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April 19, 2017

Psychopathology of violence


April 19, 2017

There is gainsaying the fact that religious militant groups in Pakistan have turned the country into a sanguinary place – with common citizens as fodder. The question is: are militants aliens with a different mindset? No. The militants are very much a part of our society and reflect just an extreme form of our violent instinct that broke the boundaries of humanity to emerge in its crudest form in our society.

The brutal murder of Mashal Khan by students of Abdul Wali Khan University is a symptom of our dark mind that is devouring every ideal in its black hole. The murderers of Mashal invoked the idea of blasphemy to justify their atrocious act. They are not militants trained in guerrilla warfare, but normal people living with their families in a particular social setting and pursuing education in a university – not a seminary. That they, despite leading normal lives, still committed such a terrible act speaks about how much brutality has permeated into our social psychology.

I absolve animals from comparison as they do not have such a law. Mashal’s murderers are simply a product of a society where the inversion of values has turned every ideal topsy-turvy.

One of the consequences of living with inverted values and closed mindsets is that the loftiest of ideals also get corrupted in the morbid mind of society. The very law of blasphemy was introduced by a military dictator, Ziaul Haq, to perpetuate his rule. At the social level, Zia did engineered a particular mentality so that a dark self could be produced to fight against the colours of life.

This is the mind that has taken charge of divine affairs in its hands. According to its inverted logic, light is defined as darkness. Ironically, such dark teachings were catered to by a person whose name was light (Zia). That is why Habib Jalib in his famous poem ‘Zulmat ko Zia’ refused to accept the dark narrative of the sacred presented as light and said: “Zulmat ko Zia, bandey ko khuda kia likhna.”

Psychologically speaking, any idea sacred or profane is internalised by the individual in a particular social setting within the frame of a certain cultural ethos. This internalising process changes the very essence of the idea by imbuing it in the socio-psychological makeup of the members of society. It is only after being cast in the mould of social psychology that the idea or ideal expresses itself. If an artist like Gulgee internalises the idea of beauty, he produces exquisite paintings to represent the divine. In case of music, we have Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In literature: the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz. In dance, it expresses itself in the whirling dervishes.

Unfortunately, the myriad ways of divine expressions were restricted through social engineering by the state with the support of the mullah to produce a monomaniac religious mentality and identity. It is the mullah who fears light, beauty, happiness and openness. As a result, the diversity of sacred expressions is reduced to the insecurities of the religious right.

The fearful mind of the clergy has reduced the status of divinity to hangman. Today the closed mind wants to eliminate the last vestiges of enlightenment and sanity. This mind is playing havoc with every sphere of life – from private to public, subjective to objective and arts to aesthetics. It creates an aesthetics of its own by glorifying the ugly as beautiful, truth as lie, light as darkness, mind as blind.

We become what we feed on. We have become so used to death, destruction, atrocity, violence, gore and mayhem that we have lost the capacity to feel and get shocked. When it comes to religion, our dark spirit and inverted mentality become evident in brutal forms.

Under the influence of our closed mind, our aesthetic sense has been etherised. By choking the sense of beauty, the managers of the sacred have fed our souls on ugliness, misogyny, hatred, fear, violence, and darkness. We relish blood and gore, and glorify those who commit inhuman atrocities in the name of sacred. Violence and murder is the aesthetics for many in Pakistan. This aesthetics is against the divine concept of beauty which says ‘Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.’ The tragedy is that we are not aware of the profanity we are committing with our blind and morbid mentality. We are singing while digging our own graves.

Given our inverted mind, it may be possible that the murderers of Mashal will be celebrated as heroes. It has also been reported that one cleric refused to read Mashal’s last rites. Here the cleric is not to blame but we as a people. Such people should be boycotted by local people, and this should be replicated all over country against clerics who indulge in hate-mongering. Why seek support for our burial from someone happy with our murder. It is we who provide social space to such clerics. When we stop consulting them in social affairs, they will automatically cease to be relevant.

How do we get out of this mental morbidity and social morass we are in? How to get rid of the miasma that is corrupting and undoing us? In order to extricate ourselves from the darkness, a change in social ethos and state policies is indispensable. In Pakistan, the self is created either on the mard-e-momin of national narrative or male ethos in regional groups. This has created a macho culture, which by default feeds on violence, fear, honour, dominance and power. The concept of the mard-e-momin reached its apotheosis in the slogan of mard-e-momin mard-e-haq Ziaul Haq during Zia era. In society, it manifests in the practice of honour killing, suppression of women and vulnerable groups, xenophobia, violence and hypocritical social values.

At the social level, traditional institutions, values and structures are breaking down. But in their stead, modern trends are not taking roots because of certain local traditions, tribal mentality and social ethos. This situation has put society in a quandary since it carries a mental baggage that is incompatible with modern times. Therefore, localised social movements in different cultural groups in Pakistan are imperative.

The purpose is to supersede the dominant narrative that focuses on the hard aspects of self like bravery, honour, power, strength and dominance, and introduce soft power like kindness, empathy, openness, and aesthetics. Remember, late Mashal Khan was a victim of mard-e-momin not momina. Soft power will help us in smooth the rough edges of our crude selves. So far, the hard power of masculinity has determined the social and mental contour of our society. Let’s make our values and aesthetics more female to save society from violence continuously perpetrated by men.


The writer is a freelance
columnist based in Gilgit.

Email: [email protected]


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