But I have come back to this incident because of bits of reported news and articles in the press. One is the call from many quarters, including the family of the killed brothers, to mete out similar brutal punishment to the perpetrators of this barbarism. The emotions are even understandable coming from the anguished parents who not only lost their two sons but were forced to see their horrific and graphic lynching repeatedly on television and in court. But there is a fundamental problem with such emotions coming from other ordinary folk, obviously as repulsed as all of us by what has happened. How is the call for a public beating and killing of the murderers, insensitive and cowardly onlookers and criminally negligent policemen and the dragging of their bodies on the streets, any different from what the mob did on August 15 in Sialkot? Isn't this emotion of vigilante vengeance exactly the problem?
I should point out that there is still some doubt about the exact circumstances of what happened prior to the lynching, if this report in The News is to be believed (which incidentally goes against all other reports so far). Let me be clear: nothing in the report in any way justifies the barbarism that subsequently was on display, but clarity about the circumstances might give us a better idea about what kind of monster we are dealing with, at least as far as the ones wielding the sticks are concerned. As for the onlookers and the police, we know what kind of monster we are dealing with there.
Secondly, there seems to be a lot of hand-wringing about how this incident could have happened in our society and what it says about Pakistan to the world at large. Let's not delude ourselves. This is not the first time people have been lynched in this country, whether it was over religion (various incidents where people accused of slighting the Prophet or burning the Quran, killed by self-righteous mobs) or for challenging traditional power structures (women killed by their families or on the order of jirgas for choosing their own life partners), or, as in this case, for allegedly committing crime (I recall quite clearly a case of two alleged robbers burnt to death by a mob in the Orangi settlement in Karachi a few years ago). The main difference this time round is that this time it was in our faces, on television in all its graphic visual and bloody detail, rather than recounted in tempered words in print. It's perfectly understandable to be shocked and repulsed. But let's not pretend it's never happened before.
The third reason I have come back to this incident is because of what MQM supremo Altaf Hussain said today. Basically, he not only said he would support "patriotic generals if they took martial law-like steps to take corrupt politicians to task" but also swore to "hang [exploitative] feudals from the trees, like they did during the French Revolution."
Now, there are a number of theories doing the rounds about why Hussain has said what he did, basically urging in most people's opinion, a military intervention (some believe this to be on the prompting of the military, some think the MQM believes another operation against it may be on the way and wants to preempt it, others feel it may be a fear of being swamped by a massive influx of flood affectees from Sindh). But whatever the reason, there is no doubt the troubling rhetoric is designed to be populist and demagogic. It plays upon the latent desire in all of us for that strong man on a horseback who can sweep away all our woes in an instant, for that elusive magic bullet. It has no truck with processes (how, pray tell, would another military intervention change social structures or ensure an end to power cuts, as MQM's Farooq Sattar seemed to imply in his boss' defence?) and stokes the desire for some form of swift and vigilante 'justice' that would immediately solve our problems.
And in that sense, it is a kissing cousin of the emotion that motivates those who believe the best way to answer vigilante barbarism is through equally brutal barbarism. At least in Sialkot one can call it an expression of frustration from those who feel powerless and impotent. When a political party promotes the same sort of mindsets, claiming as Sattar that it is merely "reflecting the voice of the people", it is abdicating its responsibility of making people understand why institutionalized processes, patiently nurtured, are in their own interest. It is going for short cuts to 'justice'. And we know how successful those have been in Pakistan's history.