17/04/2017 5:06 PM IST | Updated 19/04/2017 9:07 AM IST

Mashal Khan Wasn't Killed Just By The Mob That Lynched Him

Peaceful believers and secularists have a lot to answer for too.

AFP/Getty Images

If you are active on social media you have probably seen the gruesome clip of freethinker Mashal Khan being lynched by hundreds of fellow students on the Wali Khan University campus in Pakistan, for the victimless crime of blasphemy.

Anyone still pretending that this form of grotesque religious zealotry is fringe, must only compare the crowd size at Salman Taseer's assassin Mumtaz Qadri's funeral to that of Mashal Khan's. Apologists who are quick to blame Western interventions and foreign policy for the crimes committed in the name of Islam (and are sanctified in its holiest scriptures, if you care to read) will find it difficult to explain away the difference in the two pictures below.

But this piece isn't about debunking clichés. I have covered those in a previous article. This is about the millions of peaceful believers and secularists who are missing in the gory video, but are as complicit in Mashal Khan's murder as the depraved killers who were repeatedly striking his mutilated body.

Every time someone is lynched over "holy cows", and we ask whether the meat in his fridge was mutton or beef; or whether the bovine in his truck was a cow or a buffalo, we are giving our tacit approval to the Hindutva terrorists who believe that the sanctity of a farm animal supersedes that of a human being.

Every "moderate" believer who condemned the killings of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, while adding the caveat "but", followed by a tirade about how fragile sentiments and infantile beliefs were the real victims of that gruesome attack, gave legitimacy to the ideology that inspired the Kouachi brothers to pull the trigger.

For as long as you believe that the probity of dead shamans, sacred animals and obsolete medieval texts deserve special immunity from criticism and caricature, there will always be someone willing to defend that probity with murder. Dealing with the plague of zealotry requires "sacred icons" to be stripped of this hypocritical immunity they enjoy. Abolish blasphemy laws, and make caricature of religious fairytales as ubiquitous as memes on Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings. If your god (or gods) consider their sanctity more important than human rights and free expression, then they should come out of hiding and defend themselves. Relying on fallible human laws and courts to defend his infallible word is hardly befitting of an omnipotent being.

The vast swathes of peaceful moderates and secularists who sympathise with "hurt sentiments" are guilty of enabling the foot soldiers of "Islamist and Hindutva Grievance Industries Pvt. Ltd."

Curiously, this "respect" offered to religious sentiments—especially by left-liberals— is particularly uncompromising when it comes to Islam. Folks who label Sam Harris an "Islamophobe" for his criticism of the "religion of peace", never call him a Christianophobe for his brutal attack on devout Christians and their faith, in his book Letters to a Christian Nation.

In the aftermath of the Satanic Verses fiasco, most leftist commentators (such as Germaine Greer and John Berger to name just two) were more sympathetic to the sentiments of rabid bloodthirsty Islamists than the right to life and liberty of a hapless novelist. Christopher Hitchens best summed up this strange phenomenon—"Indeed the whole cultural and media industry has become, where reactionary Islam is concerned, one long profile in prudence."

The vast swathes of peaceful moderates and secularists who sympathise with "hurt sentiments" are guilty of enabling the foot soldiers of Islamist and Hindutva Grievance Industries Pvt. Ltd. to the point where the murder of bloggers, cartoonists, hapless students and dairy farmers has become a routine occurrence. You cannot venerate irrational religious beliefs, demand that they be treated with deference, prioritise "hurt sentiments" over human rights by supporting blasphemy laws, and then feign outrage when fundamentalists take the next logical step in defence of those beliefs. A few hundred violent zealots may have lynched Mashal Khan on campus that fateful day, but millions of peaceful apologists of religion laid the groundwork for the confrontation a long time ago.

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