Challenging barbarity

To compensate for the tragic loss of Mashal’s life, thousands should come forward and play a role in the struggle for transformation of this decayed system.

Challenging barbarity


The gruesome murder of Mashal Khan is yet another incident that illustrates that ours is a diseased society with elements of pre-medieval barbarism looming more viciously. There is no proof whatsoever of Mashal Khan’s blasphemous remarks on social media or elsewhere.

Photographs of his vandalised hostel cubicle show portraits of Karl Marx and Che Guevara hanging from the wall. Perhaps that’s a crime for which executions by lynching are now being warranted by godfathers of piety, morality, ethics, statecraft, and politics in this country. According to press reports, the assault was led by students associated with Islami Jamiat Talaba, an affiliate of Jamaat-e-Islami. Students belonging to groups affiliated with the PTI and ANP are also believed to be involved in this pogrom. This heinous atrocity and its savage severity have stunned ordinary souls.

This lynching also exposes social and ethical insanity that is taking the form of such fascist acts by sections of the youth immersed in religious and sectarian venom. But above all, it lays bare the character of the epoch we are passing through and the malaise that has set in Pakistan. In its current shape, blasphemy laws, alongside so many other reactionary and draconian constitutional amendments, were inserted into the constitution by the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq, who reigned for 11 long and dark years — the most tyrannous and excruciating period in Pakistan’s history for the suffering masses. Today, even secular and liberal politicians raucously praise the constitution, tainted by Zia, and try to impose its false sanctity and glory on mass psychology. In the last few weeks, a reactionary judge of the Islamabad High Court has been ferociously demanding to see scenes of more and more punishments for those accused of blasphemy.

The present PML(N) regime, with its crude concoction of religion and liberalism, has been actively trying to hunt down those whose remarks can be stretched into the domain of blasphemy — a term that has never been clearly defined.

It seems that appeasement to Islamicist parties has become a cornerstone of the politics of mainstream parties like PML-N, PPP, PTI and ANP. The mullahs are the ones that reap most benefits from such a politics. Real burning issues of the masses continue to be ignored as the media, too, facilitates religiosity in mainstream debates.

Zia had started the practice of inducting religious bigots into the state structure on crucial posts. This practice has been continued by subsequent democratic regimes. Now the state, political parties, parliament, judiciary, and most media outlets are impregnated with an obscurantist ideology.

The mullahs of today are not those modest and poor village clerics of the yore. They are obscenely rich and involved in highly profitable and lucrative businesses mainly outside the domain of the formal economy. The usual differentiation among them between moderates and extremists is now a very thin and deceptive line.

The US and European imperialists had created, nourished and supported this modern Islamic fundamentalism from the Middle East to Pakistan and Indonesia. This was done to curb left-wing regimes and crush movements of workers and youth against capitalism. In this region, the revolutionary steps initiated in Afghanistan by the left-wing government of Noor Mohammad Tarakai that had come to power in the Saur revolution attracted the wrath of imperialists. The fundamentalist horror unleashed in the name of Afghan (dollar) jihadis still ravaging Pakistan and Afghanistan four decades later.

The toiling classes are bewildered with this objective situation. There is not a glimmer of hope for the oppressed indicating any salvation in the present state and system. The inertia in society at the present moment in time has created a vacuum at the top that is filled by corrupt, and criminal political elites. These elites are backed by barons of black capital and imperialist powers in the region.

In these conditions of misery, poverty, and seemingly endless exploitation, despair creates a situation of political indifference among the masses, who have been stung by betrayal and treachery of traditional parties and leaders.

Reaction seems to dominate every aspect of social interaction and attitudes. Analysing a similar situation in Russia in 1909, Leon Trotsky had written, “When the curve of historical development rises, public thinking becomes more penetrating, braver, and ingenious. It grasps facts on the wing, and on the wing links them with the thread of generalisation when the political curve indicates a drop, public thinking succumbs to stupidity. The priceless gift of political generalisation vanishes somewhere without leaving a trace. Stupidity grows in insolence, and baring its teeth, heaps insulting mockery on every attempt at a serious generalisation. Feeling that it is in command of the field, it begins to resort to its own means.”

The present politics, state, and socio-economic system are not capable of preventing this situation of an obscurantist insanity from enacting the decline of civilisation, since the system is an accomplice to the degeneration that got us here. The neo-fascist menace of religious extremism is the distilled essence of capitalism in a terminal decay. However if the political and the state superstructure cannot eradicate this peril, then who will?

The only force that can eliminate this hazard is the struggle of the masses. The movement of the workers and the youth with an objective and a programme for eradication the root cause — the diseased capitalist system that has turned malignant. It is imperative on us to be close to the voices in the streets and the debates in factories and workplaces. The system and its representatives and proponents stand exposed in the eyes of the masses. Mashal Khan was moving in the direction of revolutionary Marxism. To compensate for the tragic loss of his life, thousands should come forward and play a role in the struggle for transformation of this decayed system. That would be the real revolutionary revenge for Mashal’s ghastly and premeditated murder. More than a hundred years ago, the Great Marxist teacher, Fredrick Engels, had said that the choice being faced by humanity was between “barbarism or socialism”. It is as true today as it was then.


The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at