More than 100,000 people took over the streets of Rawalpindi to honour a convicted killer this week. Showers of rose petals followed the ambulance as the killer’s supporters took selfies to memorialise the occasion. Prayers were given at mosques, and leaders of religious parties cried and pronounced the convicted killer as the hero of Muslims.
Media was carefully controlled in order prevent violence, but even under a virtual media blackout the crowds grew to incredible sizes. If there was peace, it was more likely due to the fact that there was no one challenging the public sentiments.
Mumtaz Qadri was convicted of murder and handed the death penalty, which some have pointed to as a hopeful sign that the state is asserting its authority and taking an uncompromising stance against vigilantism and extremism. I am afraid I must respectfully disagree. What, after all, is ‘the state’? Even with all its flaws, we do live in a democracy, and in a democracy the state is a reflection of the people, not a group of elite rulers. The Court may have given a judgement against Qadri, but the people have also given their judgment and they are far outnumbering the Justices who condemned the killer.
The liberal intelligentsia will dismiss this event in many ways. They will point to the organising power of religious parties looking to score political points from a tragedy. They will accept that there is obviously an element of extremism in society, but will argue as always that it is a minority compared to the ‘silent majority’ of peaceful, moderate citizens.
What is the reality, though? The reality is that it was not extremists and madrassah students who were crying over the body of Mumtaz Qadri. It was ruling party Ministers
And it was not just Jamia Hafsa niqabis, it was ‘moderates’ who declared their support for the killer.
The ‘state’ will continue to try to cover up this reality by banning media coverage, but it will not change the ground reality which is that violent extremism has become so ingrained in our society and media blackouts will not change it. Opposition politicians will give threats and warnings to the state as expected, but the real warning is coming from the masses.