Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pakistan, Durkheim and morality

While reading Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), the French sociologist, exactly one year after Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by a demented character, I came across the following note which applies quite more aptly to present-day Pakistan than France of the yore:
When society undergoes suffering, it feels the need to find someone whom it can hold responsible for its sickness, on whom it can avenge its misfortunes: and those against whom public opinion already discriminates are naturally designated for this role. These are the pariahs who serve as expiatory victims. What confirms me in this interpretation is the way in which the result of Dreyfus's trial was greeted in 1894. There was a surge of joy in the boulevards. People celebrated as a triumph what should have been a cause for public mourning. At least they knew whom to blame for the economic troubles and moral distress in which they lived. The trouble came from the Jews. The charge had been officially proved. By this fact alone, things already seemed to be getting better and people felt consoled.
Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish army captain, who had been court-martialled for treason, an act which had been felt by many to be anti-Semitic. Durkheim was deeply offended by the Dreyfus affair, particularly its antisemitism, but he saw it as a symptom of the moral sickness confronting French society as a whole.
To Durkheim, the answer to the Dreyfus affair and crises like it lay in ending the moral disorder in society. Because that could not be done quickly or easily, Durkheim suggested more specific actions such as severe repression of those who incite hatred of others and government efforts to show the public how it is being misled.  He urged people to have the courage to proclaim aloud what they think, and to unite together in order to achieve victory in the struggle against public madness.
If we replace Dreyfus with Taseer, it looks Durkheim is talking about Pakistan: Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer, is being lionized and is greeted with flower petals--not in the 1894 France, but in the 21st century Pakistan. People celebrated as a triumph what should have been a cause for public mourning. Countries and nations pass through their dark periods and march towards a bright future; Pakistani society willfully stumbles into the dark age. Painfully, it does it with a panache of its own: feeling no remorse and taking pride on something it should have been ashamed of.

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