante brigades in every town and village across Pakistan. And if the society at large – you and I included – had chosen to call the enemy by its name, instead of simply shaking our head and looking the other way, we might’ve had a distant shot at living in a peaceful and progressive society.
No legal arguments to convince the perpetrators
There are no legal arguments to be made at this moment. No logical justification or rationale that can break the senseless conviction of those who perpetrated these murders, and those who support them. This is an unabashedly moral and religious argument… in a society where more than 95% of the people claim to believe in some version of Islam. And the argument is simple: whether or not that one true God will ever forgive someone accused of blasphemy, or someone offends our cultural notions of honor, we cannot tell. But this much is for certain: that ‘Rahmatal-Lil-Aalameen’ (SAWW), who tended to the illness of a woman that threw garbage on him (SAWW) every day, will never forgive those who stoned pregnant women, gouged a teenager’s eyes, or killed Mashal Khan and then proceeded to torture his dead body. Nor will he (SAWW) have sympathy for all those who were too timid or too detached to confront this evil.
On May of last year, Mashal Khan tweeted:
“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look and do nothing.”
Make no mistake: all of us are culpable in Mashal’s cold-blooded murder.
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. This article was first published in The Nation and is republished with the permission of the author. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.