The hero-wannabe syndrome


No realistic cure in sight

Yet another man has succumbed to the vagaries of street justice. This time it was Associate Professor Khalid Hameed of S. E. College Bahawalpur, who was stabbed dead by one of his own students. A fifth semester undergrad student of the department, Khateeb Hussain had apparently appointed himself judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. The professor’s crime according to Hussain: having ‘anti-Islamic’ views. The professor had organized a mixed-gender reception for the students, which was against the teachings of Islam, he later told the police.

The professor’s family has naturally rushed to his defence. His brother was quick to point out that he prayed five times a day, which is probably true. His son has claimed that the professor told him the night before the incident that it was the college administration’s decision, not his own, to organize the event. This is probably true as well. However, it’s difficult to decide which is more unfortunate: a man being arbitrarily stabbed to death in the name of Islam, or his family having to defend his Islamic credentials after his murder. As if the murder would have been justified if the victim was less than a ‘good’ Muslim! One feels sorry for the bereaved family, and sorrier still for the society in which it’s the victim’s dear ones who need to clear the victim’s good name.

This sort of history certainly repeats itself, and with disturbing frequency. One saw, in the aftermath of Salmaan Taseer’s murder and (more recently) after the mob lynching of Mashal Khan, that the victims’ families were reduced to defending the victims’ Islamic bona fides. Of course, one felt for the survivors who had to continue living in the same society after their loved ones had gone. But the way much of the media too chose to highlight how the allegations made against the slain men were untrue was revealing to say the least; when the focus should have been solely on the unacceptability of citizens taking the law into their own hands, never mind the veracity of the allegations. For we are all sinners according to our definition of the word; and in the end it’s usually a matter of beauty lying in the eye of the beholder.

Judging from Hussain’s statements after being arrested, the murder appears to have been pre-meditated. How one wishes the man had something better to do with his life than seeking ‘fame’ for killing an unarmed man old enough to be his father. And how one wishes he belonged to a society that universally loathed criminals like him, instead of rationalizing their acts. For if Hussain’s goal was to become a hero of sorts, he wouldn’t be disappointed as he has found many voices in his support, at least on the social media and in off-the-record conversations.

Contrary to conventional ‘wisdom’, general education alone is rarely enough

While there was never any dearth of young men looking for a cause– any cause– to become instant heroes in the shortest possible time, it was usually public figures who were susceptible to this sort of violence. Enter technology, and it’s likely to become a whole lot scarier (as if it wasn’t bad enough already). On the social media there have been those justifying Hussain’s actions by sharing (secretly filmed) random videos of teachers allegedly teaching un-Islamic content to students. Now, anybody can be accused of anything under the sun after taking an excerpt from his speech out of context. Given that everybody is equipped with a recording machine with instant access to the social media, distance is going to be no obstacle any more between the hero-wannabe and his glory (only God knows how many of them have watched these videos). Thanks to the technology, very few are going to be safe now unless something is done about the whole mess.

The author isn’t too optimistic in that regard. The cliché about education solving every problem is an obvious non-starter (the killer was a university student, no less). A scenario where all young men have prospects of good jobs and have other pursuits that make their lives appear worthwhile (to themselves, even if to nobody else) is more likely to put a stop to this sort of criminality. But that, to a great extent, is a function of the economy, which is a rather long-term project. Is there anything that can be done, here and now, about it?

Over the centuries, our religious scholars have successfully taught the masses nuances of bodily hygiene, mandatory ablutions, and other matters pertaining to worship. For these and other accomplishments they deserve all the accolades. However, one thing that they have failed to inculcate in the masses (probably because of lesser emphasis on it) is the fact that in Islam the ends (however noble) never justify the means. The author wrote, some months ago, on how misinterpreting the famous ‘rewards of deeds depend upon the intentions’ hadees had been the source of much tragic confusion. What many have missed, with very unfortunate results, is that the hadees refers to lawful actions and their expected rewards with God. Illegal actions are not under discussion at all.

The economy will take time to improve, if it ever does so in the first place. Contrary to conventional ‘wisdom’, general education alone is rarely enough. The average man has much exposure to clerics (at least once a week if not more); and he listens to them too. But one would be ill advised to raise one’s hopes too much from that quarter. For here, once again, one finds oneself facing large social issues: for years now, the Friday pulpit has been outside state control.

The prognosis, therefore, remains poor.