We have mobs that like to defeat the West by burning, pillaging and killing at home. We have cowardly governments that give carte blanche to such mobs. And, we have ministers that incite people to murder.
Some of us find this unacceptable; we feel outraged; we pen condemnatory articles; we can lump it, thank you.
No, we are not wrong. Mobs cannot be allowed to mob; governments must govern and ministers shouldn’t be going around announcing bounties. Question is: can something be done?
Yes and no. Yes, because no situation is entirely hopeless. No, because those who can do something, or at least should be doing something, will not act and those of us who merely write about what should be have no means of influencing that which is.
There’s a Pakistan we want; there’s a Pakistan that is. The government and its ministers represent, or at least they think they do, the Pakistan that is because they think that the former, the Pakistan we want, is a wish-assumption and wishes don’t beget votes. So, in addition to any cowardice, there’s also much pragmatism at work in the government’s approach to handling mobs on issues of religion. A government that is generally unable to govern cannot be expected to confront mobs on an issue where it will find no support from any political quarter. The choice then becomes inevitable: allow the mobs to protest rather than stopping them from protesting.
One can argue that the government should nonetheless have ensured that the protestors didn’t turn violent. That was doable and only required basic administrative skills. Unfortunately, this line of reasoning also demands of this government a sense of responsibility that doesn’t exist. In fact, even diehard jiyalas concede the lack of responsibility, their only excuse being the argument that the Establishment and remnants of Deep State prevent this government from assuming responsibility.
Let’s look at the mix then: pragmatism or call it political expediency; an issue that appeals to the majority of Pakistanis and will be picked up by every group and party; a general sense of outrage; a public that is jahil for the most part; religio-political groups that look for any opportunity to challenge the state and create mayhem; rising anti-Americanism; general confusion and an inability to analyse events; administrative inefficiencies etcetera.
Result: the events of Thursday and Friday.
Take a look at Bilour. He condemns violent protests; stresses peaceful protests; offers a bounty for killing the filmmaker, announces that he would kill the blasphemer himself if only he could lay his hands on him; calls upon the Taliban and Al Qaeda brethren to join in this act of goodness and then goes on to condemn the sacking of a church in Mardan.
After Bilour’s conference, I asked — only half in jest — whether Bilour has a single-digit IQ or whether he was on drugs. This is definitely an IQ problem but it reflects the general confusion prevalent in this society. Bilour is not just appealing to his voter, he also reflects the people he represents.
There was a time we talked much about the crisis of state. We still do. Perhaps it’s time we divert our attention to society and see if we are now witnessing a crisis of society, a crisis that is also impacting the state and with it the ability of any government — even one more efficient than the current one — to do the right thing.
In the end it is about numbers. We can’t stress peoples’ power and then begin to qualify which group should be allowed to exercise that power and which is to be kept out. It’s called democracy.
Democracy is not about mobs and mobbing or, at least, it shouldn’t be. But might it be that we don’t possess that necessary ingredient which separates democracy from mobocracy, especially on issues that offer a tough test for pluralism? In fact, can a society infused with religion actually practice a democracy grounded in constitutionalism and pluralism?
Alexis de Tocqueville thought that “Among the laws that rule human societies there is one that seems more precise and clearer than all the others. In order that men remain civilised or become so, the art of associating must be developed and perfected among them in the same ratio as equality of conditions increases.”
That hasn’t happened here and I doubt it will under a democracy that increasingly represents, in terms of numbers, religious intolerance rather than pluralism. Things can be made to change but that would require leaders more ballsy than the current crop. And one always comes with a pair; you can’t teach them how to grow ‘em.
This article was originally published at: The Express Tribune
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.