By Ameer Ali –
Barbarism is not the monopoly of any country or community. Sri Lanka too has its share of barbaric killings if one cares to look back at how gruesomely people were killed during periods of communal violence. Yet, the lynching and burning in public the Sri Lankan factory manager Priyantha Kumara for ordering his workers to remove all stickers from machines before a foreign delegation arrived was a dastardly crime that cannot and should not be excused and deserves the most unreserved condemnation by any civilized human being. Although Prime Minister Imran Khan was quick to offer a national apology to Sri Lanka and promised to punish all those participated in that crime, it only shows what type of a dangerous and fanatical mob that mullahs of Pakistan had nurtured since that country was founded in 1947. Its architect Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a secularist in every sense of that term, and its spiritual father and philosopher poet Muhammad Iqbal would be turning in their graves at the way that country had become a hotbed for religious extremism and jihadism.
It is obvious that many if not all those stickers ordered to be removed might have carried words and phrases either in Urdu or Arabic, and few of the Arabic ones would have come straight from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet, which the Sinhalese manager would not have understood. To the lynching mob however, ordering the removal of those (Holy) stickers itself was an act of blasphemy and deserved death to the ordered. These vigilantes at once became the accusers, jury, judge and self-appointed executioners of Allah.
Regarding the blasphemy law of Pakistan, its origins go back to the days of British Raj when the publisher of the book Rangila Rasul, which disparagingly discussed the marriage and sex life of the Prophet of Islam, was assassinated in Lahore, Punjab in 1920s. Under pressure from Muslims the British enacted the Hate Speech Law Section 295(A) as part of the Criminal Law Act XXV. Pakistan inherited this colonial law and made it more severe between 1980 and 1986 during the rule of Zia-ul Haq as part of his Islamization of laws program. This law worked against minorities and particularly against the Ahmadis. One cannot forget the notorious case of the Christian lady Asia Bibi who was accused of blasphemy in 2010 and was sentenced to death. Because of international pressure she was finally released in 2018, but Salman Taseer, the Punjab Governor who supported that lady was gunned down by the Holy warriors.
Leaving aside Pakistan’s blasphemy law and its implementation for the moment, this discussion raises a different question to understand the mindset that carried out the recent savagery. Why were those stickers pasted on machines to start with? The answer takes me back to an incident in Sri Lanka that happened decades ago in my presence. A certain maulana or Muslim Holy man arrived from India to meet his disciples and was staying somewhere in Kandy. A couple of his disciples who happened to be my relatives dragged me also from the campus and went to see the man. While we were there one of the visitors complained to the maulana that his Massey Fergusson tractor was constantly breaking down and he was unable to plough his paddy field. The Holy man quickly scribbled something on a piece of paper (probably in Arabic) and asked that disciple to paste it on the machine. I could not believe what I was seeing. How could some Holy words repair a machine? Suppose someone had gone and removed that sticker from the tractor what would have been the fate of that mischief maker? It is this sort of Islam, which is full of myths and superstitions and devoid of any rationality that had been indoctrinated by mullahs all over the Muslim world. The mindset that these mullahs have created and nurtured operates on emotion and uncritical obedience to the preacher and leader. That mindset is the breeding ground for religious extremism and it is from those extremists, Islamists recruit their foot soldiers. Unfortunately, Pakistan has too many of them.
Islam prohibits worship of idols, but the place of idols has now been occupied by religious Holy names and verses from the Quran. What was once developed as calligraphic art in Islam has turned out to be icons for veneration. Any damage to these icons is considered blasphemy. That was what happened in that Pakistani factory and innocent Priyantha Kumara paid the ultimate price in the hands of Allah’s executioners.
In this context, it would be relevant to recall another incident that happened in 2018 while I was in Sri Lanka. I was travelling from Colombo to Kattankudy with a friend of mine in my nephew’s car. While passing through a small Muslim town we stopped for tea at a Muslim restaurant. As I walked into it, I saw big posters printed in colour with verses from the Quran pasted on the walls. I politely called the young owner and asked whether he understood what was in those posters. He said that he could read them but did not know the meaning. I didn’t want to be a teacher of Quran but explained to that young man the reason why Quran was revealed to the Prophet and told him that it was a message to act upon and not a piece of art to decorate walls. I also explained to him the hidden dangers behind those posters. The man seemed to have understood and promised to remove them. I am not sure whether he actually did, because I have not visited that place since then.
Priyantha’s family deserves justice. Prime Minister Khan must compensate the victim’s family and the Sri Lankan government is duty bound to work for it, although no amount of compensation could bring back the family’s loved one. Besides, Prime Minister Khan also must realize that he has a huge problem at hand to tackle growing religious fanaticism with its breed of vigilantes in his country. Without the army’s support he himself would be one of their targets.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia