Herbert Mulin saved California from an earthquake in the early 70s—- or so he believed. Voices in his head demanded of him human sacrifice to save the world from a tectonic collapse. A pious man, he went on a murdering spree that lasted 4 months and ended in 13 ‘sacrifices’. His last murder was done crudely in front of countless witnesses and in broad daylight, as if he wanted to be caught. And he was, mere hours later. When presented in the court, he readily pleaded guilty to the murders and boasted how he was but a savior of the Californian populace. The court, after many reviews, ruled that he was schizophrenic but not insane and that the murders showed premeditation. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his ‘noble’ pursuits (death penalties had been halted in California and were only reinstated after 1978, a few years after his trial).

The man believed in a cause and this cause allowed – maybe strengthened – him to dehumanize his victims and kill them. More importantly however, it justified the loss of lives for him; his beliefs justified his murders. Beliefs hence, it can be observed, are strong elements of one’s psyche. They translate observations from the perspective of subjective interpretations and personal emotions. The said culmination rationalizes impulses and dictates actions.

Society has evolved to check on the aforementioned culminations. Beliefs hence tend to be challenged by socially dictated orders and dogmas. Society as a whole, tends to save itself from the chaos of individualistic pursuits by enforcing a list of do’s and don’ts. This enforced modus operandi has to be abided by even if it challenges someone’s personal beliefs. The disregard for Mr. Mulin’s beliefs and his eventual sentence is an example of such an enforcing. By bringing the deviant to justice, order was restored within society. The fact that murder cannot be justified, no matter what, was reiterated in the form of a warning to other ‘Mulins’ of the state. A precedent was set, one that is in much need of replication in the Pakistan of today.

A case presently on trial in the Islamabad High Court provides the perfect opportunity for the said precedent. It’s a murder case and there is no other interpretation of what happened. An innocent life was lost due to a ruthless act committed by a cold-blooded sociopath, much like Mulin. However, the similarities don’t end here. For one, the sociopath in question also committed the murder based on his ‘beliefs’. Moreover, like Mulin, the sociopath was much pleased with his actions and finds much comfort in a perceived ‘religious’ rationalization of the murder. Given that the assailant is sane and his actions were premeditated, he too, like his analogous counterpart, has been awarded the severest punishment allowed to the court. He, Mumtaz Qadri, now challenges his sentence in the Islamabad High Court. A large swarm of lawyers supports his appeal. For the sake of Pakistan, it is hoped that Qadri’s appeal is in vain.

As the world at large debates on the essence of the ‘Freedom of Speech’, Pakistan has much to gain by diverting its intellectual capital onto the more serious notion of the ‘Right to be offended’. The country has stood silently as the conservative elements within its society have exploited this particular ‘right’. In the case of Mumtaz Qadri, the same elements have now chosen to explain their actions in terms of a highly erroneous interpretation of a case fought by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The said segment brashly insists that Mr. Jinnah too was a supporter of such a right. They cite the case of Illm-udin, a young man who murdered the Hindu publisher of a sacrilegious book. Although Mr. Jinnah was indeed a part of this case, the text of the case bears witness that his arguments never justified the murder. Instead, the case was based on the argument that the accused was a teenager and hence prone to emotions. As a result, Mr. Jinnah had argued, the punishment of a death sentence was too severe, suggesting that it be relegated to a life sentence. The lawyers who justify their support for Mumtaz Qadri based on this case, desperately need to re-educate themselves with its text.

Pakistani society, at large, is at its nadir. How else does one understand the motivations of an ex-chief Justice of the Lahore High Court who has volunteered to defend Qadri? What rationalizes the actions of the army of lawyers and the ocean of supporters who sing paeans for him during his trial? What else brings a society to lionize a murderer? How does one find sanity in a society that shamelessly advocates permanent silence? How does one tread across a social fabric that has grown vulnerable to conservatism and bigotry? What manner of justification elucidates the incompetency of a majority towards recognizing the perils of such intolerance?

The carrying out of Mumtaz Qadri’s sentence is important for many reasons. For a country that has gone through the excruciating pain of the loss of countless lives, Pakistan still fails to understand the value of human life. In an earlier column, I insisted that the first step, and indeed the most basic step of social evolution comes with valuing human lives. This case, if concluded in the same manner as Mulin’s, will epitomize this particular step. The ruling will be important for it will be setting the precedent which better defines one’s ‘right of being offended’. It will explain if impulsive vigilantism should be a norm and if mere opinions are worth more than the value of a human life. It will also be an important step towards checking the spread of bigotry amongst the masses and would rattle the conscience of those who have admired the murderer in the first place.