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

 

Baby Steps

Protest against Assassination Salman Taseer

29th February is an uncommon date. Perhaps that makes it symbolic that it was on such date that Mumtaz Qadri was hanged till death for the murder of Salmaan Taseer Shaheed.

This is a landmark case for many reasons. The convicted killer received support from sections present in society. His execution was announced from mosque loudspeakers and reports of cries being heard were not uncommon. Religious parties termed him as a martyr (a spit in the face of the families of our soldiers martyred while defending our country from terrorists), and protesters blocked streets. This was all expected. Actually, for many the fear was even greater. This should be noted: Even though extremists and misguided people are outraged, the country is not engulfed in flames. Tomorrow the sun will rise and life will move on. Eventually, Salmaan Taseer’s killer will be forgotten in the rubbish bin of history.

The Courts, too, deserve credit. Judges and lawyers were under intense pressure from powerful religous groups. It should not be forgotten that Lahore High Court Judge Pervez Ali Shah who handed the death sentence left Pakistan under life threats. Religious parties threatened ‘dire consequences‘ if anyone dared carry out the Court’s sentence. However the Court stood firm and justice was meted according to the law. No last minute appeal overturned the verdict. No encounter killing required to do the needful. The state declared that it holds the monopoly on power, and it showed it. There are debates about the death penalty, but even this gives hope that we are becoming a society where debate is possible without turning to threats and violence.

I am not celebrating the death penalty. Neither I am celebrating a death. But I do feel some hope that I haven’t felt since long that maybe a crack of light is beginning to shine through. I know we are not there yet, but I think Zarrar Khuhro said it very well…”baby steps”…

Salmaan Taseer’s Killer and the Death Penalty Question

Today is a day that will go down in the history books. The best response I have seen comes from Nadeem Paracha on Twitter.

What he is referencing, of course, is the historic decision by Supreme Court maintaining the conviction of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s confessed murderer and rejecting his appeal against his death sentence. The confessed murderer will now hang to death as a terrorist, the lowest of the low in our society.

This has brought mixed emotions to many liberals in Pakistan who celebrate with great relief and a renewed sense of hope the Court’s decision which not only cements the principle of rule of law by demanding that individuals cannot take the law into their own hands but must take their complaints through the due process of law, but asked some pointed questions about the use – and misuse – of blasphemy laws. The feeling of hope that, while we have a long way to go, the darkest days may finally be behind us cannot be understated.

However that feeling is also mixed with a discomfort with the death penalty for many who have seen it also misused and know that in killing someone the state takes on the ultimate power of life and death. It is a sentence that cannot be overturned. Death is permanent. Even when the death penalty has not been misused for political purposes, such as the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, we have seen situations such as the hanging of people convicted when they were children over the outcry of international human rights groups. This has left an understandable distaste for the practice.

In the case of Salmaan Taseer’s killer, though, I believe the Court has made the correct decision. In the case, there is no question of the killer’s innocence as he has freely and proudly confessed to his crime. In that way it is a fairly open and shut case. In another way, the case is extraordinary. Such a case cannot be viewed without acknowledging the times we live in. By treating the convict in the same way that we have treated hundreds of other terrorists, we are sending a clear message that this is not the case of a hero or Ghazi but a common murderer and terrorist that has no place in our society.

So let us end this case with a feeling of hope. Hope that the Supreme Court’s courageous decision will mark a turning point when our justice system is following the popular sentiment against extremism and lawlessness. Hope that the pathetic end to this terrorist prevents others from following his evil path. And hope that with the closing of this case, we also begin to close a dark chapter in our nation’s history and begin a new, happier chapter for generations to come.

Why Varsity Students Are Vulnerable to Extremism and How To Change It

Saad AzizSaad Aziz is an unlikely poster boy for terrorism. The son of a good family, educated at some of the nation’s top schools, Aziz appeared to be everything that any parent would want for their child. Inside, though, a terrible storm was building. How did this promising young man turn into a monster? This is a question that must be dealt with because, as is finally coming to light, Aziz is not the only well-educated jihadi in our midst. We look for answers to this question not out of mere curiosity, but in hopes of finding a cure for the disease. Thankfully, it might be easier than we think.

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