The shooting should have shocked the nation, but it didn’t. The victim received a small funeral from a few brave souls that braved public disapproval. The elites sided with the shooter. They praised him in unqualified terms.
This isn’t a story ripped from American headlines. This is about the assassination of Salman Taseer, a moderate politician in Pakistan that sought to roll back egregious blasphemy laws used to persecute non-Muslims in his country. Instead, he was shot by his own bodyguard. Instead of being condemned, the over 500 clerics praised the bodyguard for his action. It took a long time, but Pakistan authorities eventually convicted and executed the shooter, yet he remains an icon today.
When I taught a foreign policy class that included Pakistan my students always reacted with a great deal of shock at that and similar stories. They wondered how culture could get so mixed up that things like this could happen, or blame terrorist attacks on CIA conspiracy theories.
But I can’t help but think of the responses to American protests. The latest civil rights hero was Jacob Blake, who had a felony warrant for his arrest over sexual assault, broke a restraining order, fought police, and then reached for a knife on the floorboard of his car. And yet that person is celebrated! He is the hero of this supposed narrative about America, has received millions in donations, and recently encouraged by Democratic presidential candidates.
There has been a great deal of conservative commentary over false narratives trumping facts, and the general craziness of the situation. But I want to remind Americans that we aren’t immune to the idiocy that comes with mindless rage. Civil society has a thinner veneer than we think. If we don’t demand more from ourselves than petty outrage, we will find ourselves in the civil wars described by ancient Greeks like Thucydides:
“Civil war ran through the cities…and they reversed the usual way of using words to evaluate activities. Ill-considered boldness was counted as loyal manliness; prudent hesitation was held to be cowardice in disguise, and moderation merely the cloak of an unmanly nature. A mind that could grasp the good of the whole was considered wholly lazy. Sudden fury was accepted as part of manly valor, while plotting for one’s own security was though a reasonable excuse for delaying action. A man who started a quarrel was always to be trusted, while one who opposed him was under suspicion” (iii.82).
Sounds like an average day online, but it shouldn’t be.