A day after nationwide protest meetings in India, the Pakistani city of Karachi will be holding a #NotInMyName event on Thursday. The culture and the menace of mob culture and vigilantism is pan-South Asia. If India now has beef, Pakistan has long had blasphemy, and a vigorous, overt threat of religious intolerance.
Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws prescribe a strict punishment for anyone who insults the Prophet or desecrates the Holy Quran. But these laws have frequently been misused to serve as pretexts for lynching targets and as covers for mob violence — often touted as ‘spontaneous’ out of a sense of religious fervour.
The lynching of Mashal Khan on April 13, a student of journalism at Mardan University by fellow students, put this issue into sharp focus earlier this year. Khan was rumoured to have posted content defamatory to Islam on his Facebook. Later these charges and the pretext were categorically proven false. Yet the sympathies and regret from the Pakistani politicians over his murder came only after it was crystal clear that the former was a devout Muslim. In the murder and disappearance of online social activists too, the narrative of mob vigilantism ‘provoked’ in the name of religion has also proved to be an effective tool for countering political and intellectual dissent in Pakistan.
It also becomes a convenient instrument to persecute religious minorities who are disproportionately vulnerable to be deemed ‘Blasphemers’. For instance, in November 2014, a young Pakistani Christian couple was lynched in a small village in Punjab. They had been falsely accused of desecrating the Qur’an. Mere allegations gave rise to a murderous, bloodthirsty mob that broke into the couple’s house, beat them and burnt them alive. The Ahmadis, Shias and the small Hindu minority are also frequently marginalised and victimised. The twin blasts in markets of Parachinar, a predominantly Shia town and claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni armed group, is a manifestation of the same targeting.
In other words, there is little wonder that Pakistan has plenty of room for interpreting #NotInMyName within its own context. The protest, earlier scheduled for July 1, are now going to take place on June 29, at 5 PM (5:30 PM IST) outside the Karachi Press Club, as per the event’s Facebook page.
“Mob violence is not a new phenomenon in a country like Pakistan especially against Ahmedis, Non-Muslims and more recently on the pretext of being accused for blasphemy as in the case of Mashal Khan,” reads the Facebook page of Not In My Name, Karachi. “KARACHI WALON!!,” it beckons, “CAN WE DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS? CAN WE SHOW SUPPORT FOR THE VICTIMS OF MOB VIOLENCE BY PROTESTING AGAINST IT?”