The veneration of George Floyd shows how rapidly a supposedly rational and civilised society can degenerate into mass hysteria. As a mental health expert at a London university, I have studied social phenomena and mental health throughout my career, but I never expected to see my country in such danger from a collective psychosis. When reason and feeling for fellow citizens is lost, we become the lawless children of Lord of the Flies. However, I want to link the current chaos not to literary classics, but to a recent real-life descent into darkness.
Uncanny parallels may be drawn between the reaction to George Floyd’s killing and the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, which present a dire warning for what can happen when rationale and the law are overwhelmed by the fervour of the lynch mob.
You may not have heard of Asia Bibi. Her plight was mentioned in passing in our mainstream media. She didn’t fit the story that a progressive metropolitan elite might decide was newsworthy. But her treatment was a horrific illustration of how cruel people can be when their target is dehumanised, and a person becomes a personification of evil.
Taking in the harvest of falsa berries outside the Punjabi village of Ittan Wali in the sweltering heat of summer 2009, Bibi drew water from a nearby well. As she drank from a metal cup, she was confronted by another villager. Bibi’;s family were the only Christians in the village, and the woman was angered by Bib drinking from a vessel used by Muslims. An ensuing argument over Christianity and Islam drew a crowd, but fortunately calm was restored.
Five days later Bibi met the woman again. She had brought a mob with her, who chanted ‘Death to the Christian’. Bibi told them that Jesus did more for humanity than Mohammed. She refused to convert to Islam on the spot. The police came, and Bibi was accused of insulting the prophet. She was arrested for blasphemy and put in solitary confinement for her own safety.
The trial a year later found Bibi guilty, and she was sentenced to hang. Evidence showed that Bibi had suffered from years of harassment by other villagers for her faith. Salmaan Taseer, the regional governor, was horrified. With his wife and daughter he visited the condemned woman in prison, and then held a press conference appealing to the president, Asif Ali Zardari. This injustice was an existential threat to Pakistan, Taseer warned.
For defending a Christian blasphemer, Taseer became public enemy number one. Decried as an apostate, he was given police protection. On 4th January 2011, he was sipping coffee in a smart café in Islamabad when police commando Mumtaz Qadri, on his security detail, riddled him with 27 bullets. Thousands came on to the streets to celebrate the assassination.
Taseer’s funeral was modestly attended, with President Zardari conspicuous by his absence. Qadri, meanwhile, was charged with murder. After a lengthy trial he was hanged on 29th February 2016. The ambulance carrying his body to the funeral was strewn with roses, as hundreds of thousands mourned a national hero. In the huge protests the slogan ‘I am Qadri’ was everywhere.
An ornate mosque and shrine were built in dedication to Qadri, in his village of Athal. At this site of pilgrimage, a multitude of Pakistanis come to kneel before a white marble tomb. Yet this act is itself blasphemous, as idols are forbidden in orthodox Islam. Rules are readily broken, though, when a combination of piety and moral panic takes over.
We should all offer our respects to Canada for giving Bibi sanctuary, while other supposedly ethical countries like the UK looked the other way, frightened of a domestic Muslim backlash.
At George Floyd’s funeral this week, a halo was placed on his image. Buildings have been lit in his name throughout the West (for example, the town hall in Bolton, 4000 miles from Minneapolis, which did nothing for the shocking murder of a local 7-year-old Emily Jones). Yet Floyd was no saint. His lengthy criminal record included pointing a gun at a pregnant woman in a burglary. Apparently he knew his alleged killer, Derek Chauvin, when working at a nightclub. The trial may reveal unknown details, but at this stage it is safe to conclude a despicable instance of police brutality.
Suddenly the Black Lives Matter campaign has swept over the media, universities, the police and all our institutions. Anti-racist activists are toppling statues, defacing memorials and demanding that lecturers of insufficiently emancipatory credentials are sacked. Soon it might be people rather than brass figures who are bound in ropes and thrown into the river, as happened to the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.
The cult of George Floyd (who of course is blameless in this regard) mirrors that of Mumtaz Qadri. While in Pakistan the Asia Bibi case revealed the ascent of puritanical Wahhabist Islam, the current fanaticism is born of a secularised, anti-Christian and anti-patriotic segment of society. The white middle-class snobs described by Orwell have found a powerful ally in black activism. Just as the sanctifiers of Qadri inflamed Sunni-Shia tension, the Black Lives Matter and Antifa wreckers are stirring racism. Is this what they want?
Floyd deserves sympathy and posthumous justice, but not false idolatry. The rampaging mobs and their cultural Marxist agitators must be restrained. For as Edmund Burke said, ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.