By Md. Arif Iqbal Khan
Lahore is no St. Petersburg. But at this moment Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment seems so much more relevant to Lahore than any other city. Not that Lahore lacks a credible judiciary, it can boast of a powerful legal lobby capable of overthrowing a military regime. Lahore has its history and culture woven in a long connection with justice, beginning as the imperial city of Mughal Emperor Akbar, who was known for his equitable justice in an undivided Hindustan that belonged to all denominations.
But after two Pakistan nationals were gunned down by US national Raymond Davies recently, Lahore today is caught in a tight place. It wishes to continue the traditional path of evidences and circumstances, but it seems to be failing. Something in Lahore has changed. The bravery and courage of Lahore to resist foreign invaders like Alexander seems to have slightly diminished in this traditional romantic “city of emotions”.
A smart young man, quite capable of outwitting and out-thinking his contemporaries, strangely takes a special interest into the darker side of man’s thought processes. Actions, that would be normally considered punishable, can be turned into heroic efforts only if they could fit into a larger picture of a greater cause. A person could theoretically look at actions of men like Hitler, Napoleon or Stalin and bring up logical arguments in their favor to justify their murders. Rationalistic thinking allows the brain to walk through corridors of unjust behavioral patterns all the while assuming that every decision here is rational and reasonable.
A powerful tool called “ideological intoxication” is at play here that corrupts and weakens the intelligent mind of a smart young man to the point that he considers murder to be a rational approach. And why not he argues, many great men thought and acted like him and that is what makes men great. This young man, was about to commit murder, but he just did not get it.
A social parasite, so the argument goes, can be expendable for a greater cause, like social welfare, promotion of human values, freedom of speech or for guaranteeing human rights. Whatever be the cause, one person’s existence in a society can become another person’s burden. But that is exactly what societies are supposed to be made up of. If everybody were ‘good’ there would be no need for laws to check crimes and frauds. As Brooksley Bond proved that unregulated derivatives markets could become an avalanche for the entire financial world bringing down with it millions of jobs, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Nobody listened to her, especially not the then czar of US Treasury Alan Greenspan. However, when the financial system did collapse Mr Greenspan had to testify, like a defeated gladiator, that he was wrong, all along. His ideological standpoint about market economies and deregulation was wrong and his lifelong commitment to laissez faire crashed before him and his apologetic face in front of a Senate Committee spoke clearly about his life’s failure. But that financial collapse, due to Greenspan’s failure to see reason in Bond’s work, made yesterday’s ‘road block’ into an international champion of financial regulation. Time and space changed the roles of two persons completely begging to know who really was the ‘parasite’ in the world of finance.
Same is now the case when someone in a society feels that other unimportant ‘parasites’ are really of no value to us and in fact they cause more harm than good, prompting to offer a ‘final solution’ making our current society a better place through their deaths. Prisoners consume tax payers’ money, beggars with disabilities produce nothing, worse still are those greedy misers who amass wealth and hoard them through devious means. These are not ideals for any society and their riddance can only be a good thing. Hitler, Stalin and Napoleon thought so and they nearly conquered their world through this line of thinking, followed up by action of course. Rationalist thought process turns that strong belief in a particular thought process into an ideological understanding of a situation overstepping determining views for right and wrong. It is hammered as justifiable for some people but disastrous for its victims, who are often from powerless and under-privileged class.
Ideological intoxicant was what drove Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov to believe that he possessed enough intellectual and emotional fortitude to deal with the ramifications of what he was going to do. Raskolnikov planned to murder a ‘social parasite’, take her money and use that wealth to help society. He rationalized his plan with an ideological belief that murdering a parasitic hoarder of wealth, only to share that wealth among those who really needed it, must be a just cause. It is no different than what Hitler did to Jews or Stalin did to his own citizens, it was for the sake of a greater German race or for strengthening the Communist state respectively. They were all outcome of an ideological intoxicant that overpowered their strength to separate right from wrong in such a way that what they could rationalize had to be correct, and anything they could classify as evil had to be evil.
But Raskolnikov did not take into account another justice system fuelling his mind. A justice system that does not contain written legal code or force to check crime. This unusual legal system is called one’s inner “Conscience”, which exists in everyone’s minds, and it is conscience that essentially separates human beings from animals. To ignore the role of this conscience is to ignore the very essence of a human being. This ‘inner conscience’ of Raskolnikov tore him apart, he broke down and confessed his murder because his sense of guilt overwhelmed him. His dear ones encourage him to admit his guilt and make a confession, without which he could have become his own cause for mental death due to his conscience. The Raskolnikov of St Petersburg shows up every now and then in Berlin, Moscow, Baghdad and other such places where rationalistic thinking and ideological intoxications are smashed together to form deadly chambers of death.
In Lahore, lawyers are looking for proofs while the politicians search for loop-holes, to decide the fate of a man who committed murder. On the one hand, is the question of meting out justice for the murder of its own citizens coupled with national pride that is at stake, while on the other hand, deaths of two insignificant people stand in the way of a most important strategic partnership bent on combating the greatest threat to world power since the collapse of the USSR, is also at stake. Rationalistic thought or ideological intoxicant can lead to either direction but the unbroken chain of Crime and Punishment could require a short break for the moment in Lahore.
The writer is a banker and can be reached at: