Lynching of individuals on blasphemy charges casts harsh spotlight on religious extremism

Lynching - The News Today - TNT

Khanewal incident is the latest in a series of attacks in Pakistan, where people are threatened by radical religious fundamentalism.

Another person was accused of blasphemy in Pakistan – this time in Khanewal district and mob stoned him to death before the police reached the spot. The incident took place at Jungle Dera Village.

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Hundreds of locals gathered after Maghrib (evening) prayers following announcements that a man has torn some pages of the Holy Quran and later set them on fire, reports said.

“With no one ready to listen to the suspect, who reportedly claimed innocence, the villagers first hanged him with a tree and then hit him with bricks, until he died,” Imran Gabol explained.

A similar incident took place in Sialkot on December 3 last year where a Sri Lankan engineer was lynched by the factory workers.

Pakistan’s government has brought a Single National Curriculum recently that aims to increase religiosity in the country. The state has been trying to negotiate agreements with terrorist organizations.

The results of increasing religiosity in the country in the past indicated an increase in extremism and violence, and there are no proofs that results would be any different this time, a report of Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) claimed.

According to PIPS, 207 terrorist attacks took place in Pakistan in 2021 – an increase of 42 percent compared a year earlier.

The interior minister says the authorities providing Tehreek e Labeek Pakistan (TLP)-a group with extreme views- a way to become part of the national politics once again few months after it was putting it in the list proscribed organizations.

At a time when Pakistan wants to focus on trade, tourism, and sports activities, terrorism and violence incidents in the country pose a massive threat to the future of a nation of more than 220 million people.

“The threat of religious extremism is ticking time bomb in this country and nobody is addressing this massive issue,” federal minister Fawad Chaudhary said in a speech last year.

“If the state weakens and violent groups gain strength, there lies the problem,” he explained.

Intellectuals in Pakistan have been critical of the policies and the role of the establishment, saying it uses religion and terrorist groups to achieve its hidden motives.

An Asian country with the world’s fifth-largest population, Pakistan had been trying to increase its sphere of influence in the region.

It supported the Taliban when they came to power in Afghanistan for the second time in August last year. However, the rapid increase in the terrorist attacks by Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) a terrorist group having strong base in Afghanistan may damage relations between Islamabad and Kabul.

On February 6, when TTP killed five Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan military’s media wing-ISPR explicitly said that “terrorist from inside Afghanistan, across the international border, opened fire on Pakistani troops,” pointing to the TTP phenomenon that may become a fissure point between the two countries.

The victory of the Afghan Taliban was celebrated by the various religious extremist groups in Pakistan – especially the TTP. When Sialkot factory workers lynched Priyantha Kumara, video footages showed the attackers were chanting slogans enchanted by TLP activists.

Some minister tried to justify the incident. Pervaiz Khattak, a senior PTI minister, in a speech on the floor of Parliament said: “youngsters get emotional on the matters of religion. In our youth, we were also very emotional.”

The minister forgot that in Pakistan, Governor Punjab Salman Taseer was killed by his own body guard on blasphemy charges. Supporters of assassin later evolved into a party now known as TLP. After emergence TLP on the scene, incidents of killing people on blasphemy charges and mob lynching, have increased massively.

Ruling Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) is also accused of introducing a culture of abusive language and promoting extremist tendencies. “We need to hang all of these (Politicians of the opposition) thieves and robbers,” PTI minister Murad Saeed said in a speech.

This kind of statements and remarks reflect an increase in ultraconservative and extremist religious extremism in Pakistan, Amir Rana of PIPS said. There is an explosion of the religious organizations and religious political parties, he believes.

Fawad Chaudhary said the US and Saudi Arabia share the responsibility of playing negative role in the 80s when extremist religious teachers had been hired in Pakistani schools and colleges by the state to inspire youth to fight the Afghan war.

It is widely accepted among Pakistani civil society that the Zia ul Haq regime is responsible for giving strong roots to religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. After 9/11, when Pakistan supported America in war on terror, these extremists started to attack security officials and  civilians in the country.

Even today, certain groups instigate villagers of Pakistan to fight holy war for liberation of Kashmir. People inspired by the religious narrative of Jihad join these groups. Many others join other terrorist groups in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Raiz Chamkani, a young Islamabad Journalist, who has covered militancy in restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, believes Pakistan needs to change its syllabus and narrative to create a peaceful environment in the country. Tribal areas known as FATA have been merged into KPK province now.

“In our schools, we were being taught that the one who murders an innocent person would go to hell but when I asked our teacher why killing Shi’ites and others is permissible?. ‘Because they are not Muslims’, he replied”.

As a nation, we need to change the mindset of such people through education and dialogue, he added.

“I don’t think the state of Pakistan would fail in counter-terrorism (efforts). State’s response was positive as it discouraged extremism over the years and has taken action against such people and groups. So, the situation will improve in future,” Riaz concluded.

Read more: Noor Mukadam Murder: Court sentences Zahir Jaffer to death for murder of Noor

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