By: Hussain H Zaidi

Although widely condemned, the Mardan lynching is a symptom of the malady that afflicts society at large and goes deep down to its foundations. Such violent symptoms appear every now and then. At times, they appear in the form of arson and pillage and at times as homicide. All of them are perpetrated by self-styled guardians of faith that either act individually – as in the case of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, or behave as a mob – as in case of the gruesome murder of Mashal Khan.

The most critical condition for the development of violent behaviour is conducive social structure. Broadly speaking, a society has two methods available to it in dealing with dissent and disagreement: one takes the form of dialogue, debate, logic and argumentation and the other relies on force, coercion, edicts and denunciations.

The first method draws sustenance from rule of law and respect for civil liberties and the second one thrives on show of strength and a culture of suppression and repression. Generally, in every society both methods are employed, however, in every society, one method is used with greater frequency. The predominant use of peaceful conflict resolution makes for an enlightened society while the predominance of coercive conflict resolution makes a society a concrete jungle.

A society that puts its trust mainly in force becomes a fertile ground for mob behaviour. Such a society exhibits a strong tendency to sanctify killings and other forms of violence in the name of a collective cause inspired by creed, sect, ethnicity or race, and pursued with immense zeal and fervour. All that is needed to translate the tendency into violent action is a precipitating event, real or perceived.

Mob behaviour is an expression of both cultural conflict and organisational failure. It lays bare cleavages and schisms present in a society. That’s why the action at the same time earns approval and disapproval, admiration and condemnation. One side regards the perpetrators as heroes serving a ‘lofty’ cause while the other sees them as despicable villains.

The behaviour also signifies failure of both formal – law – and informal – family, education, social pressure – methods of social control. At times, these methods of social control are used to incite, justify or legitimise violence. For ethnic or ideological reasons, the law-enforcement authorities may be in sympathy with the mob and thus wink at, or even facilitate, mob violence. The Mardan incident was carried out on campus allegedly in complicity with, if not at the behest of, the university administration.

People taking the law into their own hands and assuming at once the role of a judge, jury and executioner is dangerous. It clashes with the principle of rule of law, which is the lifeblood of body politic. It’s not for a mob but for formal public institutions to prosecute, convict and punish an offender.

The mob is neither a reliable judge of what is fair nor is it interested in doing justice per se. It is actuated only by the desire to take revenge upon a convenient target for its allegedly mischievous actions.

Not only does mob justice signify the weakening of the formal methods of social control, it also erodes people’s faith in the government’s ability or willingness to protect their life, property and religious symbols – the very raison d’être of the state. This makes public authority even weaker. Mob justice assumes even more threatening proportions when it is prompted, and justified by an appeal to faith.

The social structure in Pakistan is increasingly encouraging violent behaviour. Blood sport seems to have become the favourite pastime for a large section of society, which rejoices in killing for the sheer fun of it. Recall the fervour with which Mashal’s body was desecrated as if a fortress had been conquered in enemy’s territory. Society is increasingly becoming fascist and fanatic, bigot and brutal, belligerent and extremist, while the voices of dissent and reason, of sanity and moderation, are being ruthlessly muzzled.

Political and cultural factors have combined to bring society to this gruesome state. On quite a few occasions, the constitution was abrogated or suspended and a lawfully elected government dismissed. Those extra-constitutional actions embodied the message that force was the recipe for political problems and that anyone wielding the baton was entitled to govern and exact obedience from others. When the claim to political power rests on the ability to coerce others into submission, the trust of the rest of society in peaceful conflict resolution crumbles.

The Objectives Resolution, which purported to form the basis of the future constitution of Pakistan, sought to make the country a hybrid of Islamic and Western concepts of government and made it obligatory upon the state to enable people to become good Muslims. All the three subsequent constitutions of Pakistan – the 1956, the 1962 and the present 1973 – have drawn inspiration from the resolution. The Ziaul Haq-induced eighth Amendment in 1985 made the resolution a substantive part of the constitution by inserting Article 2-A.

Successive rulers in Pakistan have used religion to consolidate their position, and power seekers to satisfy their ambitions. Under state patronage, religion has been used as an instrument of hatred, animosity, violence and disruption.

But, as 19th-century English philosopher J S Mills once noted, the most serious threat to civil liberties stems not from the government but from society itself, which cannot bring itself to appreciating the diversity of views. As a matter of principle, a government can’t be better than the people for people get the rulers they deserve.

Ours is a multi-ethnic society comprising people of different creeds and different languages. A multi-ethnic society has to be based on a pluralistic philosophy which accepts diversity of beliefs, practices and codes without trying to reduce diversity to a unity. But we are trying to convert it into a monolithic society, where divergent creeds, cultures, codes and practices cannot co-exist peacefully and all diversity has to be forced into a unity.

While religion can provide a moral basis to politics, unfortunately in our case it has been given a militaristic interpretation. In the eyes of many religious outfits, killing innocent non-Muslims or Muslims of another sect or even of the same sect if they are suspected of nourishing ‘dangerous’ beliefs is jihad if it helps promote the cause of their creed. A society where poverty, unemployment and ignorance are endemic and an analytical, rational approach to problems is lacking, it is not difficult to use people as tools for committing violence in the name of religion.

The fascination with so-called ‘jihad’ has gone deep into our national psyche. The militaristic view of religion has made an indelible impression on society at large. This jihadi ideology precludes tolerance of any dissent, difference or opposition as they believe that tolerating any antithesis constitutes kufr. Those who profess a different creed or have a different moral standard are looked upon as ‘evil’. Women who do not put on the veil or men who do not have a beard are considered impious. Men and women who mix with one another are regarded as essentially wicked. Those who listen to music are said to be committing a grave sin. All such wicked or impious people have to be reformed – by use of force if need be – or killed. Mob behaviour is a norm, rather than an exception, in such a society.