We, the evil

Published April 16, 2017
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

IN that pause — between the killing and the coverage and the condemnation — we learned something. The stomach churns and the heart sinks to say it.

It will happen again.

Because in that silence, of the media, the government and the state, we learned that society, on this issue and in this area, is stronger than the state.

The only thing we don’t know and the thing we must fear is that the next time may come quicker; that instead of years, it may be months or weeks.

Because this time it was different. It happened for a different reason and in a different world.

The only thing we don’t know and the thing we must fear is that the next time may come quicker; that instead of years, it may be months or weeks.

The different reason: the state fomented this violence. Usually, it’s a bunch of fanatics armed with maybe an economic motive against a poor fool caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sudden but targeted, it wouldn’t have the bush-fire potential to spread or be emulated. But this time the state itself has said, there are blasphemers hiding among you, the people; find them!

So now the people are finding them.

And it has happened in a different world. A world of online and social media and smartphones and viral videos.

Before the muted media coverage or the belated political condemnation, the videos were already ricocheting around the country.

A few short years ago, it may have been a few grainy videos. Now, they are in HD and at every step and from every angle.

That’s a problem.

Because while the videos will have caused many to recoil, the visuals and the audio will have made others rejoice.

Turn up the volume and hear the howls and screams. This wasn’t ignorance or the lack of knowledge; it was total belief and piety.

They weren’t screaming for blood; they were chanting the name of God.

The videos are an advertisement and an admonition: this is what we will do, this is what you need to do and this is what must be done.

Like snuff films for the masses, it took minutes and hours for the videos to spread; it’s taken days for the state to respond — a gap that may as well have been an eternity because of the effectiveness of the former and the flaccidness of the latter.

And in the state’s claim that no crime was committed by the victim lies a denial of reality — it doesn’t matter to the murderous that an innocent life was taken.

An innocent life is a price worth paying to defend the higher cause — that no one in no way and at no time may ever even think of doing what the dead man was accused of doing.

If it takes the life of an innocent to reinforce that important message, so be it. It’s pointless of the state to insist he was innocent.

And it is a different world for a second reason: Mumtaz Qadri.

The shrine that has risen atop his grave is the new Lal Masjid. A dangerous, violent and open provocation, in just over a year it has achieved iconic status on the fringes.

To pray at his graveside and spread flowers on his grave is to pledge allegiance to what the executed convict has come to stand for.

Don’t be surprised if it is revealed that several from the Mardan mob have been to the shrine. Don’t be surprised if the next killer or killers will have done the same.

Qadri as a symbol is doubly dangerous because, like in Mardan, the guilt or innocence of the victim doesn’t matter.

The Taseer assassination moved the goalposts: killed not for the crime, but for questioning the law. The Mardan mob has moved them further: kill the suspect, even if innocent, as a warning to all.

The Qadri shrine sanctions both. Instead of being erased from history or remembered for being punished by the state, he is being written into folklore as the vanguard of a new movement.

It must end.

But it won’t. Because the state blinked and has shown its hand. The delayed condemnations are irrelevant; what was needed was a full-throated and immediate defence of the good and the right and the true.

Why did they blink though?

They do it every time, whoever’s in power. In private, the rationale offered is mostly the same: religious passions are easily inflamed, wildly unpredictable and wholly dangerous.

If already inflamed, give them a controlled outlet. Burning a building or two, holding a fiery protest or three, tends to dissipate passions.

And when already inflamed, don’t do anything to worsen it and never do anything that could cause them to turn on you.

So you can see why they keep quiet when the fire has just been lit and is freshly raging. What if there is even a sliver of plausibility for the violent lot in the accusation of the mob?

You don’t know want to be the guy who spoke up too quickly for someone accused of you-know-what.

It is, of course, cowardice and a dereliction of duty. But perhaps understandable in the context of a terrified few in the face of the enraged many.

But there is another side. What if, just maybe, the state and the government, or elements within them, are aligned with the savage public on this issue?

Look up the history of the transition to a mandatory death penalty for the crime. Look up the Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Bill, 1991. Remember who was in power then. Look up what they said at the time.

Look around and see where they are now.

Happy Easter.

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2017



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