By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
20 April 2017
A university as a space is supposed to nurture critical ideas: ideas which have the potential to challenge the existing mores of society and at times force it to think in newer ways. Increasingly, that space is shrinking all around us. Whether in India or in Pakistan, right wing groups have increasingly taken recourse to the pernicious logic of hurt feelings to shut out and punish those who have dared to speak up their convictions. Eventually, a society which stops thinking is dead and that’s what it happening in Pakistan today. Mashal Khan, pulled out from his room, dragged and then shot dead because he was an Ahmadi and allegedly had views which was different from the mainstream Muslim society, is the latest victim of the deadly mutation which has taken place in the heart of Islam. Killing for blasphemy seems to be becoming one of the favourite sport in Pakistan. Whether it is a personal rivalry, the greed for land or business, charging anyone with blasphemy is all that you have to do if you want to settle scores with that person. If that person happens to be a minority or an Ahmadi, then all the more easier as the law and society are also prejudiced against them.
Mashal, a 23-year-old journalism student
The problem gets compounded when the state itself becomes partisan. After all, it is the Pakistani state which is the upholder of such a discriminatory law. But no one has the strength or the conviction to openly say that the law itself is the problem and that its high time that the law should be repealed. But who wants to take that risk after seeing the fate of Salman Taseer who was shot dead because he spoke against this law. Who wants to meet the fate of several brilliant lawyers who have lost their lives defending Muslims and others accused of blasphemy. So what we do have is the usual condemnation of the killers for taking the law into their hands. This is a clever deception since it deliberately does not raise the source of the problem which is the law itself. It is not that the lives of those accused of blasphemy who have not been killed is any better. Arrest is mandatory and the law takes years to run its course. Even when the person is acquitted, their lives have been destroyed beyond repair.
But then it is pretty hard for any state to perhaps go against the popular sentiments of the people. We also need to understand that the Pakistani state hardly enjoys the kind of hegemony which other states like India enjoys due to its uninterrupted rein of democracy. In this kind of situation, the Pakistani state can hardly do anything to upset the popular sentiment in that country. And that popular sentiment actually tells us that an apostate or a blasphemer has to be killed. There is a near consensus that Ahmadis are non-Muslims because they do not believe in the finality of Prophet Muhammad and are therefore liable to killed. It is a sentiment which is present all across Muslim societies from Morocco to Indonesia. Anyone deemed to have insulted the Prophet must die.
And yet the Prophet himself gave us a very different message. One of the stories about him is that he was daily abused by a woman when he used to preach the message of Islam. The Prophet never rebuked her but actually went to her house and inquired about her health when she fell ill. That message seems to have been lost on his followers. They want to do what the Prophet never taught. Perhaps this generation of Muslims understand Islam much better than the Prophet himself. Allah definitely warns all those who insult the Prophet, but then he goes on to say that He is the only one to judge them. But today, Muslims have themselves become the judge, the jury and the executioner in cases related to blasphemy.
As I write these lines, news has just come of another murder in Pakistan: this time of a retired university professor. She was also an Ahmadi. If one is expecting that Pakistan is doing any rethinking on this law, then we are mistaken. If anything, they are making this law more stringent by mounting greater surveillance on the social media and practically snooping on whether anyone is posting content deemed to be blasphemous. People will keep dying: just for their conviction, just because they want to breathe free under a blue sky or just because they havea poster of Karl Marx in their hostel rooms. A new video has emerged which shows students who participated in the lynching of Mashal Khan shouting God is great. The terror of that slogan is such that the university authorities have now instituted an inquiry against the corpse of Mashal Khan. Long live Pakistan!
Arshad Alam is a social and political commentator and a www.NewAgeIslam.com columnist
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