Mashal Khan, Silenced Forever
It really makes you question what kind of a world we live in when you come across a video circulating on social media of a broken, battered, bloodied body being forcefully kicked and beaten to a pulp despite it’s soul clearly already having left it. What makes you question the world even further however, is hearing how people shout and scream the name of God while doing so, as if the murderous hate that is flowing through them is somehow doing justice to their beliefs in a higher power. What kind of a society allows this to happen?
As I sit here scrolling through the public Facebook page of Mashal Khan, the Pakistani journalism student who was murdered by an angry mob on 13th April, I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief at the way his time on earth came to an end. As I scroll past post after post, I am learning that this was a young man who felt deeply about the state of the world; a man who stood for humanity; a man who wanted change and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions in a society that continually tried to shut him down. Now, Mashal Khan is a man whose life was cut short far too soon; a man who was brutally killed in the most despicable of ways – simply for speaking his mind.
The 23-year-old was known amongst his peers and the following he had acquired online for speaking out against injustice and corruption in the world. A few days after a heated university discussion at Abdul Wali Khan University in Madan, Pakistan, Mashal was hunted down for accusations of blasphemy, seized from his dorm room, stripped naked, beaten and shot dead. It is still not fully clear what exactly triggered these accusations, but in Pakistan blasphemy is punishable by law and in some circumstances punishment results in “death, or imprisonment for life”. Although people have been given the death penalty, so far the state has not actually executed anyone. That is not to say that no one has died however, as this case also reinforces: since the 1990s, at least 65 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered by locals taking the law into their own hands – misusing the blasphemy laws for their own revenge or personal gain. Shocking.
What I do not understand is how religion, a force for good and a force for peace, can cause so many divisions and controversies between people – especially between people, as in Pakistan, who apparently share the same belief system. I feel like the true purpose and message of all religions has been lost, as people choose to focus on their differences, continue to judge one another and carry on worshipping their own egos rather than a God. Why can we not live and let live?
Coming from Pakistani heritage myself, I grew up being aware of events throughout the years similar to this that had occurred in Pakistan: these two young brothers being murdered in the street for this, that man being killed for that… and I always wondered how and why a country that was born from a vision of hope with a basis on egalitarian ideals could be so backward and corrupt. It always made me think where were the people standing up against these injustices? Where were the people fighting for what was right? Today, I understand that those people are the Mashal Khan’s of Pakistan that always end up dead, way before their time.
In 2011 the governor of Punjab and a critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Salman Taseer, was assassinated for voicing his support for Asia Bibi – a Christian who was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Even after Taseer’s assassinator was executed, public opinion was still heavily against him as well as Bibi, who to this very day remains behind bars. This case is one among many that demonstrates how the general public of Pakistan will not come together to defend someone accused of blasphemy. However, the case of Mashal Khan has sparked uproar across the country with protestors coming together to condemn the murder and demand justice. This leads me to believe that some good may actually come out of this horrible, horrible situation. There is hope.
So how does Pakistan move forward? Well firstly, I can only hope that these blasphemy laws will be abolished. People should be free to speak their mind without the threat of execution or murder. But I know that even if the laws are abolished, the deepest problem lies in the mindset of the people and I have no solution as to how to change the deeply engrained beliefs of a whole nation of people. I guess the answers lie with the next generation who through consciousness and education and the amazing tool that is the internet, could begin to have a ripple effect on the rest of the nation. Be that as it may, I know that this will take a long, long time and I myself will probably not be alive to see the change in Pakistan that is so desperately needed.
Since the murder, police have arrested 33 people, shockingly including 6 members of university staff. What makes this case even worse is that after all that has happened, they have found no evidence at all to support the accusation of blasphemy.
The only reason I can find for Mashal Khan’s untimely, unfortunate and horrific death is in the words of his heartbroken father,
“He was the kind of a person this society can never tolerate. You can call him a revolutionary, reformist, humanist, whatever, but he wasn’t a conservative person. My son was a voice of the voiceless.”
Pakistan must wake up.