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- Friday, July 06, 2012 - From Print Edition

Such shocking scenes have been witnessed before. Large crowds of people have stood by and watched as persons accused of a crime are beaten to death, lynched or burnt alive. The courts get to play no part in these events – with the mobs assigning themselves the role of judge, jury and executioner. What happened on Tuesday near Bahawalpur was a perfect illustration of this alarming trend. A man, handed in to the police after being accused of blasphemy, was snatched from the police station by a mob which surrounded it, set alight motorcycles and other vehicles and attempted to attack the policemen present at the scene. Several policemen were injured during the stand-off, as they attempted but failed to disperse the angry crowd. The man, who witnesses said had desecrated the Holy Quran, was quite obviously mentally ill. Indeed, no sane person would choose to deliberately harm a Holy Book. This wretched being had petrol poured on him and was then set alight. His screams rang out but the large ring of onlookers did nothing to save him. A person accused of blasphemy was once again killed in a manner which no civilised society should tolerate.

Other similar acts have occurred in the past, and we need to analyse the reasons behind this frenzy. Why have we sunk to this level? The answer is not impossible to find. It lies in the ideology of extremism that has spread like a wildfire through our society. It lies in the sense of terror created by this all-pervading atmosphere and also in the deep flaws within the blasphemy laws that allow such a fate to befall people following an accusation, true or false, of blasphemy. Human rights monitoring groups say many, perhaps most, of those in jail on blasphemy charges fall within the category of those wrongfully accused. Others, like the Bahawalpur victim, include the mentally challenged, quite unaware of their acts. What we also know is that such terrible acts of frenzied violence will occur again and again – unless the perpetrators in this case are punished and a genuine effort made to re-mould a society which has completely lost direction and any sense of humanity. We must start thinking immediately about how this can be achieved before further tragedies of this nature reoccur.
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