Will they be caught and punished? Will the people who incited, committed and abetted the murder of Shazia and Shehzad in the outskirts of Lahore be identified and made to pay for their barbaric act? Or will the good government of Shahbaz Sharif do what it always does? Condemn it, order a probe to cover up the crime, announce compensation for individual victims where necessary and hush it all up without holding anyone responsible. I hope not.

I was trying not to look at the nauseating murders in Prem Nagar too closely. It was painful reading the headlines. Then someone posted a pic of the orphaned child of the couple on social media with a link to some news story or a video that I didn’t venture to read. Just the look on the face of that small boy was enough. Did he see them dragging his parents through the street? Did he hear what was being said? Do I need to know the poor boy’s name to understand his tragedy?

The pattern is so obvious by now that such details have lost their meaning. Does it matter that the victims are mostly Christians? Of course it does. But what matters most are the culprits. What matters more is that loudspeakers of mosques are used to incite mobs to murder. What matters is that the culprits are never held accountable. Not the maulvis. Not those who lead the mobs and physically assault the victims. Not those who stand by and watch. Not those who start these episodes by riling up the maulvis or paying them.

All this talk about victimization of minorities is valid but it only goes to obfuscate matters at this stage. It divides our attention and distracts us from zeroing in on the root of these recurring episodes of mob-murder instigated in the name of Allah. Identifying the culprits becomes one of the issues and punishing them just another. In my opinion, these should be the only issues for all those who want this horrendous trend to end.

If one maulvi is punished for using the loudspeaker of a mosque to incite such mob hysteria, don’t you think others would think twice before indulging in such devilish acts? If leaders of these mobs and those standing by are sent to jail for their crimes, will it not discourage others to take part in such gory orgies of violence? If even one of the culprits using maulvis to settle their personal scores is given exemplary punishment, will others not consider hiring professional killers to do their job? It will at least make it difficult for such people to commit their crimes. After all, professional killers are harder to find than professional maulvis.

The point that these crimes in the name of Islam are driven by secular motives of personal revenge or greed is valid as well but is again a distraction. The defining feature of these grave crimes is religion. The maulvis are the mob-rousers and they use religion to rile them up. Were the perpetrators to use professional killers to achieve their secular motives, the repercussions would not be so grave. When they use maulvis to kill people, it stops being a feud between individuals. It engulfs entire communities in hatred and violence and scars the soul of humanity. And that is where our focus on the religious aspect of these crimes must lie.

Why do people behind these crimes feel that they could use maulvis to achieve their secular criminal motives? That it would be easier or cheaper to use maulvis rather than hired killers? Shouldn’t it force us to take a closer look at these professional peddlers of religion that we have put in charge of our mosques? Shouldn’t we be listening more closely to what they utter from loudspeakers when they are not inciting people to murder? If they issue tickets to heaven from loudspeakers for those who pay them money, what could stop them from issuing tickets to hell at the behest of people who pay them more?

I hope and pray to God that this story doesn’t end the way such stories have ended as a rule. I hope that the most important task of identifying and punishing the culprits is not buried under all this talk about victimization of minorities. It is not enough and it doesn’t change anything. In fact, it distracts us by painting such orchestrated incidents as a reflection of our society in general. Worse still, it feeds into the imperial narrative about mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan. By treating such episodes as indicators of inter-communal hatred and defining the issue within the imperial framework, we heighten mistrust among communities and actually drive our peaceful society in that direction.

What we must understand is that beating your breast about the victimization of minorities is not going to help end this nightmare. We do it every time such an incident happens. We cry for our Christian brothers and sisters and scream about the cruelty of it all and then go to sleep with our scars as the government protects the culprits and things are made to simmer down. And then it happens again and the whole circle is repeated just like before. To bring an end to these vicious plots, we need to ensure that the investigation of the Prem Nagar case is not fudged and it leads to the identification of those responsible for the murders. We need to ensure that the culprits are punished according to their crimes.

Given the past record of PML-N governments, there are serious question marks about the seriousness of the Shahbaz administration to punish anyone for what happened in Prem Nagar. We must ensure that the government doesn’t brush these murders under the rug and all the culprits are punished; the perpetrator, the maulvis, the mob leaders, those following them and those standing by.

And once the maulvis involved in the incident are punished, we must raise the bar on who should be in charge of our mosques, what they are allowed to utter from loudspeakers and when.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

hazirjalees@hotmail.com