Peshawar: With the number of blasphemy related mob attacks making regular headlines in news, the intelligentsia is of the view that the protracted war against terrorism, conflict and a fundamentalist approach to religious issues has had a radicalizing effect on the society.

This is especially true of the youth and the educated middle class sections of the society, say observers, and its impact is visibly felt in the education institutions where extremism is on the rise and tolerance low.

The brutal killing of Mashal Khan in Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan (AWKUM) last month and several more cases of vigilante action against people accused of blasphemy testifies to this trend.

“They[mob] not only killed my son but has also zipped up mouths of those talking about reforms [to end abuse of blasphemy law] in the society,” Khan’s father Iqbal Shaer told Truth Tracker/News Lens Pakistan over phone from Swabi, adding that his son’s crime was to push for reforms. “He as a strong critic of the exploitative social and political system.”

Mashal Khan was a student of sixth semester in media studies department of AWKUM. Before joining the university he had studied engineering in a university in Moscow. On various occasions, Khan had criticized the social and political system in the country on television interviews and through social media platforms.

Mashal Khan was lynched to death by student mobs, along with employees of the Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan(AWKUM) over blasphemy allegations.

In one of his interviews with a private television network, he criticized the university administration for alleged corruptions and illegal hiring in the university. However, blasphemy allegations against Khan and two of his other friends led to his brutal murder on April 13 when a mob dragged him out from his hostel room and lynched him.

Educationist and political analyst Dr. Khadim Hussain said incidents of violence in education institutions portray that the capacity of the society to absorb diverse views, analysis, opinions and observations in the spirit of scholarly discourse is gradually vanishing.

Hussain told News Lens that there were two basic requirements for physical and intellectual growth.

“Food and shelter for physical development is necessary for both animals and human beings but the second requirement – cognitive development or emotional intelligence – develops a human society to create an environment for collective observations and analysis on issues,” said Dr. Hussain. “This helps us arrive at conclusions about things and issues and distribute that knowledge in the society which becomes acceptable to everyone.”

Information processes, sharing of knowledge and analysis, observations and to absorb each other views and beliefs leads to cognitive or intellectual development of the society, says Dr. Hussain, author of ‘Rethinking Education- Critical Discourse and Society.’

“When the cognitive development process paralyzes in a society then incidents like the Mardan lynching happens in the community,” he said.

Another incident of violence on campus happened in the University of the Punjab where two student federations clashed after attacking a ‘cultural’ event. A few days after the incident, a student was beaten up by a member of students’ wing over allegedly courting a female colleague of his department.

Asked about the reasons why the cognitive development process had paralyzed, Dr. Hussain said an environment for diverse opinion was neither developed nor encouraged in education institutions.

“Students have always been censured for raising questions on topics like the ‘mutilated’ history of Pakistan’s independence,” he said. “Teachers warn students from day one in schools not to ask such questions. What is in the book is true is the only approach towards instruction. Naturally it retards thinking, analysis, and observation skills of the students.”

Moreover when relations and interaction with others cultures and beliefs in the society is discouraged then some groups – and polices of the state – encourage use of force to impose a specific analysis and observations on the whole society, said Dr Hussain.

He said the Mardan incident was a perfect example of the halting of intellectual processes. “Had the students’ capacity for analysis not been paralyzed, they wouldn’t have committed such brutality. They would have thought a hundred times before committing it.”

As per the law, blasphemy in Pakistan carries a death sentence or life imprisonment. The law was adopted by the former military dictator Zia ul Haq back in the 80s. Now religious and right wing political parties do not want to reform the law.

Maulana Khaliq-ul-Zaman, who saved a person accused of blasphemy by a village mob in the remote Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told News Lens that as religious leader, his duty was to promote tolerance and peace in the society.

“I handed over the person believed to have used blasphemous words to the police and didn’t let the mob to take law in their own hands,” he said, adding that Islam didn’t permit what happened to Mashal Khan.

In Islam, he says, there is even relaxation for the one who turns apostate by keeping him for three days and convincing them with love and affection to renounce apostasy. He said the cleric’s role is important in the society in promoting tolerance.

“Ulema and religious personalities need to preach tolerance, harmony and strive for peace in the society,” Zaman says. “The ulemas image have always been portrayed as negative, as icons of intolerance in the media but it’s not like that everywhere.”

However, leaders of the religious political parties term it a failure of the state that intolerance is rising, particularly in case of blasphemy. Amir of Jamaat Islami in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mushtaq Ahmad Khan said had the government tried those arrested over blasphemy allegations in the past, Mashal’s murder wouldn’t have happened.

“When the state fail to implement laws in their true spirit, the public is compelled to take law in their hands,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Khan. He said the blasphemy law should be strictly implemented and there was no room for reforms in the law.

However, Dr. Hussain said that religious groups and parties were directly connected with promotion of intolerance in the society. “The religious parties and groups don’t want a diverse society and promote conservative views. This intolerance will lead to more bloodshed in the country.”

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