Over the past few weeks Pussy Riot has been quite in the news. But there's been one reaction which surprised me: I actually appreciate that Russia is not quite as illiberal as Westerners may sometimes portray it. After all, there was a trial, and to my knowledge the members of Pussy Riot were not assaulted or physically attacked. Imagine that a feminist punk band had tried to pull off what Pussy Riot did in the Muslim world (commit an act performance protest in a house of worship). There's a good chance they'd be dead before the authorities could even get a hold of them. With that in mind, I want to observe another instance of the mass insanity and barbarism which seems to be taking hold in Pakistan. Down Syndrome girl Rimsha accused of blasphemy in Pakistan:
Police arrested Rimsha, who is recognised by a single name, on Thursday after she was reported holding in public burnt pages which had Islamic text and Koranic verses on them, a police official said. A conviction for blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. The official said that the girl, who he described as being in her teens, was taken to a police station in the capital Islamabad, where she has been detained since. Angry Muslim protesters held rallies demanding she be punished, said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. "We had to register the case fairly quickly to prevent any unpleasant situation," he added, referring to the demonstrations. Rimsha was produced before a court on Friday and remanded in custody for 14 days, another police official said. She is expected to go before the court again by end of this month.
First, most of these blasphemy cases turn out to be unjust accusations. One needs to keep in mind that most of the Christians of Pakistan are socially marginalized, having been converted from the lower caste Hindu population. Their status as a religious minority is just another angle which can be used in both inter-personal and inter-class conflict.
Second, this is clearly the case of an irrational and insane collective herd. If you took one of the individuals who are braying for the blood of this mentally disabled girl, and explained the situation and the ludicrousness of it all one on one I think common sense could prevail. Even granting the charges, which as I said are unlikely to really have any genuine basis, holding a teenager with such low mental abilities responsible simply boggles the mind.* And yet the reality is that these sorts of mass movements toward victimizing minorities and the marginalized are pretty typical over human history. The modern era is exceptional insofar as rule of law and respect for the rights of individual are such that even the collective will can be resisted. In the early to mid 2000s there was a vogue for analogizing Al Qaeda to the Ku Klux Klan. But the reality is that I think Sunni Muslims as a whole in Pakistan really resemble the second Ku Klux Klan. Religious minorities, and to a lesser extent the Shia, in this model take up the roles of blacks, Catholics and immigrants, who are fundamentally not of the nation. And those who are brave enough to stand up for the rights of the marginalized minorities are few indeed. * Some are claiming that the girl is not even a teenager, but 11 or 12.