Blasphemy politics killing Pakistan’s pluralism


Mashal Khan was never afraid to speak his mind. The 23-year-old journalism student was known for questioning his peers and speaking out against injustice and corruption, the Guardian reports:

But on 13 April – a few days after a heated discussion at his university in Mardan in north-western Pakistan – Khan was seized from his dorm room by a mob that stripped and beat him, then shot him dead….. Since 1990, at least 65 people have been murdered in Pakistan over blasphemy allegations, and responsibility for these extrajudicial killings lies partly with the country’s rules, said Tahira Abdullah, an independent human rights defender. 

“It has become extremely easy to accuse people of blasphemy,” said Abdullah. “The very word raises emotions to such an extent that people take power into their own hands and do vigilante mob actions.”

Observers see parallels between Indonesia’s trajectory and that which led Pakistan — a country that, like Indonesia, had its own syncretic, moderate form of Islam — to where it is today. There are also lessons, if Indo­nesia is willing to heed them, reports suggest.

“The problem in Pakistan is the idea of blasphemy is now a very clear political tool,” says Raza Rumi (right), a visiting scholar and lecturer at New York’s Ithaca University and editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times. He fled Lahore in 2014 after an assassination ­attempt by Islamic militants.

“In both countries there are Muslim majorities and a clear ­assertion of an Islamic identity, as well as the use of religion for political gain,” says Rumi, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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