The barbaric act of mob lynching over blasphemy allegations in Sialkot on Friday, December 3 is another gruesome reminder that we have become a nation held hostage by hate-mongers and religious extremists.
Although few in number, extremist groups have held society and the state hostage. The state has failed to curb the spread of extremist religious ideologies and the subsequent radicalization of society.
Extremist religious groups and organizations exploit the religious sensibilities of society to gain public support. Over the years, the state has tolerated such groups and their activities aimed at spreading hatred in society – they often use violent means to create fear in society. How could a state and the ruling elite prevent others from using religion for political ends and interests when they have continually used religion as a weapon? Haters spread hatred and chauvinism through speeches, writings and sermons using social media and a network of mosques and religious schools.
They may not be involved in militancy and armed struggle, but they certainly propagate reactionary ideas, inciting the religious feelings of ordinary people to use violence.
They took on the role of police, judge and executioner to punish the “accused” of blasphemy without any trial or evidence. This is what happened on Friday in Sialkot.
Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara, who worked in a local factory called “Rajco Industries” as the general manager, was brutally killed by a violent mob. It is difficult to watch the videos of brutality and barbarism displayed in the streets of Sialkot. Factory workers staged a protest at the scene, alleging that Kumara had committed blasphemy. The angry mob – shouting religious slogans – dragged him down the road, killed him with kicks, stones and iron bars, and set his body on fire. The lynching lasted over an hour.
The response from the police and the local administration has been slow. Police arrived to retrieve the victim’s half-burnt body. Our ruling class has a similar pattern when it reacts to such horrific and disturbing incidents. From now on, the police will act quickly and make arrests. As in the past, inquiries will be held, committees formed and meetings convened. Our ruling elite will condemn the brutal murder and express its shock and anger.
We have never really taken the issue of religious extremism seriously. Our state has made a lot of effort through the National Plan of Action (PAN) to eradicate activism, but little has been done to stop the spread of religious extremism and to change the erroneous policies of the past that gave birth to it. to extremist forces.
Unfortunately, we have not learned from our past mistakes or, worse yet, we are not even ready to accept the use of religion as a political weapon and the propagation of extremist religious ideas and the creation and promotion. of jihadist ideology and organizations as a flawed policy that has had devastating consequences for our society.
Jihadist culture, extreme narratives and reactionary ideas have spread in society as a result of the state’s reactionary right-wing policies since 1978. Anyone who dares to challenge or oppose these policies is declared anti-national, foreign and anti-religion agents.
Despite devastating consequences, our ruling elite has never completely abandoned the use of religion and religious extremist forces to protect its economic, social and political interests.
Our ruling elite has enabled non-state actors to become the stewards of our faith and beliefs. These non-state actors use an aspect of religious beliefs and faith to gain traction and spread hatred in society. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is the latest example of this appeasement and collusion. We need to think seriously about the policy of integrating hard-line religious elements. Although militant elements can be brought into the mainstream as an integration policy, this policy should not be used to mainstream hateful and reactionary ideas.
The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HRCP), in its statement on this barbaric act, rightly called for our state to end its collusion with far-right elements. The HRCP in its statement further stated that “the unthinkable savagery with which a mob in Sialkot tortured a Sri Lankan man to death and burned his body on the basis of allegations of blasphemy should make it clear once and for all the grim reality of spiraling radicalization in Pakistan. . Sadly, the state’s response has been cowardly at best and complicit at worst. “
After every such horrific act, we blame a handful of extremists to downplay the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in. Our policy of appeasement has emboldened religious extremist groups over the years. We still live in a state of denial.
We have allowed hate-diggers and religious extremists to operate in the country with impunity. We allowed them to use religion as a weapon to justify their acts of violence.
We are still in a confused state of mind when it comes to dealing with the uncompromising religious right. The recent relationship of the PTI government with the TLP is a classic example of this confusion. First, the PTI government tried to negotiate with TLP leaders. After the failed negotiations, the government alleged that the TLP had taken money from India and was involved in terrorism.
The government has also announced that it will treat it as a terrorist organization. But within days, the government signed an agreement with the TLP and accepted most of its demands. The leader of the TLP and hundreds of his supporters have been released. The group was also allowed to operate as a political party.
This is not the first time that a government has backed down. The Pakistani state returned its authority over religious matters to religious groups and leaders in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, no serious effort has been made since then to support this authority.
The writer is a freelance journalist.