• Arbab e Zauq May 2017: Lecture on Rumi, recollections of college life (an essay), a short story, and poetry

 


Beyond the veneer

By Talimand Khan

Published April 22, 2017 (Courtesy: The News, Pakistan)

Mashal’s death was excruciating because it  exposed the hypocrisies, mediocrity and hollowness of our polity. The incident reflected the sheer bankruptcy of the education system that is tailored by the state for its narrow, self-defined objectives.

The foremost irony is that the lynching took place at the highest seat of learning. Mashal’s murder highlighted the social and academic degeneration of the education system, with students turning into bloodthirsty mobs by simply invoking religious sentiments against a fellow student. They neither questioned the allegations nor sought any evidence. Given the scholastic propensity of the students involved in Mashal’s murder, did they not consider, even momentarily, that taking the law into their hands was a crime?

Unfortunately, the glorification of Salmaan Taseer’s murderer has served to set a dangerous precedent by galvanising the shortcut to holiness and condoning an individual’s sins by taking part in mobocracy. If we scrutinise the particulars of the instigators and participants of the mob brutality it is not difficult to determine that some had a personal axe to grind while others were probably charged by religious zeal.

So far, a majority of cases registered under the blasphemy law have been seen to be pursued to settle personal vendetta or trivial disputes. Is this an unexpected corollary? Perhaps it is not as unexpected as it is negligible as the state focuses on broader goals and objectives. It considers religion as a cementing force for territorial integrity and such laws fortify the state’s control mechanism.

Mashal Khan’s murder also exposed the political parties and forced them to stand in the dock. They waited for a long time to respond and only thronged to Mashal Khan’s village after it was revealed that he had not committed blasphemy. Had this not been revealed, they would not have dared to question the mob’s crime.

This clearly indicates that the so-called political parties are unable to challenge the extremist mindset and narrative. Instead, they opt to wade through calm waters. Whether left or right, there is no current of resistance in the entire political spectrum. After the 1990s, every political party that entered the corridors of power to promulgate change came out bruised and with a tarnished image. No political entity is willing to bring change through resistance politics. Ironically, the state wants lashkars (militia) and not a nation while political parties need servants, not workers because they no longer have an ideology to produce workers. The red beret worn by Mashal Khan indicated his call to resistance politics

The absence of political resistance has pushed our society into a state of psychosis. Some from Mashal’s own community was reluctant to participate in his funeral. The control and fear that the state has invested into the religious class for strategic reasons has intellectually and politically paralysed our society.

When I, along with my friends, went to meet Mashal’s father the day after the brutal attack, I found the people of his locality in a defensive and suppressed mood. By that time, no politicians had shown up.

Prompted by Arshad Khan, an advocate from Swabi, I spoke briefly on Mashal’s brutal murder. Mashal had followed the Pakhtunwali code of challenging the mendacity of the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan’s administration and was aware of the cost of truth. This is what I said: “Mashal Khan is not only a hero of the Pakhtun, he also symbolises truth and valour…Mashal is a martyr and our hero,” I said.

The people who had gathered at Mashal’s house were gripped with both guilt and anger. His father was struggling to stay calm. My next simple query : “Why were people frightened to attend his funeral? Why is there no protest here?”

They understood what I was referring to. Mashal Khan sacrificed his life to expose corruption. Should the Pakhtuns honour him as a martyr or continue to allow the state to define martyrdom?

The writer is a freelance contributor.