Changing mindsets

Religion is supposed to provide sanctuary to those who are insecure intellectually or physically, it is not supposed take lives of those who have difference of opinion or no opinion

The problem of the blasphemy law is that the government is constantly trying to avoid dealing with it. The actual problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. The thing I find worrisome is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask, why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 percent of them are Christians when they constitute less than two percent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is abused to target minorities.

What I find particularly loathsome is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime. If I am against the death sentence, it does not mean I condone murder. The sentence against Aasia is inhumane. I have been handed over an appeal for a presidential pardon which I will convey to the president and soon Aasia will be pardoned. The blasphemy law is not a God-constituted law. It’s a man-made law. It was founded by General Ziaul Haq. Hence it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities. Salmaan Taseer a vocal critic of the blasphemy law, showed his overwhelming support for Aasia Bibi and his response on blasphemy laws in an interview with Newsline on December 23, 2010

On 4 January 2011, Salmaan Taseer was assassinated at Kohsar Market in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s stand on Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and vocal support of Aasia Bibi. Ever since he was murdered for attempting to reform blasphemy laws in 2011, politicians have been reluctant to take a firm stance on the issue. Religion is supposed to provide a sanctuary to those who are insecure intellectually or physically, not take the lives of those who have difference of opinion or no opinion.

On 13 April 2017 a mob of hundreds of students marched through the university campus chanting religious slogans as they searched for Mashal Khan. He was grabbed from his room by a mob, while they stripped naked and beat their colleague Mashal Khan with sticks and bricks, the 20-25 students of the Mardan University enjoyed the sensation of righteousness that attacking a fellow student on the basis on blasphemy gave them. They said Khan had posted disrespectful content on Islam through his Facebook account and so they brought it upon themselves to punish him. Ultimately, one student took out his pistol and shot him in the head and chest and then his body desecrated by a mob accusing him of committing blasphemy. Hundreds of others watched approvingly and, with their smartphone cameras, video-recorded the killing. This indicates that much of the Pakistani public endorses violent punishment of suspected blasphemers.

What I find particularly loathsome is that when you speak of amendment, people assume you condone the crime

How did so many Pakistanis become bloodthirsty vigilantes? Politicians and clerics have both spoken of the need to prevent false blasphemy allegations. But there is little agreement on whether blasphemy laws should actually be altered. A great deal of the condemnation has revolved around the mob taking the law into their own hands. Mashal Khan had blasphemed! Until this was finally exhibited to be false, no proper funeral was possible in his home village.

Mr Iqbal Khan said, “My son was murdered by people who he had trusted would teach him. He will never come back, but his memory may live on eternally. I know justice will not bring my son back. Still I urge all political parties, for your children’s sake and mine let’s become one. Let’s send out the message loud and clear.”

We lost Mashal Khan but I don’t know what message we gave to the world in his demise. Mr Iqbal Khan has astounded everyone with a composed response to his son’s brutal murder, no tears from him but an imperturbable and indomitable warrior who is trusted to get justice for his son. Mashal Khan had Iqbal Khan for a father, a respected figure with strong social bonds and political beliefs who has become an inspiration for thousands of people like me.

Could the case change blasphemy laws?

I am afraid no, we will be raging again for someone innocent, who will become the target of blasphemy, hundreds of articles will be written and countless condemnations from the lawmakers.

The writer is a traveller and freelance writer based in UK. He has previously written for @the_nation @Dawn_com @DunyaNews @TheAsians He can be contacted on husains50@yahoo.com

Published in Daily Times, January 5th 2018.