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Smokers’ Corner: Not quite sane

July 21, 2013

One of the most notorious and infamous criminals in recent US history is a man called Charles Manson. Manson was a failed musician who in the late 1960s somehow managed to form a small cult around him of confused young middle-class drifters (mostly women) in San Francisco.

Taking bits from the Bible and pseudo-religions like Scientology and inspiration from the rising socio-political tensions in the US at the time, Manson concocted a theory suggesting that the song, Helter Skelter, by the famous British pop/psychedelic band, the Beatles, predicted a coming racial war between the blacks and Caucasian Americans.

Manson’s ramblings in this respect were largely the result of the high dosages of the powerful hallucinogenic drug LSD, that his small group and he were constantly taking. He told his followers that they would have to ‘create Helter Skelter’ by committing murder and (thus) trigger the predicted racial war.

In August 1969 the cult went on a killing spree, stabbing and shooting to death nine people, including actress Sharon Tate who was pregnant at the time. She was stabbed 16 times.

The gruesome murders shocked the country. Manson and his circle of followers were finally apprehended by the police in December 1969. But what disturbed Middle America even more was the sight of some young men and women who turned up outside the court building where Manson’s trial was being held and began to demonstrate and demand his release.

In March 1971, the court handed Manson and three other members of the group death sentences for their direct involvement in the murders. In 1972 another member of the group was also given the death sentence. But the sentences were automatically reduced to life imprisonment when California abolished death penalty in the state.

Various noted American sociologists and psychologists have tried to investigate what made a group of young middle-class Americans follow Manson into slaughtering nine innocent people for the sake of an irrational and delusional cause.

More curious are certain studies probing the mindset of those men and women who actually exhibited sympathy and support for Manson and his group of killers — even after the gruesome and graphic details of the murders became common knowledge.

One popular theory emerging from these psychological probes suggests that most probably Manson fans and apologists saw the murders as reflections (and release) of their own repressed social and sexual frustrations and anger in the event of their inability to discharge these frustrations by committing murder and acts of violence themselves.

In other words, if the murderers were criminally insane, then those rationalising or glorifying their crime were not quite sane as well.

Thus, in Pakistan’s context, I wonder if the same can be said about those who were captured by TV cameras showering rose petals on Mumtaz Qadri — the man who gunned down former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, because he thought Taseer had committed blasphemy.

And what about young, educated, middle-class men and women who went off the tangent abusing and battering (on social media) a young 16-year-old girl from Swat who last year was shot in the forehead by religious extremists?

Malala Yousufzai narrowly survived the attack and had to be treated by military doctors in Pakistan and surgeons in the UAE and the UK before recovering.

She then went on to deliver a remarkable speech at the UN, pleading universal peace and women’s education, sounding decades more mature, coherent and inspirational than her detractors.

On the evening of her speech, I undertook a quick study of Twitter and Facebook, chasing the profiles of that section of Pakistanis who erupted after Malala completed her address at the UN.

Though many Pakistanis exhibited profound praise and applause for the brave girl, I did come across numerous Tweets and Facebook ramblings of many perfectly ‘normal’ looking men and women who accused her of being a US/Western agent, a hoax, a fraud, etc.

The detractors all seemed to be educated young urbanites with an interest in pop music, Bollywood/Hollywood films and other fun stuff. At the same time, most of them seemed to also be Imran Khan fans.

A PTI Karachi member confessed to me that Khan, who had not Tweeted anything about the speech on the day that it took place, finally tweeted about it (in praise of Malala) after it became apparent that most of the people badmouthing Malala on Twitter and Facebook had Khan’s picture as their DP (display picture), or claimed to be from the ‘PTI family’.

Nevertheless, not all were PTI or Khan fans. I know some very decent, intelligent and empathetic ones as well. But the question remains: How can anyone with a young sister, daughter or even a fellow female classmate, ever get him or herself to abuse an innocent young teenaged schoolgirl who was shot by a man full of unadulterated hatered and who thought everyone but him was an infidel and worthy of death?

Going back to the theory that attempted to psycho-profile Manson’s fans, can it be said that if those in Pakistan who slaughter men, women and children in the name of faith are criminally insane, then are those who do not pull the trigger or explode themselves in a mosque, shrine or market, but are ever ready to defend, rationalise or even glorify acts of sheer brutality, are not quite sane either?

I’m not a psychologist, and maybe in anger I’d like to label them as being equally insane. But as a citizen of Pakistan, even in my most calm moments, I can’t help but to lament that if these people are not as insane, then mentally they are certainly not all there and can be in need of some urgent psychiatric help.

Heck, the way things are in this country,perhaps we all are.