by Raza Habib Raja
Right now the brutality shown by the mob in Sialkot has taken the country by storm. Everyone is condemning it and various commentators are busy interpreting the causes of the incidence. The causes of the incidence, as touted by the various quarters range from lack of Islam to too much Islam depending whether you are a religious conservative or a liberal.
Public lynching is a horrific incidence and if televised is bound to create severe revulsion. However, one has to be careful while trying to interpret the reasons behind such mob behaviour. Forcefully linking it with either lack of or excess of religion may lead us to wrong conclusions and damage our credibility as well. I have come across a host of articles from both religious and liberal side who have tried to spin the incidence to fit in their general outlook of life.
According to religious conservatives, the incidence shows lack of faith and erosion of morals due to religions declining influence. Of course the familiar nonsense of “NO Muslim could have done it” is also being voiced by the conservative side.
On the other hand some of the liberal journalists are spinning to show that mob violence in Sialkot is in some ways a manifestation of religious fervour. References to Taliban and Zia’s times are being made and utterly unconvincing linkages are being drawn. I think some of us are ready to compromise credibility in our yearning to be called a “liberal”!
Add to it that most of the media has assumed on its own that the brothers were not guilty of robbery but ended up at the receiving end due to some misfortune. Of course media can be right but at least till now, information is not complete. Mature reporting requires that conclusions should not be drawn before full facts are known.
For me the incidence while showing an ugly side of mob violence and erosion of state’s protective machinery also shows a general immaturity as well as lack of objectivity in the analysis. As a society, we are also showing signs of lack of rational and informed analysis apart from insensitivity and proneness to violence.
So is religion or its lack thereof the reason for Sialkot incidence. Even if it is involved, the linkage presented is weak and perhaps very indirect. Religion’s role in perpetuation of violence is much more marked in incidences like Gojra. In case of lynching of an individual the religion’s role was more evident in Hafiz Sajjad Tariq’s case. The incident took place in 1994 in the city of Gujranwala. According to the news, Hafiz had burnt Quran and as soon as the nearby Mullah got the whiff of it, he issued a fatwa. A mob gathered and dragged the individual out of his home and started beating him. At that point, police reached the spot and took the individual into what under normal circumstances would have been a protective custody. However, soon an even larger crowd gathered in front of the police station and started to demand that Hafiz should be handed over to them. Due to the huge size of increasingly vociferous mob, the police inspector buckled under pressure and handed over the guy. They started stoning him mercilessly and thereafter set his body on fire. If this were not enough, they tied his corpse to a powerful motor-cycle and dragged it through the streets for two hours. Later on the investigation revealed that Hafiz had accidently dropped Quran on the stove. In that incidence the religion’s role was at least clear. Though it did not force the incidence, the general reverence of religion gave the hate filled mob the “cover” to vent out their gutter instincts. In Sialkot’s case the religion is not apparently involved in the same way. If it is involved then evidence cited is not strong enough.
In discourse we have to be careful while establishing causality otherwise we end up losing our credibility. Forcefully linking variables and spinning facts weaken our persuasive power on issues where the linkage actually exists. I am a strong believer that state and religion should be separate and that reverence of religion has to reduce to have a debate on its role as well as interpretation. However at the same time trying to forcefully establish causality of religion to issues without much conviction will weaken our overall credibility and even our case against separation of religion and state.
Another thing which has strongly emerged out of the media coverage of the entire issue is that once any issue becomes sensational and a point of view established, the public does not try to show maturity of actually waiting for the full information to come out. In fact the media starts spinning the facts to make them consistent with the original and often sensational premise and public just keeps on refuting any evidence to the contrary.