Nothing riles up Pakistan like a blasphemy case. Murder is something generally unacceptable to both the law and to society. The one exception, however, usually lies with individuals accused of blasphemy. Their murder is often celebrated by Pakistanis and the murderer venerated as an Islamic hero. This curiosity can be explained by a philosophical phenomenon known as the dehumanization of the ‘Other’.
The Other is a political term used to define “an individual who is perceived by the group as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way”. For example, in Hitler’s Germany, the Jews were the Other – they did not belong to his Reich. Similarly, in Modi’s India today, Muslims are the Other – they do not belong to his nationalistic and jingoistic manifestation of India.
More importantly, however, the Other is often portrayed as the enemy. The Jews in Nazi Germany didn’t just not belong – they were also the reason Germany lost the First World War and it was they who had brought about the downfall of the great nation. It is the same in Modi’s India, with Muslims being suspected of pro-Pakistan treachery.
This marginalization and perception is of profound importance. It leads to entire communities being separated from the group and to violence being legitimized against them.
After all, who cares about them if they are not one of ‘us’? They’re trying to undo the great nation after all.
It is because of this, almost-dehumanization, that human beings, who are otherwise kind, become so ruthless to those they see as the Other. Countless sociological and psychological studies have sought to understand why exactly people of Nazi Germany, who were otherwise kind and good human beings, would flip a switch when it came to the Jews and be capable of immense brutality.
It’s almost as if, when an individual or community was regarded as being separate and being an enemy, they ceased to be human in the eyes of the group. This convinced normal humans to lose all sense of humanity when it came to dealing with them – because they weren’t even human anymore.
This phenomenon is no less common in Pakistan. While there are many examples of dehumanization of the ‘Other’, the best example lies in the mercilessness of Pakistanis towards blasphemers.
To many Pakistanis, blasphemers commit a sin that robs them of their humanity – insulting Islam. To them, this sin is irredeemable and unforgivable, and renders the blasphemer undeserving of life. It’s like, again, a switch being flipped as all regard for law and order goes out the window. All that’s left is a thirst for justice, which usually translates to a thirst for blood.
It is likely because of this phenomenon that the murder of Tahir Ahmad Naseem was celebrated by so many circles across the nation – he was no longer human in the eyes of Pakistanis.
While such dehumanization of the ‘Other’ is necessary at times – for example, rapists are dehumanized in order to justly punish them – it can also become a weapon to mobilize the masses against certain groups.
Hitler mobilized the masses against the Jews and Modi is mobilizing the masses against the Muslims.
It remains to be seen whether or not Pakistan can recognize that they are being mobilized against certain groups via the phenomenon that is the dehumanization of the ‘Other’.