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Pakistan: Mobilisation after student lynched for ’ blasphemy’

Monday 24 April 2017, by siawi3


Beena Sarwar

April 19, 2017

Owning Mashal Khan

The mob murder of a student at a public university campus in Mardan on April 13, 2017 hit home through videos and photos of the gruesome act. In the ensuing outrage, many are calling for the “animals†involved to be hanged – even though animals don’t torture other creatures to death like this – and see no hope after this brutality, which is extreme even by Pakistani standards.

But beyond the horror of this extreme cruelty, it is important to contextualise the depravity Pakistan has developed over the years and find a way out of it. The murder – for which there is no justification religiously, morally or legally – was not an isolated or spontaneous act. The case fits into a well-documented pattern evident in many of the attacks on individuals accused of “blasphemy†– an English term that inadequately refers to any ‘gustakhi’, disrespect to Islam in Pakistan’s context.

Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which prescribes death for disrespect to the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), was imposed through an amendment under General Ziaul Haq’s military regime to Section 295. This was a British-era law prescribing three years of imprisonment for “deliberate and malicious acts†that intend to “outrage or insult religious sentiments†. The critical term ‘malicious intent’ was left out of the Ziaist amendments.

The option of life imprisonment for 295-C convictions lapsed in 1992, leaving death as the only punishment. Pakistan’s first ‘blasphemy murder’ took place when a young Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba (ASS) member – as the now banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) was then called – stabbed the progressive Punjabi Christian poet and schoolteacher Naimat Ahmar in Faisalabad.

Since then, the offshoots of this lobby have been determinedly pursuing cases of ‘blasphemy’, developing a network of hundreds of lawyers for this purpose (‘Pakistani lawyers’ group behind spike in blasphemy cases’, Reuters, Mar 6, 2016).

Pakistan has yet to execute anyone under Section 295-C. However, vigilante mobs or individuals instigated by the ‘religious’ lobby in conjunction with land and criminal mafias have killed more than 60 persons for alleged ‘gustakhi’, including “disrespecting†the Holy Quran since 1992 – including inside prisons.

The pattern includes rumours and posters about the victims’ guilt. Independent investigations into all such ‘blasphemy’ cases have found them to be mal-motivated and false. Examples include the lynching of Najeeb Zafar, a young Muslim factory owner in Sheikhupura in April 2009, the razing of two Christian villages a few months later and the lynching of Shama and Shehzad, a Christian couple, in 2014. Vigilante violence and mobs have also been unleashed upon those accused of other transgressions. These include the brothers Muneeb and Mughees in Sialkot and the robbers burnt to death in Karachi in 2008.

Fuelling this vigilantism is the rhetoric that emanates from clerics, politicians and television ‘journalists’ who seem bent upon getting people killed for mere allegation. It has become a convenient tool to silence political and intellectual dissent as evident in the alarming rise in attacks and disappearances of humanist social online activists.

Judging by his posts, young Mashal Khan was firmly part of this community. He constantly spoke out against injustices and upheld progressive values, including women’s rights and a love for history and pluralism. On Feb 17, 2017, he tweeted: “Hide History and Hate Hindus. This is what we are taught in Schools ... #Pathetic...†. He struck at one of the basics of the false narrative perpetuated in Pakistan’s mainstream discourse.

He was leading a protest camp on campus against the misdoings at the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan where he was a journalism student. In a television interview, two days before being killed, Mashal had highlighted problems brought on by the vacancy of the vice-chancellor’s position, faculty corruption and the unfair fee structure.

Pakistan’s dominant narrative facilitates attacks against irritants like Mashal Khan, especially when they don’t fall in line with social pressure to prove their faith through showy religiosity. To counter the false ‘blasphemy’ narrative, there must be a sustained effort to highlight some basic points in public discourse and on public platforms:

• Regardless of anyone’s alleged wrongdoing, it is a criminal offence to attack and kill them. There is no justification for such murders.

• Enforce the law to punish those making false accusations, especially when the victims have been legally acquitted.

• Highlight that Islam does not prescribe death for the religious offences being used as a pretext for murder (for which there is ample research-based evidence).

Stressing these points and rule of law in the public discourse and in school curricula will counter terrorism more effectively instead of focusing on who is a traitor or not a ‘true Muslim’.

Is the tide turning? The wheels of justice in Pakistan may move slowly, but we are seeing them start to turn. The execution of Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri last year may mark a turning point, the debate about the efficacy of capital punishment notwithstanding. A murderer was punished for his criminal action, regardless of the religious right’s attempts to glorify him as a martyr.

The police are investigating the cleric who refused to lead Mashal Khan’s funeral prayers for spreading hate speech. They have also arrested university employees who participated in his killing.

After the carnage at the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, the entire state machinery came out against the terrorist attack – although the inconvenient questions raised by the APS families have since been stifled.

Civil society activists came out in outrage in major cities the day after Mashal Khan’s murder. Hundreds attended his soyem in Zaida village, Swabi. The mourners – including women – marched through the streets and chanted slogans: Mashal – an innocent, ‘shaheed’ and martyred victim.

True, it is unlikely that there would be such support for Mashal Khan if his innocence wasn’t so obvious. And we are still seeing poisonous comments on social media and by journalists who are trying to establish his ‘guilt’.

The brutality in Pakistan may be the most extreme in terms of continuity and frequency, but it is not an isolated phenomenon. We are seeing vigilantism and mob violence in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – all of which share this “postcolonial moment†as journalist Raza Rumi notes. Black and brown people are routinely targeted in the US, more so since the last presidential election campaign.

But Pakistan’s situation is exacerbated by factors including prolonged periods of military dictatorship. In addition, the wave of militancy cultivated since the first Afghan war in the 1980s in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and the US, the introduction of discriminatory legislation and the brainwashing of children to despise ‘the other’ through textbooks.

In the US, when President Trump announced his ‘Muslim ban’, thousands showed up to protest at airports and lawyers, stayed up all night preparing pro-bono briefs to ensure that the order was overturned. Closer to home, there is a determined and visible rejection of India’s “cow vigilantism†. In Pakistan too, people are increasingly countering the dominant narrative.

The strength of the pushback against fascism in India, Pakistan and the US appears to be roughly proportionate to the strength of their functioning democracies and how long they have had a continual democratic political process. A continuation of this will eventually reap dividends. But along the way, there will be painful losses and more bloodshed.

Despair is not an option. We must fight the demons – even if we will never reap the benefits in our lifetimes – for the sake of future generations.

As Mashal Khan’s dignified, grieving father, Iqbal ‘Shayr’ (poet) said, we must ensure that what happened to Mashal is never repeated.

The writer is a senior journalist



Pakistan Against Extremism: Minimum Common Agenda

[(Pakistan against extremism: Minimum Common Agenda against violence in name of religion)]

Pakistan Against Extremism

Reviving the statement originally drafted in March, 2015 and already signed by the individuals below

Pakistan against extremism: Minimum Common Agenda to curb violence in the name of religion

The organisations and individuals represented here comprise a global movement of concerned Pakistanis opposed to violent extremism in the name of religion. We unequivocally condemn such violence. We envision a Pakistan free of bigotry and oppression, a polity where all Pakistanis can coexist peacefully and where diversity in religious thought and belief is accepted and respected. We agree on the following minimum agenda:

We stand for human rights and equal citizenship rights for all Pakistanis.
We oppose Takfir (declaring anyone a non-Muslim/Kafir) and subjecting anyone to persecution on that basis. We demand that takfir be treated and tried as hate-speech.
We demand that the Government of Pakistan take immediate action against all forms of hate speech which may be defined as words, spoken or written, that incite violence and hatred against any community based on their religious affiliations.
We demand that the Government of Pakistan act against any extra-judicial killings or violence in the name of religion and false accusations of “blasphemy†. We demand the reform of Pakistan’s laws specifically related to the “blasphemy laws†.
We demand that the Government and institutions of the state not be party to campaigns that mislead the public about ‘blasphemous content’ on digital media. The Government and state institutions should in fact lead efforts to raise awareness about these issues.
We support the rule of law and due process. We demand that the Government enhance the capacity of law enforcing agencies to deal with crime and violence at the local level (that often feed into other levels).
We demand that educational curriculum at all levels should include teachings that promote compassion, tolerance and respect for human rights. Text books should be revised to expunge any material that incites or preaches hatred and/or violence against any community or section of society.
We demand that the Government of Pakistan act against banned outfits and individuals operating in the name of religion. The Government must also publicize the list of banned outfits engaged in sectarian and religious violence and proceed legally against them.
We demand that Pakistani electronic media regulation be improved to effectively penalise radio and television channels that give airtime to those who engage in hate speech and hold accountable media persons who openly incite violence in the name of religion.
We demand that the Government immediately freeze assets of banned outfits and of those who are associated with them and take all measures to permanently cut off their sources of domestic and international financing. The Government should impose sanctions, including travel restrictions, on such outfits and individuals.

Endorsed (alphabetical order):

Aaliya Naqvi-Hai, Finance and Nonprofit professional, San Francisco
Aasia Paro Arif, New York
Abdul Qadeer, Software Engineer, Frankfurt, Germany
Abdur Rehman, Teacher, Lahore
Abdul lHamid Bashani Khan Barrister/writer/Analyst
Adam Malik, Forum for Secular Pakistan, Karachi
Afia Salam Freelance journalist Karachi
Ahsan Butt, self-employed (freelance English to Urdu translator), Lahore
Ahmer Shaheen, Journalist / Editorial Advisor Geo and Jang Group, Pakistan
Ali Abbas Sikander, Banker, Karachi
Ali Alam. Architect. Karachi, Pakistan
Ali Ashtar Naqvi, Lawyer, Lahore/Boston
Ali Kazmi, Activist, Lahore
Ali Naqvi, Investment Manager, New York City
Anis Haroon, former Chair, Pakistan Womens Commission
Anjum Mansoori, Peace Activist, VR1 - Alliance against Terrorism, Lahore
Aquila Ismail, Author, Karachi
Arafat Mazhar, Activist at Engage, Lahore
Asif Alam, Financial Services, New York
Asifa Tirmizi, Architect, New York City
Asma Jahangir, advocate, Supreme Court Pakistan, ex-Chair Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Asma Maladwala, Educationist, Student, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA
Atif Mian, Economist/Professor, Princeton
Ayesha Ahmed, Teacher, Camp Hill Pennsylvania/Islamabad
Ayesha Ijaz Khan, Lawyer/Writer, London
Beena Sarwar, journalist, Boston/Karachi
Dr. Eric Rahim, honorary lecturer in economics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland
Faisal Sherjan, media specialist, Lahore/Karachi
Farhana Shakeel. Religious Scholar. Edison, New Jersey.
Farahnaz Ispahani, Politician and Human Rights advocate. Karachi/Washington,DC
Fawzia Naqvi, Economic Development, New York City
Fayeza Khan, Scientist, Perth
Fereshteh Feri Rawanian, Textile Buyers Agent, Karachi, Pakistan
Ghayur Naqvi, PhD student, Santiago de Chile
Dr. Habiba Hasan, Paediatrician and human rights activist. Karachi. Pakistan
Hassan Raza - Student - Soical Activist - Islamabad
Huma Ahmar, Educationist, Activist & Writer, Karachi Pakistan
Huma M. Thaver, Educationist and Activist, Karachi, Pakistan
Husna Zafar, Life Long Educationist, Los Angeles
Ibrahim S. Malick, Technologist/Writer, New York, NY
Ilmana Fasih, Dr., Gynecologist, health activist, Mississauga, Canada/Karachi
Iqbal Alavi, Forum for Secular Pakistan, Karachi
Javed Qazi, advocate, Forum for Secular Pakistan, Karachi
Junaid Zuberi, Financal Advisor, Toronto ON Canada
Kamila Nasiruddeen Mazari, Educationalist, Singapore
Kashif Haqqi, Healthcare, Boston MA
Lubna Sami, Lead Interior Stylist & Business Owner, Mississauga Canada
Madeeha Channah, health worker, Boston/Karachi
Madiha Batool, pharmacist,lahore
Madiha Waris Qureshi, development writer/editor, Washington, D.C.
Malik Omaid, writer/activist. work for Pakteahouse blog
Masood Akhtar, Social activist and working for 1947partitionarchive, Rawalpindi Pakistan
Mehnaz Rokerya, Entrepreneur/Businesswoman, Chino Hill, California
Moaaz Al’ Hasan Khan, Film-Maker/Director/Cinematographer, Karachi Pakistan
Mohammad Jibran Nasir, Lawyer, Pakistan For All
Mohsin Sayeed, Writer/Social Commentator, Citizens For Democracy, Karachi
Mona Kazim Shah Journalist/Human Rights Activist/Physician Dallas TX
Muhammad Hasan, banker, Houston/Toronto/Karachi
Muhammad Arif Khan, student and social activist Mardan
Muhammad Mehdi, Student and Activist, Karachi, Pakistan
Muneer Memon, Forum for Secular Pakistan, Karachi
Mustafa Kamil Kidwai, Technology Consultant, London
Mustafa Menai, Urdu-Hindi Faculty, University of Pennsylvania
Nadia Naviwala, independent researcher, writer, Islamabad
Nadra Huma Ahmar, Educationist, Activist and Writer, Karachi Pakistan
Naeem Sadiq, social activist, Karachi
Nafisa Haji, writer, Turkey
Naheed Moini, Candle Maker, Karachi Pakistan
Najma Siddiqi, Social Activist, Technical Adviser Leadership and Governance at the World Bank - Washington DC
Nasir Shafiq, Solicitor, London.
Nasser Ahmad, Investor, New York City
Naveed Lotia, Banker, Mississauga/Karachi.
Naziha Syed Ali, journalist, Citizens For Democracy, Karachi
Neelum Amin, Chicago
Noman Quadri, Citizens for Democracy (CFD), Karachi
Nuscie Jamil, activist, Lahore
Rahat Saeed Social, Cultural, Literary and Peace Activist, Karachi
Raza Rumi, journalist, Washington DC/Lahore
Raza Ali, Software Developer, Cambridge, UK
Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, human rights activist, London, UK
Saadia Ahmed, activist/blogger, Lahore/Dubai
Sabiha Shaheen, Executive Director, Bargad Organization for Youth Development, Gujranwala
Sabreena Khalid, Law Student, Boston
Saeeda Diep, peace activist, Institute for Peace and Secular Studies, Lahore Pakistan
Sahar Naqvi, Student, New York City/Montreal
Saima S. Hussain, Writer, Toronto
Saima Qadir, sustainable infrastructure finance, Washington DC/Lahore
Sajjad Anwar Mansoori, Communications Strategist, Sufism for Peace And Co-Existence (SPACE), Lahore
Salma Basravi, Realtor, Glendale CA USA
Salma Mahmud / Teacher / Toronto & Karachi
Saleem Ahmad, Banker, London/Lahore
Seema Jaffer, Communications, Karachi,
Saiyid Ali Naqvi, Author, New York City /Karachi
Sehr Salman Sarwar, Public Affairs Consultant, London/Dubai
Sehyr Mirza, Freelance Journalist, Lahore
Seemi Andrabi, Physician, Washington DC
Shaan Taseer, Chartered Accountant, Lahore
Shaila Andrabi, Community Activist, Claremont, California
Shaheen Pirzada, Cambridge MA
Shabih Haider, Assistant Prof. (Retired), Teaching, Karachi,
Shahid Mustafa, Banker, Karachi
Shoaib Taimur, Blogger/Entrepreneur, Karachi
Shumail Zaidi, Trainer Countering Violence Extremism, Pakistan Youth Alliance, Activist, Karachi
Sibtain Naqvi, Blogger and Educationist
Sophie Ali, Media, New York City
Sumbla Pervaiz, Teacher/Trainer, Boca Raton, Florida
Subuhi Asheer, Policy Research, Princeton
Syed Shams Haider, Ex-Parliamentarian/Politician, Lahore
Syed Hussein El-Edroos, Trainer & Consultant, Islamabad
Syed Shehroz Hussain, Engineering student, Worcester, MA / Peshawar, Pakistan.
Syeda Sara, Economist, Detroit/Toronto
Tahira Dosani, Investor, Washington DC
Tahir Andrabi, CEO CERP, Economist/Professor, Pomona College, California
Talal Ahmed, Graduate Student at Brandeis University, Boston, USA
Dr. Taskeen Humayun, pediatrician, Rawalpindi,Pakistan
Tehmina Khan, Physician, Los Angeles ,USA
Tuba Syed, Auditor and concerned Pakistani, San Francisco/Bay Area and Karachi
Umaima Ghori, Student and Blogger, Toronto/Karachi
Waqas Ali Zaheer, Vice Chairman Democratic Students Federation, Karachi
Wasif Rashid, Islamabad
Yamna Rehman, Researcher, Engineer, Islamabad.
Zaineb Majoka, Data Analyst/Development worker, Washington D.C
Zahid Ali Akbar, Barrister and Director ZaakbarLaw Limited. London
Zahid F. Ebrahim, Lawyer, Karachi
Zakia Sarwar, teacher trainer and ESL specialist, Karachi