State’s Role In Vigilante Killing

Another video has leaked showing armed police including ATS standing guard as vigilantes search cars for the body of murdered student Mashal Khan.

Sadly, this is not a surprise. Even after police cleared the victim from any allegations, still there are countless who support his killers including many officers from law enforcement agencies. This is not an accusation, it is a fact stated by police themselves.

We are all familiar with reports that University administrators pressurized students to accuse Mashal. And we have seen the report of PTI councillor Arif Mardan warning students not to name the killers. We know the dramatic statements of PM Nawaz Sharif and IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui against blasphemy. All of these add up to state’s role in whipping up the religious sentiments and making a very dangerous environment. However there is another way that the state is responsible for these lynch mobs.

Whole society may be sensitive to blasphemy issue, but this is not enough to explain vigilantism and lynch mobs. If students and administrators truly believed that someone has committed blasphemy, why won’t they report to authorities? Why won’t we accept the legal process to determine guilt and innocence? I believe the reason is that we have not actual legal system in this country, and I will now provide evidence.

When Rangers pick up people and torture them to death, when state agencies kidnap bloggers, when supporters of killers openly defy government orders with no consequences, when militant leaders declare that they are unmoved by government bans, when Army denies foreigners consular access before sentencing them to death in secret trials, when hardened terrorists are killed in ‘police encounters‘ and even those who are captured are tried and convicted in secret military courts, the message is given very clearly that there is no actual law and order but only the law of the jungle. If even our own law enforcement agencies act as vigilantes, how can we expect anyone else to act differently?

Parliamentarians condemn lynching and declare that law of the jungle cannot prevail, but they are empty words for show only. Which lawmaker will reign in out of control agencies? Which lawmaker will change laws that affect religious sensitivities?

Speaking about why police did not stop the mob that killed Mashal Khan, a police officer said “There are hundreds of sympathisers in my force and if I take too much interest in the case I might be killed too.”

Police know that the reality is that the law of the state is the law of the jungle.

And privately, in our own hearts, we know it too.

When do ‘turning points’ become a death spiral?

Mashal Khan

I have been hesitant to write anything about Mashal Khan lynching. What can be said that has not already? Not only this time, but the time before? And the time before that?

Some are expressing a ‘cautious optimism‘ that the strong reaction against Mashal Khan’s murder coming from certain quarters of society points to a ‘turning point’. But three years ago, we were told that the bloody APS massacre was a ‘turning point‘. Since then, we have witnessed many ‘turning points’. Sabeen Mahmud murder was a ‘turning point’. Safoora Chowk bus attack was a ‘turning point’. Sehwan blast was a ‘turning point’. Lahore Easter blast was a ‘turning point’. These are just a few examples.

With due respect to these courageous voices, I cannot help but have the exact same thought as blogger Dan Qayyum

The problem is so deeply rooted in society that even the defences of Mashan Khan cannot challenge it. So many are arguing that he did not ‘deserve’ lynching, but inside this defence is the acceptance that someone does deserve it. That the violence and hatred is not the problem, only the problem is that the wrong person was targeted. Zarrar Khuro describes this cancer perfectly.

We have nurtured our own disease, have fed this cancer of the soul, this cancer which has a mind of its own; this cancer with purpose. The fault lies with a society that sups on hate and willingly butchers its own children at the devil’s altar, mutilating their bodies and crushing their skulls like some kind of ritual sacrifice.

And so here we stand, bending over backwards to ‘prove’ that he was not a blasphemer, that he was a ‘good’ Muslim and did not deserve the fate that should, by implication, be reserved only for the not-so-good. But none of that matters either, because evidence is accusation, is a death sentence to be carried by public acclamation in some dark, murderous perversion of democracy.

Our dilemma can also be found in our debates about blasphemy laws themselves. Over and over again we see cases where innocents are tortured and killed due to blasphemy accusations. Most often these are not tried, sentenced, and executed by the state. They are accused and lynched. Yet the debate is always about how to ‘prevent misuse of blasphemy laws‘. But what law is it that was misused in lynching of Mashal Khan? What law was misused in the lynching of Shama and Shezad? What law was misused in murder of Salmaan Taseer or Sabeen Mahmud or Rashid Rehman or any of the others who have been killed not by any law but by lawlessness?

State institutions have been strongly pushing the fight against blasphemy. From government to judiciary to even ISI, all institutions have been promoting the narrative that blasphemy is a major problem of Pakistan. Political leaders tell us that the offence of blasphemy is ‘unpardonable‘ while Mullahs threaten ‘dire consequences‘ if anyone dares try to reform the laws. What did they think was going to happen?

The solution, we are told, is to also give death penalty to those who misuse blasphemy and take the law into their own hands. But in the most famous case fake blasphemy killing, the killer was given death penalty and hung. It did not make him a warning for our society.

It made him a hero.

Qadri Janaza