“We have met the enemy, and it is us” (Pogo)
This blogger is not a journalist and neither is she a media news guru. This blogger will not go into the facts of the Sialkot tragedy where two young brothers were lynched to death by a mob including so called security agencies of this country. She will not go into descriptive details and prostitute people’s emotions including those of the boys’ family for more hits on this blog, like the television channels have been doing . If any reader wants details or wants to be sensationalized , you all know where to look.
My mind remains plagued with restless thoughts, my soul roped by helpless anger and my emotions a bundle of despair over one question- Why did the people standing in the crowd never ventured to stop the murderers? How could they keep looking on to the most brutal murders one could fathom? Why did their conscience not prick them? What made them think such extreme vigilante justice ( assuming some of them thought so) was justified?
So what is Vigilante Justice ?
Stated simply, vigilante justice is when a person or a group of people take the law in their own hands and set out to punish a criminal or an assumed criminal. Hence, without the proper procedure of arrest, investigation, evidence, trial and sentence, any such punishment by such an individual(s) is extra legal in every sense of the word.
Philosophers, like French (2001), equate vigilante justice with vengeance, and tie it into ethics – i.e. correcting a criminal wrong by wrongful means. Clichéd as it may sound, two wrongs never made a right, and practicing vigilante justice only means moral decline of the society at the end of the day.
It should be clarified that Vigilante Justice is different from civilian watch keeping or protesting organizations who do not intend to take the law in their own hands. For e.g. if there is a neighbourhood watch, where participants take turns to protect the neighbourhood from negative elements with the intention to hand over the miscreants to the Police , then this is not synonymous to vigilante justice. But if the neighbourhood watch turns into an angry mob and tortures , harasses or kills the miscreants, then they would be participating in vigilante justice.
Why would an individual decide to take the law in their own hands?
A day or two after the Sialkot tragedy, I had a conversation with a taxi driver which shed light on the mentality behind vigilante justice. I reproduce our conversation (translated in English) below:
It’s sad whatever happened in Sialkot. It’s sadder as to how the onlookers didn’t do a thing to protect the boys.
What you are saying is very right and it is sad, but those children have been murdered unfortunately on the pretext of mistaken identity. Chor koi aur tha, maar inn ko diya. (The thieves were someone else, but these boys were murdered instead.)
Even if it is assumed for a minute that the boys were thieves (although evidence suggests otherwise), the boys should have been handed over to the Police. How could they take the law in their own hands and murder them?
What is the use if we don’t beat up thieves? The Police may catch them and put them behind bars, but they will be released in a day or two, and the same dacoits will make our lives miserable and kill our family members based on enmity.
Kya matlab? (What do you mean?)
For e.g. yesterday two young boys in their early twenties tried to rob a PCO in our locality. They shot the PCO’s owner in the leg, grabbed whatever stash of money they could find and made a run for it. Our neighbourhood boys saw them leaving, and shot the robbers in the legs, and then grabbed them and beat them. The robbers were then put in a room and bound with rope so they wouldn’t escape and were kicked and slapped and punched. All the time, they kept saying, please do not kill us. Whatever happens – do not kill us. For the sake of Allah and the holy Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), don’t kill us. We called the police and handed the robbers to them. But somebody ask these robbers, do they think of Allah and the Prophet ( m.b.u.h), when they set out to rob and kill people?
What will happen now? The robbers will inevitably be released owing to their connections and now they will become enemies the PCO man and the youngsters who saved the PCO man? What’s the use?
( quite horrified by then at the incident and the presence of free ammunition.)
It is never ok to kill someone. The law should never be taken in your own hands. The law of the state is an extension of the law of Allah where there is an Islamic country in question. The punishment for theft or robbery in Islam is cutting off one hand for the first offence as per Shariah and three (3) years imprisonment as per the Pakistan Penal Code. So if Allah has specified the hadood (limits), then who are we to be transgressors? It is illegal and immoral to take a life . In Islam , we have been told that taking away the life of one person is like killing the whole of humanity. You must remember that.
By that time I had reached my workplace and our conversation ended. But, the conversation exposed the root causes of vigilante justice and its acceptance. Vigilante justice stems where there has been failure of the government and its security agencies in upholding the law and order of the land. There is bad governance and the citizens have no confidence or hope that they will be protected by the government . So who should we blame at the end of the day? The government, the courts of law and the security agencies of this country? They are perhaps the true murderers of the two boys in Sialkot.
Is Vigilante Justice justified? What are its effects?
Although the phenomenon of Vigilante Justice has been exhibited in countries such as U.S.A, the U.K, China and South Eastern countries, but Vigilante Justice should never be justified as it carries with it several negative concerns.
The people involved in Vigilante Justice are firstly not qualified members of the judicial community, nor do they have the patience to carry out an investigation , and therefore they may break the law in the course of pursuing “justice” – well so called justice i.e.
Another problem is that Vigilante Justice leads to further bad governance. Providing suspected criminals with a fair trial and an appropriate sentence is an important part of living in a civilized society, as this ensures that the right person is punished. It is ofcourse arguable that many people are wrongly implicated in crimes in this country as well, but then again that is not a justified rationale behind taking the law in your own hands either.
It is agreed that those who deserve punishment also deserve to pay (lex salica) or receive some kind of harm equal to the harm they have done (lex talionis). But it is also without argument that lex talionis cannot be uniformly applied to every human harm committed., which is why there are courts of law to sort out the particulars and differences between a criminal who deliberately commits a crime and an individual who accidentally commits a crime. These courts of law also deliberate on the evidence, motive, intention and facts. Justice and punishment should NEVER be guided by banal, primitive and barbaric emotions like those of that mob in Sialkot. Violence breeds further Violence.
The vigilante is not an avenger at all as his focus is only punishment and that too fast track and disproportionate punishment. Were the vicious beatings and on-the-spot executions of the boys befitting an alleged crime? Is it correct for somebody to take the law in his/her own hands thinking that they are victims and then turning into the victimizers themselves?
And then what happens once they take the law in our own hands? There is a very strong possibility that such vigilante’s would inevitable become criminal themselves, because they have committed murder and have done something worse than that, rationalized the murder. Therefore, such people may feel that it is justified to go against the rule of law at any point.
Carrying out Vigilante Justice is breaking the law. Since when have humans started justifying humiliation, harassment, and cold blooded murder? Even if it can be assumed that the boys had for e.g. committed robbery, they should have been handed over the Police. It’s just incredible that the Police in this incident was just as barbaric as the mob and remained silent spectators and at times provided encouragement for further barbarism. So, they were encouraging vigilante justice themselves and hence played a vital role in such brutal lynching.
As I wrote earlier, there has to be proportionate punishment for the crime. Was extreme torture and murder proportionate to an alleged robbery? Certainly not ! Not according to the law of the state, nor according to the Shariah ( Islamic law.) Even if the boys had carried out a murder, the right thing to have been done was to lodge an FIR against the boys, get them arrested, and not become murderers. What has been the outcome? A destruction of so many families – from the victims to the victimizers’ . Who has gained what? There is nothing but loss. A loss of morality.
So, what’s my point?
We don’t need to become super heroes for this or that. We first need to become super heroes for ourselves. We need to become better human beings. We need to cleanse our souls of all negativity and establish prayer, believe in Allah, help the orphans and the needy, love our parents, practice charity and respect each other irrespective of gender (i.e. not bury women alive or take away their self respect). We will not enforce our views on others, not hurt other human beings irrespective of religion, not tip the scales to our advantage for money, not succumb to greed of power, not lie, not cheat, not backbite and not defraud fellow human beings. We will instead love and practice patience and forgiveness. We will become better humans.
We vow to never let such a brutal incident re-occur. We will not be part of that crowd. We will not be part of that mob. We will step forward and stop those transgressors who take the law , both of the land and that of Allah, into their own hands. There will no other brutal deaths like those of Muneeb and Mugheez. We will ensure that. InshaAllah. We will insist on a speedy and transparent trial , withholding the rule of law in order to ensure justice for the brothers and their family. But we will not become those barbaric, inhuman animals ourselves. We will be different. We will be better. We shall not be and we are not Vigilantes.
31 August 2010
Ps.Please take a look at this petition demanding justice for the brothers sent to me by Youth for Human Rights International and if you agree, sign it. Go to the link: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/38578.html
Please spread the word and get others to sign as well.