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 such a collective psychosis take hold as we are currently witnessing in relation to the Black Lives Matter protests. 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 aftermath of the Asia Bibi case in Pakistan, presenting a dire warning for what can happen when rationale and the law are overwhelmed by the fervour of the lynch mob."
Uncanny parallels may be drawn between the reaction to George Floyd’s killing and the aftermath of the Asia Bibi case in Pakistan, presenting 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 narrative of the progressive metropolitan elite who decide what’s 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 Bibi 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 January 4, 2011, he was sipping coffee in a smart café in Islamabad when Mumtaz Qadri, a police commando 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 February 29, 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 piety is infused with moral panic.
Thankfully Canada gave Bibi sanctuary, while cowardly British and European governments looked the other way, frightened of a domestic Muslim backlash.
At George Floyd’s funeral, 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 and attempted capitation of local 7-year-old Emily Jones by an Albanian immigrant). Yet Floyd was no saint. His lengthy criminal record included pointing a gun at a pregnant woman in a robbery. 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, bringing millions on to the streets during the lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic. Anti-racist protestors 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 statues of Edward Colston in Bristol and to Christopher Columbus in Virginia.
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 culture. 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, Black Lives Matter and Antifa wreckers are stirring racial conflict. 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.”