Moral Anxiety in the 'Land of the Pure': Popular Justice and Anti-Blasphemy Violence in Pakistan [article]

Sana Ashraf, University, The Australian National, University, The Australian National
2019
In recent years, Pakistan has witnessed incidents such as lynching of a student on a university campus, torching of a Christian couple alive, attacks on entire neighbourhoods by angry mobs, and assassination of a governor upon allegations of blasphemy. This thesis begins with the premise that the anti-blasphemy violence is meaningful political action and locates it within the wider socio-cultural and historical context of Pakistan. I argue in this thesis that blasphemy accusations and the
more » ... ce that often follows them are an outcome of the wider concern for maintaining purity at the national, communal, and individual levels. The creation and the consolidation of the state of Pakistan has popularised certain ideas of national identity based on an imagined homogenous community defined by its purity. At the local level, the national identity is interpreted within specifically local cultural notions of sexual, ancestral, communal and religious purity. At an individual level, the concern for the purity of the self and the society has led to widespread moral and existential anxieties. It is within the context of these anxieties concerning the purity of the nation, the community, and the self that the blasphemy accusations gain traction. By focusing on the inter-personal relationships between the accused and the accusers, this thesis contends that the accusations are triggered by perceived transgressions of social hierarchies and religio-cultural notions of purity among people known to each other. Through ethnographic examples, I demonstrate that most accusations are simultaneously motivated by religio-cultural ideals, emotions, and personal rivalries. However, once the blasphemy accusations have been made, regardless of the initial motives of the accusers, they quickly escalate into a shared religious concern inciting passionate responses from a much wider audience of believers living with anxieties concerning their faith, their religio-national identity, and the purity of their society. To the mobilised crowds, the [...]
doi:10.25911/5d4d5405706e4 fatcat:r7je6eir7vaeflhnraukwizxia