A few days back as I watched the news from my country where politicians referred the unfortunate incident as a shameful act it brought back memories of the documentary on an Afghan girl named Farkhunda, who had been wrongly accused of burning the Koran by an unknown charm seller. What conspired next was unprecedented – Within no time of her being wrongly accused, a mob gathered around her and despite her repeated requests for sanity she was attacked. Her attackers, who had not bothered to check the correctness of the information accused her of burning the holy book, kicked her back with feet and then exchanged their feet for stones and wooden planks. Before the ghastly ordeal it was over, Farkhundas body was thrown from a rooftop, run over by a car and then set ablaze on a bank of the muddy Kabul River.
Farkhundas body lay in a coffin which was carried on the shoulders of several black-clad Afghan women. Kicking tradition, the pallbearers took on a role usually designated to men, conveying Farkhundas coffin to an open-air prayer ground and then to her grave.
The incident was captured in graphic detail on the cell-phones of onlookers. Videos of the killing circulated widely online, eliciting horror from some and approval from others for the inhumane act. What disturbed me then was the psyche of the mob in both these incidents, which despite being made up of humans had acted much like animals beyond reproach and reason.
Social psychology does try to explain the inexplicable behaviour of a group or mob mentality and violence. According to them when people are part of a group, they often experience de-individuation, or a loss of self-awareness. When people de-individuate, they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. The reasoning seems sane until you try and rationalize the irrational behaviour which discredits another persons life. No explanation is sane enough to be understood.
Behind the insanity lies a bigger concern the rising intolerance and the role of social media in both the incidents while in one it was used to capture the video in the other provocative messages had been sent to allegedly entice the mob. The underlying truth in both incidents remained that no one bothered to check the reality and believed in the message which gave fodder to the mob like behaviour which had been backed by a greater intolerance and irrational anger.
The question really is Have we become slaves to social media where we take to any message which fuels fear and irrationality as the truth, without bothering to be concerned about the correctness and the source? The shallowness of our reason is further rationalized by those who agree and forward the same without any rationalization about the subject. The blame does not lie on any one government or on a religious belief but on our own vulnerability and ease of getting fuelled by negative emotions and in turn abetting fear and hatred in the process. We seek to be humans who by definition have been given an intellect which would rather go waste if not put to proper use.
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