The lynching and subsequent burning of a Sri Lankan factory manager, Priyantha Kumara, in Sialkot has brought disgrace to Pakistan. It is shameful because the perpetrators brazenly rationalized their horrific crime without remorse. It is shameful because there are fears of lionizing the mob, the way the murderer Mumtaz Qadri has been hailed as a martyr. It is shameful because there are rumours of Sialkot’s traders supplying food and blankets to the detainees in Sialkot.
All of this goes against what young vloggers like Waqas Shah have been trying to showcase through their social experiments. Shah’s videos depict how Pakistanis overwhelmingly come to the defense of minorities including Sikhs and Hindus.
In 1996, Pakistanis cheered for the Sri Lankan cricket team for the World Cup against Australia at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. The Sri Lankan Captain Arjuna Ranatunga thanked the Pakistani public for their support. In 2009, when Pakistan was reeling under terrorist attacks, it was the Sri Lankan cricket team that visited Pakistan even when others pulled out. Their cricketers were attacked by terrorists in Pakistan. Yet, the Sri Lankan team returned in 2017 and Pakistanis warmly welcomed them.
Pakistanis cannot forget what Sri Lanka has done for them when the country was deemed unsafe to visit. No wonder, Pakistanis are expressing outrage on social media at a dastardly act that has brought great shame to the nation. Defeatist uncles are out questioning the genesis of Pakistan. For its part, the Hindutva brigade is playing its customary bhand tamashbeen (derisive spectator) role. However, thoughtful and critical Pakistanis are correctly identifying the state capitulating to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), as a forerunner to this incident.
The horrific murder necessitates questioning whether the situation has become worse for Pakistan since 2009. The answer is yes, as it lies in the identity of the men involved in the lynching of Priyantha Kumara. Like the murderers of Mashal Khan, who were fellow university students, these men do not seem to be indoctrinated madrassa students, instead, they are young products of modernity. They do not have horns on their head but are quite adept in using cellphone technology.
The narrative that pushed them to forfeit their humanity is modern, not archaic. It is a concoction of fabricated and weak Hadith texts embellished by powerful oration. It has been nurtured and perfected by the TLP, which has allegedly been facilitated by the establishment to keep wayward politicians in check.
For his part, Prime Minister Imran Khan has resolved to bring the mob to justice. But here’s the rub, how many people will be put behind bars? A few months ago, a similar mob had sexually harassed a TikToker in Lahore and an FIR was registered against hundreds of unknown men. If the root cause of such mob violence is not addressed, Pakistan will get busy filling prisons with hundreds of thousands of young men. Certainly, this is not a feasible strategy in a state where there isn’t enough revenue for healthcare and education, let alone prisons.
The prime minister, who claims to have been inspired by Jinnah, shifts the blame to “western influence.” This is a classic strategy of deflection from one’s shortcomings towards foreign elements. In reality, the prime minister seems to be more inspired by General Zia than the Quaid-e-Azam.
The irony is that Jinnah was a product of western liberalism who strived for a secular democracy, upheld constitutional methods, and firmly kept reactionary maulanas and mullahs at bay. In stark contrast, the Imran Khan has capitulated to the shar pasandi (mischief mongering) and fasad (anarchy) of the TLP. By bedding with such extremists, he is making extremism mainstream. On the other hand, he is bent on weakening democracy by using vulgar language against his political opponents.
Interdisciplinary scholar, Rick Szostak, points out in his forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Future, that “democracy depends absolutely on respecting those we disagree with”, and that we should “try to avoid unnecessarily humiliating others”. Our prime minister is guilty of both: disrespecting his political opponents and humiliating them in public discourse. How different is he from the late Khadim Rizvi with his vulgar epithets for his religious opponents?
Additionally, for all his talk of Islam, Prime Minister Khan does not understand Islamic history either. In the history of Islam, religious expression and the state were kept separate. One strong argument for this comes from the fact that Imam Malik ibn Anas (d. 795) refused to have his book, the Muwatta, become part of the law, under both Caliphs al-Mansur (d. 775) and Harun al-Rashid (d. 809), which would have diminished the diversity of juristic thought. On the other hand, when religious expression was subsumed by the state under al-Mamun (d. 833), a reign of terror was cast as the mihna (the ordeal) on those who did not abide by the official doctrine.
In essence, Pakistani commenters, who write out of a love for Pakistan, have correctly identified the root cause as the capitulation of the state to extremist groups. It is the state under Imran Khan, which yielded to the TLP, that is directly responsible for the lynching of Priyantha Kumara. It is the state that is allowing the extremist narrative of the TLP to go unchecked. This narrative afflicts thousands of young men and grows as a cancer.
The state may adopt a band-aid solution by imprisoning scores of men, but a long-lasting solution requires the strengthening of democratic institutions where deals with extremist groups like TLP and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are firmly rejected. In short, the cancer that afflicts Pakistan requires an amputation, not a band-aid.