Dorm debate led to death in Pakistan ‘blasphemy killing’

Pakistani activists shout slogans during a protest in Karachi on April 14, 2017, against the killing of student Mashal Khan, who was killed by his classmates. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2017

Dorm debate led to death in Pakistan ‘blasphemy killing’

PAKISTAN: The ransacked university hostel room of slain Pakistani student Mashal Khan has posters of Karl Marx and Che Guevara still hanging on the walls, along with scribbled quotes including one that reads: “Be curious, crazy and mad.”
The day before, a heated debate over religion with fellow students broke out at the dorm and led to people accusing Khan of blasphemy against Islam. That attracted a crowd that grew to several hundred people, according to witnesses.
The mob kicked in the door, dragged Khan from his room and beat him to death, witnesses and police said.
The death in the northwestern city of Mardan is the latest violence linked to accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan.
Those who knew Khan described him as an intellectually curious student who openly professed devotion to Islam but asked many questions.
“Whatever he had to say, he would say it openly, but he didn’t understand the environment he was living in,” said one of Khan’s teachers at Abdul Wali Khan University, who declined to be named for fear of retribution.
Aziz ur Rehman, a caretaker at the hostel who witnessed Khan’s debate with his fellow students, said he brought up arcane subjects such as whether the offspring of Adam and Eve — the original humans in Islamic texts as well as Judeo-Christian ones — would have married each other, raising the issue of incest.
Crimes related to blasphemy are a serious offense in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and penalties range from small fines to the death sentence.
At least 65 people have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from a Center for Research and Security Studies report and local media, and dozens more convicted of the crime are currently on death row in Pakistani jails.
The Pakistani government has yet to comment publicly on Khan’s killing.
In March, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued an order for the removal of blasphemous content online, and said anyone who posted such content should face “strict punishment under the law.”
Police say they have arrested 20 suspects involved in Khan’s murder and have found no evidence to substantiate blasphemy allegations.
IMAM REFUSES LAST RIGHTS
Rehman, the caretaker, said Khan was alive when the police arrived, but that they did not approach the hostel until it was too late.
“They could have easily saved his life but they stood away from the mob ... I heard one officer say it’s good that they sent this non-believer to hell,” he said.
Mardan police chief Mohammad Alam Shinwari denied the allegation that officers did not do enough to save Khan.
“When we entered the campus, he had already been killed and the mob was trying to burn his body,” he said.
In Khan’s home town of Swabi, around 60 km south of Mardan, his father, Iqbal Shaer, said the accusations of blasphemy were unfounded. “First they killed my son and now they are adding salt to our wounds,” he told Reuters.
Shaer, who runs a small business selling biscuits and chocolates to local retailers, said he had always been a lover of poetry and literature and encouraged his children to express themselves and appreciate the arts.
He added: “My wife told me this morning that she spent her life taking care of her son, but those who killed him have wasted that long struggle.”
At Khan’s funeral, the imam at the local mosque refused to read the last rights, according to Swabi resident Salman Ahmed. A technician who was asked to do so in the cleric’s place was confronted by several people afterwards.
Khan has since been buried.


Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

Updated 30 min 57 sec ago

Protests in US put racial discrimination in Canada under scrutiny

  • Discrimination against Canadian blacks and Arabs ranges from higher unemployment to hate crimes
  • Trudeau’s reputation as a diversity champion was punctured last year by multiple images of him in black makeup

DUBAI: The protests across the US over the death of George Floyd while in police custody have prompted its northern neighbor with a nicer image to acknowledge discrimination within its own borders. Only time will tell, though, whether Canada’s next step will be honest self-searching and concrete action to defend its reputation — especially among Arabs and Muslims — as a fair and tolerant society.

So far, what Canada has mainly shown is that a history of moral posturing greatly diminishes a politician’s ability to provide credible leadership on the problem of anti-black racism. Otherwise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not have reacted the way he did during a news conference in Ottawa when asked to comment on US President Donald Trump’s call to use military action as violence and looting eclipsed protests over Floyd’s death.

The former drama teacher paused for 21 seconds, opening his mouth a few times to speak. The pregnant pause caused many to wonder whether Trudeau was making a deliberate point with his silence, fearful of taking on Trump, or he was literally at a loss for words, perhaps recalling his own blackface scandals.

On Friday, Trudeau made a dramatic appearance at a protest in Ottawa (pictured above), where he joined the crowd in kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds — which is how long a Minneapolis police officer held down Floyd with his knee on his neck before he died — clapped to chants of “Black lives matter” and collected a T-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan on the front.

Such gestures are perhaps only to be expected of a white politician whose carefully crafted image as a champion of inclusivity and diversity was punctured last year by the appearance of multiple images of him in black makeup, laughing, making faces and sticking his tongue out.

The tradition of brownface and blackface — white people painting their faces darker — was common in North America until it came to be viewed by the turn of the 21st century as a racist caricature. However, systemic inequalities that plague Canada’s black and indigenous communities have proved far more resistant to change.

Last weekend in Toronto, protesters held a rally over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black woman who fell to her death last week while police were in her apartment, an incident that is being probed by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

People who were identified as family and friends of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (no names provided) lead protesters as they march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

A CBC News investigation of fatal encounters with police found that black people made up 36.5 percent of the deaths involving Toronto police from 2000-2017, while accounting for only 8.3 percent of the city’s population.

Canada is also no stranger to prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. Most recently, some cities’ decision to suspend their noise bylaws during Ramadan to permit mosques to broadcast the sunset call to prayer sparked a backlash, drawing some racist rants on Twitter. 

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called “a despicable act of terror.”

In 2017, university student Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six Muslims in a Quebec City mosque. (Facebook)
Montreal mayor Denis Coderre (L-R), Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pay their respects during a funeral ceremony for three of the victims of the deadly shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, in Montreal, Quebec on February 2, 2017. (AFP/File Photo)

That year there was a spike in hate crimes reported by police, a 10-year high of 2,073 criminal incidents, according to Statistics Canada.

While the most recent stats show a slight decrease in 2018 to 1,798 incidents, the number was still the second highest of that period.

Of those hate crimes, 44 percent were motivated by race while 36 percent were based on religion.

Then there is a less visible form of systemic discrimination, such as the issue of unemployment among Arabs, Canada’s fastest-growing immigrant population.

ISNA Canada building. (Supplied)

“A lot of people here think that Canada isn’t racist,” Faith Olanipekun, an organizer of a Canadian protest in support of Black Lives Matter, told the CBC, the national public broadcaster, this week.

“So it’s important for us to come out, voice our concerns and let people know that we are suffering in Canada just as much as people in the US are suffering.”

A report last year by the Canadian Arab Institute, a non-partisan research and policy group, showed that based on its analysis of the country’s last census in 2016, the unemployment rate among Arabs was 13.5 percent, higher than the total visible minority population at 9.2 percent.

“That’s more than double the national average, so this is based on 2016 data, very important to note, because with COVID-19 it means it’s going to get much worse,” Shireen Salti, the institute’s interim executive director, told Arab News. 

“We know there are employment barriers. We’re looking into why … Is there discrimination in the labor market, on university campuses etc.? There are some preliminary results from our research that show this, and we want to dive deeper to better understand.”

IN NUMBERS

ARAB CANADIANS

- 947,820 people in Canada reported having Arab ethnic origin.

- 90% reside in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta provinces.

- Highest numbers: Lebanese, Moroccan, Egyptian.

- Over 60% are first generation.

- Over 60% have post-secondary education.

Source: Canadian Arab Institute, based on country’s last census in 2016.

Despite being a highly educated community, she said figures show Arabs’ average annual income is about $33,000, below the national average of $47,000.

“There’s a lot of work that we still need to do to ensure the integration of Arabs in Canada,” said Salti, who was born in Palestine and moved to Canada with her family in 2009.

“There’s a lot of government support in place for newcomers and immigrants, but we need to move beyond that and better understand how to cater to various communities with various inequities.”

While standing in solidarity with black Americans, Salti said the US situation has opened up a window for Canadians to talk about all forms of discrimination.

A man walks past Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, which was targeted with vandalism during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting police to erect mobile surveillance cameras, on May 21, 2020 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AFP)

“It’s important to take a moment to pause and listen to the important messages that are being shared right now,” she added.

“We need to be anti-racist in a society where we have multiple communities, and diverse communities, and multiculturalism is literally at the heart of what we do here in Canada.”

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 15 years, had the vision to make the country the first in the world to adopt an official policy of multiculturalism in 1971, later enshrined in law.

This allowed its citizens to preserve their own cultural heritage while being protected from discrimination.

In this file photo Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill to attend a sitting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic, May 20, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. (AFP/File Photo)

Justin has had a harder time convincing people that he walks his talk as Canada’s woke leader. He got points for introducing the first gender-balanced Cabinet in the country’s history in 2015, which was also ethnically diverse.

He offered apologies to Canada’s aboriginals for their abuse dating back more than a century, and he welcomed Syrian refugees at the airport with open arms.

Then, while running for re-election last year, two “blackface” photos and a video raised troubling questions about the character of a politician who rose to high office on a platform of social justice, gender equality and indigenous and minority rights.

At the June 2 news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had "spoken many times about how deeply I regret my actions hurt many, many people," before going on to state: “There’s systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of color, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

Protesters march to highlight the deaths in the U.S. of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and of Toronto's Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling from an apartment building while police officers were present, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada May 30, 2020. (Reuters)

Not everyone was impressed. Jagmeet Singh, the outspoken leader of Canada’s NDP Party, said Trudeau’s government could immediately take actions that “go beyond the pretty words of a prime minister who says that he cares.”

Trudeau’s own cabinet minister, Ahmed Hussen, a Somali Canadian, was more specific: He lamented that black Canadians were disproportionately followed in stores by shop owners fearing theft, while black drivers had every reason to be anxious when they are pulled over by a police officer.

Racism is “a lived reality for black Canadians,” Hussen said, as he urged other Canadians to “step up” and “raise your voices and ensure that real inclusion accompanies the diversity of our country.”

The mood in Canada’s black, indigenous and immigrant communities was perhaps summed up best by Salti, of the Canadian Arab Institute, thus: “Now more than ever, we hope that all our political leaders and elected officials will do more than simply pay lip service, and instead act and invest in strategies that promote an inclusive, integrated and fully respectful society for all Canadians.”