Aug 26, 2010

Crime, without punishment

Mosharraf Zaidi
If the global reaction to the most devastating floods in modern world history has not been a wakeup call for Pakistanis, then perhaps the brutality of the Sialkot lynching should. Inside and out, there's something broken about us.
So how do we fix it? How do we build something that is so broken? One way to proceed is to dive into an honest and forthright assessment of the ailments that plague us collectively. It seems we have every moral disease on the planet available here. Religious discrimination, apparently, doesn't even take a break during a flood. Nor does petty corruption and rent-seeking by cops and administrators. Nor does terrorism by Takfiri religious extremists. Nor does theft and dacoity and banditry. These are real problems, and they are not incidental.
Take Sialkot, mix it up with Balochistan, sprinkle in some Model Town, wrap it up in Data Darbar and FATA, roast what remains in the fires of Gojra, and then smoke it. Inhale deeply. How does it feel? Does it feel good to intoxicate ourselves with the failures and misery that we are defined routinely, as a people, by ourselves, and quite understandably, by others?
But how it feels is secondary. The question is, does it make a difference? Does it create a more functional society, a more effective state, a more capable government, more responsive institutions, or more accountable leaders? It doesn't at all. In fact, more often than not, the perpetual obsession to zone in and focus on individual stories like the horror in Sialkot is not a sign of our desire to effect change. It is infinitely more reflective of our gluttonous appetite for the most outrageous and scandalous images. So in the truest tradition of a national discourse that is almost entirely irrational, and almost entirely dependent on emotions, it isn't surprising that while Pakistan continues to drown in floodwaters that have still not stopped threatening Sindh, there is now a full-blown national introspection about the barbarity of Pakistani society. All 180 million of us, according to many, have collective guilt.
Maybe that is true. And maybe it is the exaggerated sentiment of people whose eyes watched what their minds and hearts could not bear. That is why I have yet to watch the video, and why I will never watch it.
What is certain is that the family of the two kids that were lynched by that crazed mob needs justice. That family deserves justice. The memory of those two boys on the other hand, deserves an outcome that protects this country's citizens from these kinds of attacks--everywhere.
That is a very tall order. The moral outrage we feel today is not new. In Gojra last summer, a mob went on a rampage and murdered eight innocent Pakistani citizens. It was too easy for the mainstream to make it a minority issue. It was a minority issue--those folks were targeted because they were Christian. But it was a larger public policy issue. In fact, if you are interested in solving these kinds of problems, it was, like Sialkot is, a purely public policy issue.
And in this, there is, I am afraid, no room for emotion. No room for sentimentality, or for self-righteousness, or for moral codes. There is only room for facts and the actions that those facts dictate. This is important.
If the country is feeling emotional about these atrocities, it is on the right track. Sooner or later, when the accumulated emotions of sixty-three years really begin to matter, we will need to convert those emotions into actionable intelligence. This is not the kind of intelligence that foreign correspondents find interesting. At some point, our own obsession with how we are viewed outside Pakistan, will have to be replaced with an obsession about how we are--period.
We're not well. Not good. Our self-inflicted wounds, the wounds inflicted by nature, and the wounds inflicted by the mortal enemies of the country--the TTP today, a country yesterday, another acronym tomorrow -- these wounds are bleeding. Everywhere you turn there is reason to despair--but the despair, in the absence of data, of knowledge and of commitment for change--is about as sinful as the crimes and misdemeanours that generate the despair in the first place.
The Sialkot lynching, and the mob violence and pyromania on display in Gojra on August 1 last year are the products of a legal system that tolerates the most rabid violations of human dignity for the sake of keeping the peace and political expediency. Even with all the blasphemy laws, and the problems that Zia's era infected the Constitution with in place, there is no possible legal space for vigilantism, or for violence in the name of morality, faith or any other kind of value or ethic. Yet every so often these incidents flare up our collective gluttony for scandal, and our genuine remorse, sorrow and anger.
Violence against minorities is not conducted by the Pakistani state. It is conducted by individuals who are jacked up on religious fervour, thanks to the cancerous oratory of the mullahs. In Sialkot, the kids may not have been from a minority sect, and the instigators, may not have been mullahs--but the formula remains the same. Once you ignite a fire in a mob there are two certainties. First, no one, including the state, will take on the mob. Second, that when all is said and done, the mob will have created a precedent for the next mob--a positive incentive to let its anger loose on whatever grates their sensibility at that time. The reason that precedent exists is simple. Nobody ever gets hanged for being part of a murderous mob.
Of course, murder is just the most extreme kind of a crime. Pakistani politicians frequently use the mullah paradigm to whip up a frenzy of ethnic fear and anger-- as is being done right now in Karachi and like they've done in Balochistan for decades. When Shaheed Mohtarma was murdered mobs went berserk, burning stores, banks and private property at will. When Shaheed Raza Haider was murdered, the same mobs, with different accents, did the same things.
The anger of mourning political workers, the anger of self-righteous Muslims, and the anger of ordinary Sialkotis is not morally equivalent. Of course it is not. But it is the same disease, the same cancer. They are all malignant because they expose the disability of the Pakistani people to construct state institutions that ensure punitive outcomes for criminals. To build Pakistan, criminals must face the consequences of their crimes.

No comments:

Post a Comment