The Dawn: Mar 20, 2015

Crowd: victims and predators

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: A crowd is invariably a source of awe and dread, not for those who are part of it but for those who are at a distance —AP/File

A crowd is invariably a source of awe and dread, not for those who are part of it but for those who are at a distance —AP/File

A crowd is invariably a source of awe and dread, not for those who are part of it but certainly for those who are at a distance, the onlookers. Participants, submerged in what constitutes a crowd, cannot see what onlookers can. The most visible aspect of a crowd that remains invisible to it is its propensity to be destructive. The destructiveness of the crowd can be an animated attempt, voluntary and at times involuntary, aimed at demolishing the status quo or it can be mere destructiveness devoid of any intent to reconstruct the constructed that has become unacceptable.

Suicide bombers blasted themselves at the outer gates of two churches in Lahore last Sunday killing at least 14 innocent men and women, and injuring many more. Seven Muslims were among the dead, including two policemen. The Sunday service was about to end when the terrorists struck. Nothing new, one may say. Such horrible happenings have been happening for quite some time with increased frequency. The scene of mayhem now stands inerasably engraved on our psycho-social landscape. After each terrorist attack we witness people wailing and lamenting in utter despair with unmistakable touch of resignation. They have almost stopped looking to the state institutions for the protection promised to them in the law books. The laws, written in the books however lofty they may be, are little more than dead words if the law enforcers have lost the grit to enforce them.

Also read: Lahore lynching victim identified as local glass cutter

Something unusual and unexpected happened in the aftermath of church bombing if we keep in mind the undeniable fact that the Christians in Punjab, sizable in number, are law abiding and hardworking people who have made tremendous contribution in the fields of education and health. So many have been and are being healed by the caring hands of Christian doctors and nurses. Anybody who is somebody in Punjab at some point in time has been in a Christian school. The last but not the least is their literary contribution. They have enriched our literary tradition by translating psalms, New Testament and other religious literature into Punjabi language. Long is the list of services rendered by the Christian community.

After the carnage the spontaneous outpouring of anger was natural. What was eerily different about it was that it portended a deluge full of destructive power to wash all of us away. Lament of the survivors though painful was understandable. Their lament has an incredibly long history which is the cry of the oppressed. A large segment of the community came from the so-called lower castes and the change of faith during the British Raj failed to change their social and economic status. They are truly the wretched of the earth.

But how this lamenting crowd after the church bombing turned into a predatory pack is the question.

The crowd got hold of two suspects. It in fact snatched them from the police which had captured them on mere suspicion. None of the suspects had anything to do with terrorist act perpetrated. One of them was a young shopkeeper with beard. The crowd tortured them publically in a fit of rage till they dropped dead. It mutilated their dead bodies and in a final act of revenge set the bodies on fire.

Why the crowd was not content with the killing of the so-called suspects? ‘Of all the means of destruction the most impressive is fire. It can be seen from far off and it attracts even more people. It destroys irrevocably; nothing after a fire is as it was before. A crowd setting fire to something feels irresistible; as long as the fire spreads, everyone will join it and everything hostile will be destroyed’, writes Elias Canetti in his ‘Crowd and Power’.

What has pushed the peaceful Christian minority which lives in dread of ferocious majority to cross the red line? Even the persecuted Muslim sects in their reaction to the violent acts committed against them stop short of red line. Hazara Shiites, for example, have reacted with a measure of restraint in their response to the relentless sectarian aggression unleashed against them by fanatics of some hostile sects. Nobody remains unharmed in the wars, religious and ideological, which now define our destiny.

Even the Sunnis who happen to be in majority have their plate full of sufferings. Was it sheer desperation that pushed the Christian minority over the edge? Was it a pathetic failure of the state institutions? Was it the crowd instinct/psyche that prompted the crowd to indulge in barbarity?

Multiple factors have to be taken into account while analysing this unusual mishap.

It is worth noting that the crowd in a fit of frenzy forgot its own religious history. When Jesus Christ was condemned and convicted, it was the crowd that first raised the cry ‘Crucify Him’. The crowd obsessed with mob justice in no way through its behaviour envisaged the prospect of a social transformation that motivated it. It can’t be the moment Madame Jullien writes about in her letter to her son during the French Revolution. ‘Dear Friend, the wolves have always eaten the sheep; are the sheep going to eat the wolves this time?’ We, the sheep, the Muslims as well as the Christians, at the moment have teeth not strong enough to eat the wolves. So in the face of disastrous institutional as well as societal failure an inclusivity driven social behaviour may ensure our survival as a historically diverse society. The transformation of social behaviour may still be possible if we, with the aid of historical experience of diversity and plurality, raise our voice to generate a reasoned public dialogue. Delphic silence will leave us at the mercy of forces beyond our control.—

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