The politics of mobs needs to stop
Roughly a year since Mashal Khan’s brutal killing, one accused has been sentenced to death, five handed down life term, twenty five lesser term jail sentences and another twenty six have been acquitted. It was a mob of more than sixty which had stripped Mashal and beaten him with bricks and sticks before one shooting him to death. All the accused were recorded on camera. Yet for some, evidence was not sufficient. One dare say the justice delivered was also not adequate.
Those who were acquitted, amid protests by Mashal Khan’s family members, were welcomed as ghazis (Muslim fighters). And for those convicted, supporters halted life for some hours in Mardan by blocking roads, chanting slogans, demanding their release and threatening of more such protests if there were appeals against acquittals. That the JIT in its report – within two months of the incident – had concluded that ‘allegations of blasphemy against Mashal were unfounded and were used as a pretext to incite a mob against the slain student’– has fallen on deaf ears. Thus it seems that we are both blind to visual evidence of assault and deaf to statements proving that the assault was baseless. Along with our vital senses, the sense of judgement, sense of balance, sense of direction and common sense – all are in decline.
Despite the grief that a provoked mob snatched the life of a visionary and a promising future leader, the audacity and callousness with which the move was made and the fear and worry it instilled in our minds of an increasingly intolerant environment, we still deliberate over the aftermath. Although making an outcry with the nation and the world, we look over our shoulders for the frenzied mob representing a large section of our society, afraid that it may lay eyes on any of our actions, deeming it to be inappropriate.
And while we remain afraid for our lives, Mashal Khan is not safe – even after his death. As he rests amid a grove of poplar trees, security guards protect his simple grave against attempts of desecration by those who still believe that he wronged. They still invoke his name to fill terror in the hearts of the living, as Aizaz, one of the acquitted and later garlanded as a hero, vowed that anyone who committed blasphemy or spoke against Khatm-i-Nabuwwat would ‘meet the same end as Mashal’.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was a messenger of peace. It is a sad irony that his followers follow the path of violence. Any suspected violation of his name does not have to be fatal. Like any other suspicion, it needs to be judged and proven, that also by a learned person
The end which Mashal met with, although tragic and unjust, has not closed any matter. It has rather opened new debates. Save few, what punishment did the state give to his offenders for taking law in their hands? Who questioned their decision to impose their will on another person? Who asked for evidence behind the motive they claim to have? Who gave them the liberty to believe in hearsay or rather create it themselves and use it as a pretext to punish an innocent for a crime which is already subject to penance by law? Who stood up and explained to them what blasphemy really is? Who made an effort to explain to all zealots, that taking life of another was not what the Holy Prophet (pbuh) strived for?
Our country is slowly becoming hostage to sit ins and stand ups against some real and some supposed failures and injustices. Wherever there is a mob of zealots, even if them just chanting slogans on the streets, we cringe in fear. There seems to be no law and order controlling them. If there is criticism, it is followed by stinging threats. The politics of mobs is stealing our freedom of thoughts and actions, along with our lives.
We need to stand up against this politics of mobs. We need to sow seeds of tolerance in an environment where mere words are unbearable and actions feared to be condemned. We need to seek answers to questions as to how to melt hearts hardened in bigotry and hatred. Slowly, we need to lift from mourning and gather courage to attempt to change our world which is closing in and has shut itself from the outside. We should ask questions: can simply any bunch of persons collect anywhere and make demands the way it likes? Even if a cause is noble, does each one of them has to start with a riot, misuse of language and misuse of public property? For every wrong, is it right for a common commuter to suffer?
Even if each of the sixty one accused who participated in Mashal’s lynching would be hanged to death, justice would still be out of reach. For their deaths will not bring back Mashal Khan – more killings would merely bring more miseries to families, they would infuriate more who would claim the action to be unjust. It would be better that they were all confined in a place, where a saner person would ask them that what have they gained by killing Mashal. If he was suspected of a crime, the courts of law were available to judge. If this message can somehow be communicated to their minds, we could convince more through them that terror and hatred is not the way of Islam.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was a messenger of peace. It is a sad irony that his followers follow the path of violence. Any suspected violation of his name does not have to be fatal. Like any other suspicion, it needs to be judged and proven, that also by a learned person. Only then, penance can be demanded but still can not be imparted. It is simple logic and method of a civil society which we seem to be forgetting. And in the process, we are losing many who were beacons of hope for our better future.
So while all accused in Mashal’s case remain guilty of participating directly or indirectly in his murder and deserve retribution, the issue remains. To identify between right and wrong, to choose between love and hate, to prefer peace over violence, to use worthy words instead of weapons – is the biggest challenge of our nation and longest of all our struggles.