Another lynching – 13 Feb 2023

HERE is no question about it: we are living in a hell of our own making. The kind of mediaevalism that was witnessed in Nankana Sahib on Saturday, when a mob of hundreds of enraged men, lynched a blasphemy suspect and attempted to set his body on fire, is not new. Neither is the fact that the suspect was snatched from police custody. Almost exactly a year ago, on Feb 12, 2022, a mentally unstable man was stoned to death in Khanewal district for the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran, after a crowd wrested him away from the law enforcers. And that incident had come within weeks of the gruesome lynching in Sialkot of a Sri Lanl(an factory manager at the hands of a frenzied mob that had accused the foreigner of blasphemy. There seems to be no end in sight to this list of victims, both Muslim and non-Muslim, killed on the mere suspicion of committing blasphemy. Sadly, the fanatical mindset responsible for the deed is not the preserve of the unlettered; it is seen everywhere, including in our halls of learning as the case Mashal Khan, who was killed by fellow students on campus in April 2017, proves.

The latest incident has elicited condemnation from politicians and representatives of the clergy, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif asking why the police were unable to prevent the incident. Two police officials have been suspended and a probe has been ordered. But what good is that? Are such actions going to forestall similarly grisly occurrences in the future? Unfortunately, as we have said previously, there are no quick fixes. Over the decades, it is the state that allowed extremism to grow at home, often weaponising religion for its own ends.

The remedy too lies primarily with the state but it is not an easy one. Deep-rooted reform is needed that goes well beyond simply reassessing the blasphemy laws; it starts with revamping education in schools to promote inclusive thinking and with cracl(ing down on groups and individuals that spew hate against those who hold different beliefs. In this endeavour, perhaps the government can enlist the help of organisations such as the HRCP which has lately published an informative document on the status of religious minorities. Even in these times of economic distress, the government must not relegate the issue to the back-burner.

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