At some point in our life we do tend to question humanity. In my lifetime I have questioned this virtue many times revolving around the basic ethics of altruism. Someone rightly said ignorance is bliss and knowing too much can only make you suffer. But how can we stay aloof in a world bombarded with news talking about the crimes committed on fellow beings just because they have a different color, race, religion, gender and so on.
We love to brag about peace, social cohesion, justice and it is true that there have been incidents where your faith in humanity is restored but then comes the reality check.
A few days ago I read about the brutal killing of a Christian couple in the suburb of Lahore, Pakistan. Shahzad Masih, twenty eight years old and his five months pregnant wife Shama Masih, twenty four, were brutally tortured and later set ablaze by an enraged mob at a brick kiln.
The deceased Shama and Shahzad Masih
Photo Source: Dawn.com
According to a newspaper source:
“The entire episode took place in the presence of policemen and on the orders of a local Panchayat comprising notables and clerics of the area,” said Javed Shahbaz, a close relative of the deceased couple.
On Tuesday, November 4th, the prayer leader at the mosque of Chak No 59 of Kot Radha Kishan, a suburb of Lahore made a provocative announcement on the loudspeaker urging all the male members in the area to gather at the kiln where the couple worked.
“O villagers, I have a sad news for you. A Christian woman has burned the holy Quran. Therefore, all reasonable men and even young male children (of this village) are requested to converge at the brick kiln as early as possible so that a decision could be made ” Sadiq, a 55-year-old man quoted the cleric making the announcement.
Within an hour people poured in big numbers at the kiln. It is also reported that earlier that day the couple was locked up in a room to stop them from fleeing bonded labor by the owner of the kiln over monetary dispute. While the angry mob attacked the ‘blasphemers’ the police stood there helpless. The blasphemers have left three children under the age of six.
This is not the first incident of blasphemy to be reported where before the matter is taken to the court the incited mob headed by a cleric heads out to attack the ‘blasphemers’. The state institutions always claim not being able to handle the situation leaving everything at the hands of the charged groups. The same state institution looked different when protests were being staged in the capital to oust the democratically elected government, that time they weren’t ‘helpless’ and could handle the situation.
It is no secret anymore that many accusations of blasphemy are used to settle personal scores or to harass the religious minorities. Interestingly the Council of Islamic Ideology, that advises the parliament on Islamic aspects of laws, stated that no amendment to the blasphemy laws will be considered.The blasphemy cases have been stacking despite many assurances. According to the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies the blasphemy cases have been registered due to nonsensical reasons that a sane mind can’t decipher.
The hostile stories of blasphemy cases where people rather entire villages are set ablaze remind me of a troop of Savanna baboons in Kenya, the Keekorok troop. Dr Robert Sapolsky studied the troop for 30 years identifying stress and hierarchy in baboons. These amazing yet Machiavellian creatures required a kind of baboon political shrewdness. The study showed that the most cunning and aggressive males gained top ranks in the hierarchy and all the perks like personal groomer, females for their choosing and all the food to eat.
In the troop every male knew where he stands in the society and whom he could torture. The tough and snarly baboons once fought with a neighboring baboon troop over a garbage dump containing meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis. The strong baboons did get to eat all the food but that led to selective killing of dictatorial and vilest males. A social and behavioral transformation occurred after that which was unique in the notoriously aggressive primate. The calamity had a profound effect on the Dr Sapolsky’s research. Every alpha male was gone and the Keekorok troop was transformed left with more females and socially affiliated males that altered the atmosphere of the Keekorok troop.
So what does this alteration teach an average person? Don’t treat somebody badly just because you are having a bad day and don’t just place on somebody in any sort of manner. Social connection and harmony is a very powerful thing and this is what the baboons taught us. If they were able to transform sort of an engraved in stone social system we don’t have any excuse saying that human social systems have certain inevitability. We now have a haunting question from Dr Sapolsky’s life work that is are we brave enough to learn from a baboon? After the complete transformation the Keekorok troop not only survived rather thrived with a congenial atmosphere and without stress. Can we?