New Delhi: “Religious violence spawned by allegations of blasphemy has taken on a life of its own, destroying the fabric of society slowly but surely,” Pakistans Dawn newspaper said in an editorial.
A commentary in the same newspaper tersely declares that this is “just a trailer” of things to come in future with the state – both military and civilian (politicians and bureaucracy) caving in to pressures from religious zealots, some of which they have themselves nurtured and/or condoned as “state assets”.
While successive governments have been responsible, the efforts of the Imran Khan government to buy peace with two Tehreeks — the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) — both of whom justify violence in the name of faith, coupled with the rise of the Taliban in neighbouring Pakistan with Islamabad’s tacit support, has heightened the concerns as never before.
TLP slogans were raised by its activists among the scores of factory who last week lynched a Sri Lankan manager, Priyantha Kumar, at a Sialkot factory. His body was burnt as thousands watched and some even filmed, causing nationwide anger reactions abroad and diplomatic issues with Colombo.
This comes as part of a trend of mobs punishing those who they suspect have insulted the Prophet or Islamic scriptures and symbols, violating the blasphemy law that prescribes death penalty. The British-era blasphemy laws, tightened during military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s era in 1980s, have set an alarming trend that has accelerated in the last decade, analysts say.
Among those killed was Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. His bodyguard, the killer, when hanged, has a memorial dedicated to him that is visited by many. Student Mashaal Khan was among he many lynched. Numerous others, especially those from religious minorities, have been targeted by mobs.
Kuamara, who ordered labels with Arabic writings removed from consignments meant for export, possibly without knowing what the writings said, was accused of blasphemy by the workers.
“While he (Imran Khan) tweeted his condemnation of the incident the prime minister has not said much about the threat of religious extremism,” Columnist Zahid Hussein says, lamenting “weaponisation of faith”, (Dawn, December 9).
To Khan who considers himself a global Muslim leader campaigning against Islamophobia in the West, Hussein has advised to look within Pakistan and “not look for reasons outside”. Even among other Prime Ministers, he ought to take the liberal cue from his Sri Lankan and New Zealand counterparts.
Pakistani media reports note that Khan has failed to restrain his Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, politically close to him, who said of Kumara’s killing: “murders happen. There were people who were impacted by the Islamic faith, both youngsters and adults. They become upset and act in a passionate manner. This isn’t to say that it was a reaction to something. Everyone has their own way of thinking”.
Commentators have said that Khattak may have been ‘crude’, but this is precisely the thinking of many in and outside the government who justify faith-based violence.
Faith-based violence blamed on teachings at mosques and madrassas in Pakistan. But the Dawn editorial (A watershed moment?) noted that the clerics were among those who condemned it in strong words. However, “several of the clerics vociferous in their condemnation of the murder as ‘inhumane and un-Islamic’ have been the driving force behind the blasphemy campaign across the country that has been the cause of untold misery to thousands”.
“Whether this ‘watershed moment’ proves a catalyst for real change is as yet unknown. Sadly, history tells us that this nation has a very limited capacity for self-reflection, let alone taking the difficult steps that would be needed to root out what is no less than a cancer of the soul.”
In a hard-hitting commentary on the blame-game that takes place after each incident, from the Prime Minister to the priests to the policemen, Ahad Hussein says that all the anger and outrage will soon be forgotten as has been the case in the past.
“Then, just like that, it’s over. And done. And dusted. Because, you see, no one is really responsible. Or everyone is. And when everyone is, no one really is.”
Hussein writes: “A weak state, unable to stop the spread of a retrogressive mindset has turned the country into a breeding ground for violent extremism. What happened in Sialkot was just a trailer of the horror that awaits us.”