'Civilisation' that isn't
What leads people to not just kill another human being, but to inflict pain and torture before killing, and then mutilate the bodies afterwards? Several recent hair-raising incidents beg an answer to a question that has been raised over the centuries, whenever people have abandoned their humanity and behaved worse than the animals they claim superiority over. No one nation or community appears to have a monopoly over barbarity, the victims of which can be of any age, gender, race, nationality or political persuasion.
The sadistic killing of the two little girls Hajra and Sassi in the Karachi outskirts appears to be just one more manifestation of a society that promotes cruelty, hatred and violence, rather than kindness, love and tolerance. A few days ago, Dr Sumaira Siddiqui, 40, was trussed up in her apartment in Karachi's Gulshan-e-Iqbal area, and killed with a blow to her head so severe that it crushed her skull and exposed the brain. An old couple was similarly killed in their apartment in the high-security neighbourhood of Karachi's Fatima Jinnah Road - where the Indian Consulate, as well as American consulate residences, is situated. The retired barrister S M Ansar, 80, and his wife Safia, 70 (a retired captain of the army medical corps), were tied up, their mouths fixed with adhesive tape, and bludgeoned to death.
These are just a few examples close to home, apparently involving the depravity and sadism, perhaps revenge, of non-state actors. Such brutality might stem not so much from poverty - which is in itself a form of violence - but from the general brutalisation of society which itself stems from many factors. These, to my mind, include a glorification of war and violence on one level, besides the easy availability of arms and drugs, legacies of Pakistan's decades-long involvement in the Afghan conflict, and films and popular culture that glorify violence.
On another level, the refusal of the State to take firm action against those who kill in the name of 'honour', perpetuates traditions like 'karo kari', where 'honour' is here used to justify, even glorify, murder which might be actually motivated by less noble factors like personal ego. Such cases take place with alarming regularity. Some receive more attention and are investigated more thoroughly, like Shazia Khaskheli and Hassan Solangi of Sanghar, or Afsheen Musarrat of Multan, who were horribly tortured before being killed in cold blood. Most, like young Meena, 17, and Popri, 18, of Bahawal Khan Junejo village in Sukkur district, who were recently killed and dumped into the River Indus, merit just brief newspaper reports.
Whatever the reasons behind the growing violence in society, it bears repeating that there is no excuse for those who bully, torture or kill. But the censure applies, or should apply, to not just non-state actors like the murderers of the cases mentioned here. Anyone who takes another human life is wrong, no matter how they or their supporters justify the act. This principle applies equally to the state. Analysts argue, in fact, that when the state kills, its contribution to the cycle of violence is far greater than the acts of individuals or groups committing violence based on depravity or political conviction.
The 'assassination' of Hamas leader Sheikh Yasin - clearly an extra-judicial killing that will not be acknowledged as such by the global power-that-is - is a case in point. No matter what the Sheikh had done or what killings he was responsible for, for a government to order that he be attacked and killed - and that too from the air - is inexcusable. So too, is the support, implicit or otherwise, to that government by another.
When the world's only 'superpower', the USA vetoed the UN Security Council vote on Algeria's resolution condemning Yasin's murder (which it essentially was) on the grounds that the resolution did not single out Hamas for condemnation, the signal it sent out was that such killings can be justified. The implication was that Israel's killing of Yasin was justified because he had masterminded the killings of innocent civilians. Using that logic, does Washington's own role in the killings of thousands of innocent civilians, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, justify attacks against US citizens?
The answer is an unequivocal 'no', particularly when such attacks involve extreme cruelty, whether they are against an individual like Daniel Pearl, or manifested in the recent lynching and mutilation of nine Americans in Fallujah, Iraq. Those who actually committed this crime - burning human beings to death, slashing, kicking and hacking up the bodies before stringing them up - are responsible for their own actions and must be held accountable.
"No matter their level of desperation or anguish, their actions are inexcusable," writes American journalist Ahmed Nassef, editor in chief of Muslim WakeUp!, a progressive Muslim online magazine. But, as Nassef questions, shouldn't those who, "through their policy of hiring mercenaries, are blurring the lines between civilian and combatant, thus further endangering the many civilians who are in Iraq on humanitarian missions or to report the news" also be held accountable? "What about the people who brought us into this mess through a web of outright lies and half-truths?... Will any of them be brought to justice?" (Lynching: An American Tradition Comes To Iraq, http://www.muslimwakeup.com)
For human civilisation to truly become 'civilised', there is clearly a need to enforce the principles of justice, fair play and equality in deed, not just in word, and not just in one region, but also around the world, so that these values are internalised not just by ordinary citizens but also by those who lead them.
The writer is a staff member: beena.sarwar@...
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