Americans, the pioneers of modern day psychology, claim to know mobs and mob behaviors. They say it’s deindividuation or diffusion of responsibility. They say it’s a group of people losing their sense of self and acting as a group instead of one person with their own individual thoughts. Latane and Darley, two psychologists who studied the case of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was murdered in the streets of New York in 1964, saw how no one came to her rescue and there was almost nil bystander intervention to stop her attacker or save her in any way. Psychologists have different theories about what stops people from helping those in distress or what causes people in groups to distress an individual. A lynching, as defined by psychologists, is the ‘killing or aggravated injury of a human being by the act or procurement of a mob’ (The Psychology of Social Movements, Cantril 1941). Here, they define a mob as:

“A mob may be defined as a congregate group of individuals who feel strongly that certain of their values are threatened and whose attitudes direct their overt behavior toward a common goal”.

The word itself comes from a man named Charles Lynch, born in Lynchburg, Virginia, USA. The earliest trends in the United States are reported from how freed slaves were lynched – African Americans were rounded up by tens and thousands and were lynched by mobs. There were as many as two thousand reports of lynching between the last ten years of the 1800s (Cantril, 1941).

What made it decrease? Public opinion and law enforcement, according to the above quoted psychologist Hadley Cantril. Law enforcement was even, at times, a part of groups who would be lynching African Americans (sometimes accused of rape, theft and other crimes), local cops and sheriffs would be seen taking part in mobbing and assaulting the victim. However, as laws and social change progressed, lynchings became fewer and fewer. The law took time to take effect. For the longest time, the American justice system could not adequately punish those who were guilty of lynching. However, the legal machinery slowly caught up to the crimes; in 2006, a circuit court judge handed down a six year prison sentence to five teens for lynching and assault of a sixteen year old Isaiah Clyburn.

In Pakistan, the race problem is not as serious as the religious problem. Around 8,000 people in Pakistan are on death row – apart from drug-related and kidnapping offenses, blasphemy is one of the reasons why these are convicted. But Pakistanis often tend to settle the matters of blasphemy outside the court as well.

Five years ago a school in Lahore was torched to the ground because a teacher accidentally merged a line about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a line about beggars. The school administration was arrested and the school itself was burned to the ground. The administrators were pious Muslims and could not have imagined to insult their religion or their esteemed personalities. But it did not seem to factor in for the crowd that was bloodthirsty for punishment.

In 2014, a Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad, were killed over accusations of blasphemy. In Kot Radha Krishan, a small village near Lahore, where this couple lived, a mob broke their bones, tore their clothes and burnt them alive in a nearby brick kiln.

Since 1990, reports Al Jazeera, 60 people have been murdered extra-judicially, in the name of blasphemy. One of the casualties also include a federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who had also spoken out against the blasphemy law.

Two years ago, a mentally ill man was on the death row for blasphemy and was shot dead by a police officer. The police officer smuggled a gun inside the prison premises and shot the 70 year old man. One vividly recalls the sentencing of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row who was accused of blasphemy. The then Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer actively campaigned against 295-C (blasphemy law) and was shot dead by his guard, Mumtaz Qadri. Mumtaz Qadri was hanged till death a few months ago but there are many who regard him as a hero. He was showered with rose petals and kissed by many educated, accomplished men for shooting dozens of bullets at point blank range into the body of Governor Taseer – a man that Qadri was supposed to protect from just this kind of occurrence.

Taseer’s son, Shaan, was also hunted by Sunni Tehreek, for denouncing said law and an ST cleric wondered why the Taseers have to go down this same path when they know what the result is. There are trends on social media glorifying Mumtaz Qadri and vilifying the Taseers, and Pakistani government went one step ahead this year and asked for people on Facebook and Twitter to hunt blasphemers.

Many have been silenced. Sherry Rehman, from Pakistan Peoples’ Party (same as Salmaan Taseer) had to go into hiding for objecting to blasphemy laws. She received death threats, which could have very easily materialized, when she tried to fight this law in 2011. An Islamic scholar, Javed Ghamidi, fled Pakistan for similar reasons after he attempted to engage a discourse. The late pop-star turned religious personality, Junaid Jamshed was also under fire for blasphemy by Sunni Tehreek. In a blog published in Dawn, a detailed look is presented on whether blasphemy is a pardonable offense or not. And the answer is yes.

This law and the fervor against blasphemy is now all the news again – a young man named Mashal Khan was brutally lynched and killed by university students in Mardan. Mashal was a student of journalism and his friends and family say he was someone who gave examples of justice of Caliph Umar (RA). Shahzeb Khanzada on Geo News TV reported how eye-witness accounts claimed that the crowd was charged enough to shoot him and attack him because they said ‘he insulted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’. A teacher tried to stop them but was also injured by the crowd. They shot him and mutilated his body, attempted to burn it – which is when law enforcement stepped in and removed the dead body from the hands of a mad crowd.

The tragedy of Mashal Khan is not a one-off incident, just the way lynchings in the United States were not singular occurrences without any social or political precedents. In Pakistan, this sort of mad lynching comes from the state’s support of punishable offenses of blasphemy – which the experts already say is pardonable. Pakistani scholars, eLet'ducators and activists live in fear from vigilantes, progressive politicians cower before extremist, right-wing elements and the intelligentsia is under a constant shadow of the fear of the non-thinking lynch-mob. This is more than just a group of people coming together in the heat of the moment to kill an innocent, unarmed individual. This is a thought process that needs to be challenged. It is a narrative that needs to be dissected openly with the support of those who are most in power. Blasphemy has become the trump card which sensationalists or propagandists use to threaten their opponents into silence. Without an honest and critical attack on this thought process, there is little hope that many other pious and practicising Muslims or secular individuals can be safe from being attacked by a mob the way Mashal was.

In a heartbreaking video, Mashal’s father spoke to the media saying how Mashal was a ‘good son’ and loved the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is perhaps the responsibility of all pious Muslims to come together to save their religion, their identities and their lives from the brutality that has continued in the name of blasphemy. Let there be no more Mashals and let there be no more fathers who have to justify their sons' love for the Prophet (PBUH) as he buries his young child. Let there be no more blood and violence against minorities. It is time to understand that no one can save us - unless we cannot save ourselves.