Breaking news of a series of arson attacks on Ahmadi Muslims in the city of Jhelum, Pakistan on grounds of “blasphemy.” From Pakistan’s Dawn:
JHELUM: An enraged mob set a Ahmadi place of worship on fire in Punjab’s Jhelum district on Saturday, following Friday night’s arson attack on a factory.
The place of worship was located in the Kala Gujran area of Jhelum, which was under guard of local police forces.
The mob managed to break through the police cordon which was established to safeguard the Ahmadi places of worship, following Friday night’s unrest.
Police had to resort to baton charging and tear gassing the protesters in order to bring the situation under control, but were unable to do so. The mob resorted to pelting stones at the police personnel.
The incidents were a result of rumours circulated earlier in Jhelum district which levelled blasphemy allegations on the owner and workers of the factory.
According to Pakistan’s Express News (in Urdu), Jhelum is now under control, but it sure took awhile. If you want to see what anarchic mob violence looks like up close–a micro-level picture of the descent from Locke’s State of Nature to the State of War–have a look at this video.
No cops anywhere. No firefighters en route. Just an unbridled mob drunk on theological liquor, screaming their minds out in coarse Punjabi. I understand the language but most of what they’re saying is unintelligible, and even when I can make out the words, I have no idea what they’re talking about until 1:00, when they sound the “takbir,” the equivalent of a hallelujah. Almost two minutes into the video, and they’re still doggedly at it, committing arson in a leisurely fashion, with no fear whatsoever that anyone will stop them. They were right not to feel fear: no one did stop them. As the Dawn story makes clear, when the police came, they arrested the victims.
Last time I was in Pakistan, on my last night there, a bunch of us Khawajas had dinner at the home of a cousin of mine who’s a well known politician in Pakistan, and a qualified defender of Pakistan’s blasphemy law. It was a wonderful send-off for me, but we ended up having a riotous argument about the blasphemy law over biryani and shami kebabs, most of us arguing against the in-principle legitimacy of such a law, but a minority at the table defending it. My politician cousin (and gracious host) agreed that the law had been tragically abused, but insisted that some such law had to be retained in Pakistan, albeit enforced in a narrower and more impartial way. The rest of us argued that the reformist gambit was a lost and pointless cause. I wonder if this event will induce Pakistanis (including Pakistani politicians, and particularly including the ones related to me) to rethink their naive, dogmatic attachment to that cause. Maybe it’s time for some push-back from Pakistan’s American sponsors as well. (While we’re on this subject, how about a little pressure on Pakistan to lift its legalized anathematization of Ahmadis?)
That said, the issue here isn’t just a matter of the blasphemy law but of the rule of law. As far as I’m concerned, the video above is a perfectly accurate depiction of a state of anarchy. I know that anarchists will object to that characterization, but though I’m familiar with the objections, I don’t accept them. The Jhelum attacks are a paradigmatic instance of life under a state that is too weak to uphold the rule of law. The remedy seems obvious: retain the state, but strengthen its commitment to the rule of law. The remedy is not to ratchet back the state and aim (or hope or pray) for some “market-based” solution, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Part of the problem is that it’s not clear what it means, much less how it’s supposed to work.
To complete the thought in the title…
Postscript. Just to give PoT readers a taste of the mentality involved, here’s an exchange in Urdu on YouTube between commentators discussing the YouTube video I inserted above.