Saturday, March 12, 2016


From yesterday's NY Times (via Zaheer Alam Kidvai)
My father was the governor of Punjab Province from 2008 until his death in 2011. At that time, he was defending a Christian woman who had fallen afoul of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are used by the Sunni majority to terrorize the country’s few religious minorities. My father spoke out against the laws, and the judgment of television hosts and clerics fell hard on him. He became, in the eyes of many, a blasphemer himself. One January afternoon his bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, shot him dead as he was leaving lunch.

Mr. Qadri became a hero in Pakistan. A mosque in Islamabad was named after him. People came to see him in prison to seek his blessings. The course of justice was impeded. The judge who sentenced him to death had to flee the country. I thought my father’s killer would never face justice.
Qadri remained in jail for five years. The author hoped popular sentiment might have shifted due to the many bloody murders, acts of terrorism, and the appearance of ISIS during that time. Yet 100,000 showed up to mourn the killer, who had finally been put to death by the state for his crime.
It was among the biggest funerals in Pakistan’s history, alongside those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation, and Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007. But this was no state funeral; it was spontaneous and it took place despite a media blackout.
My mind immediately reeled through a series of connections. First and foremost, to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who'd incensed hawks by daring to make peace. You can still see graffiti in parts of Brooklyn celebrating his murder. I know people who celebrate his murderer. They're quite nice, non-brutal people.

There's another connection, less violent but undeniably flowing from the same inner logic: conservatives making it their duty to target Republicans who've compromised in any (and I mean any) way with the Obama administration. Highly-respected leaders have been targeted for defeat via primary attacks fueled by massive spending for their opponents, for the crime of compromising with the enemy for the good of the state.

Finally, there are the Trump supporters who view opponents to Trump's candidacy as being against making America great again. If you buy that's what Trump's doing, then any attempt to thwart him is, by definition, anti-American. It's not even sick logic; it makes sense if you're in that mind frame. It would make sense for any of us. We all have this in us.

The central problem isn't religion, or political ideology, or racism. It's not even mob sentiment or extremism, per se. If you peel through the layers to the core of the problem, you'll find that it is, above and beyond all else, a matter of certainty.

And we celebrate certainty. Since the dawn of history, our heroes have been the staunchest of the staunch. People of unwavering conviction, adhering faithfully to a rigid code. The central problem of humanity is the intrinsic and bloody connection between our noblest quality and our most barbaric one. The connection is not often discussed, because a clear-eyed view unravels the fabric of what humanity most admires about itself (our "human exceptionalism", if you will).

All those bad guys shot to death by the white-hatted cowboys in those movies constitute a great big pile of slaughtered people. All the Nazi troops killed in WWII were a great big pile of slaughtered people. If we killed all of ISIS, that would be a great big pile of slaughtered people. Examine your shifting perspectives (and your attempts to morally justify them) as you consider various hypothetical piles of slaughtered people; it's easy to perceive - right here; right within yourself! - the impulses which drive human beings to celebrate such things. It's baked in. We all have this in us. Each and every one of us has a big pile of slaughtered people which we'd roundly celebrate.

As I wrote last month:
Evil...stems from the combination of desensitization and raised stakes. It is inevitable, because both factors seem biologically baked in. But hatred - the product of desensitization and rigidity - is optional. We've often chosen to make a virtue of rigidity, celebrating our staunch partisans, unyielding heroes, and any unquenchable drive to right "wrongs". We may want to reconsider that.

Consider the OJ Simpson verdict. Seeing massive numbers of African-Americans celebrating the vindication of a man who was clearly a double-murderer was one of the strangest and most troubling spectacles many of us had ever witnessed. Nearly all of these celebrants were nice, non-brutal people. The thing is, we don't all share the same certainties - though we certainly do share an impulse to justify our emotions, actions, and conclusions, at any cost, via those certainties.

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