“You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect that they can be trained only to bite your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,” US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, bluntly to Pakistan Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, October 2011
One of the most startling Time magazine covers was the June 1991 “Evil” cover. It was an entirely black page with the words, “Evil. Does it exist or do bad things just happen?” I remember reading the cover story with great interest and wondering who had commissioned it.
A cover story requires research and costs a packet. Was it just a filler since there was nothing interesting happening out there? Not so. It was 1991 and Iraq was all over the front pages. The Warsaw Pact, the bugbear of the Nato, had just been dissolved. The Soviet Union ceased to exist. Good, as the west knew it, had seemed to be on a roll. And yet Time chose to put Evil on it’s cover.
Since there appears to be so much of evil around today, the question about whether bad things just happen seems now like a pertinent question.
But to the parents of cherub-faced 14-year old Sher Shah, cut down by a hail of 7.62mm rounds to the back of his head and chest last Tuesday inside the Army Public School at the Western Pakistani city of Peshawar, the answer to Time Magazine’s plaintive question already had an answer – there is nothing random about evil.
So must have the parents of 12-year old Shaheed Khan felt, when the burly naib subedar of the Pakistan Army’s 7th Infantry Division, found him face down on a flower bed that ran along the wall outside his classroom. He was clutching a bunch of jasmines in his right hand, as if he had attempted to pick some with his dying breath. His father said that he must have tried to gather them together from the bed that he had fallen on. The man, his face caked with dried tears, confirmed that Shaheed had this habit of bringing home flowers for his 10-year old sister, Shaheen, who suffered from cerebral palsy and always went ballistic when she saw flowers in her doting elder brother’s hands.
Mobeen Shah Afridi’s father did not think any differently. All of thirteen years old and a high-achieving student who was always at the top of his class, Mobeen had wanted to be a child specialist and open up a free clinic in North Waziristan, the heart of Tehrik-e-Taliban territory, a lawless swathe of land where there were no doctors and child mortality rates were said to be 30% higher than the national average.
Mobeen was found lying on his side under a desk where he must have been trying to hide, curled up in a fetal position, the entire occiput at the back of his head having caved in from the force of a soft-nosed AK-47 round. The boyish mop that his mother had been after him to cut short, which Mobeen had been avoiding since a pretty female cousin had told him he looked like the Indian movie star Shah Rukh Khan, was matted with blood. The change in his face, eyes wide open, rivulets of blood spattered all over, beggared imagination.
It is upon this land that evil has finally broken cover and descended, no longer an abstract noun, but a physical entity. Western culture portrays evil as a red-skinned creature with horns and a tail, holding a pitchfork. Hindus portray evil as all sorts of things, including a bullock from whose stomach rises a vicious, muscular, curly haired red-eyed asura holding a curved blood-stained scimitar in his hand. These are now just a laughable parody, no longer capable of holding us in terror.
There are those, atheists mainly, who believe that evil does not exist, that it is merely a tool that society has fabricated, to keep us in line. There are others who are adamant that society has no right to impose any restrictions or standards on us.
There is a story about an atheist who went to see the spiritual guru and thinker, Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), at his Ashram, a group of huts in the middle of nowhere, in southern India. The atheist had heard that the great spiritualist would be able to convince him to be a believer and taking it as a pitting of wits, the atheist had gone to challenge the Maharshi to a verbal duel over whether there was or wasn’t something called God.
The man was so keyed up that he simply tore into the great saint with the same arguments that he was used to parroting to his friends back in Madras. That there was neither any evil and nor was there any God.
The Maharshi listened to him and then called out to a small boy who was playing outside. At the same time, he ordered one of his followers, a man who was cutting the tall grass outside so snakes would be visible if they tried to sneak into the huts. The man held in his hand a long curving knife with which he had been slashing through the undergrowth like butter. The Maharshi handed the atheist the knife and led the little boy to him and said,” Take this boy and chop him up into small pieces.”
The atheist at first recoiled at the thought of slaughtering the boy but then he quickly regained his composure and said,” But your Holiness, I agree I would not like to commit the act of killing such an innocent child but there is no compelling reason why I might find it wrong”.
“But you were horrified at first, by the thought, weren’t you?” asked the saint, gently.
The man remained silent, unable to find the words that would counter the saint’s question.
Ramana Maharshi carried on,” By your own admission, you felt revulsion at the thought of killing this young boy. Where did this revulsion come from?”
The man was now completely under the saint’s spell and had abandoned any attempt to carry on the argument. Something inside him was shifting, like sands under the feet.
“Could your horror at the thought of killing a little boy, have come from a deep well that resides within us all, called love?
The man could only nod dumbly, hanging on now to every word that left the saint’s mouth.
Then Ramana Maharshi opened the door gently,” You see, that is what God really is – love. You have always been a believer. You just didn’t know you were one.”
It is six decades since Ramana Maharshi passed on, leaving the world that Indians lived in, with a hope we could hang on to, making us all believers – that love prevails, since it is divine.
Six decades is a long time and as all beliefs have changed, so must have putrefied the very nature of love. And therefore the divine. Where once we believed that evil does not exist, it is now time to wonder if in fact it is good that does not exist, except when evil condescends to be absent. Like light, which must now exist, only when darkness deigns to be hidden.
I remember seeing a Discovery Channel video which showed a Mama baboon suckling her little one unmindful of the fact that the herd had moved on some distance away. Suddenly a puma pounced on the baboon and killed her with a sweeping backhand with it’s front paw, snapping the baboon’s neck like a twig. As the mother baboon sprawled out lifeless, the toddler spilled out of her grasp and rolled onto the forest floor.
For a while the puma stared at the baby, unable to decide what to do with it, but not for long. Forgetting the kill, it picked up the baby by the scruff of the neck gently between it’s powerful jaws and walked over to the far end of the clearing, set it down and began licking it’s pelt just the way it’s mummy would have done. After a while, the puma stretched out and the baboon cub crawled under her massive arm and lay down beside her. The puma made no move to go over and devour the mother it had just killed.
In the animal kingdom examples of love, generosity and sacrifice abound. In dogs for example, we have seen a capacity to love that is unparalleled and astonishing. Even the lowliest roadside cur is way ahead of a mullah or a pastor or a sanyasi in righteousness.
Why were animals made that way, with every little prerequisite for an entrance to heaven via the express elevator instead of having to queue up and wait for that old bearded guy called Pete to check credentials? Why were we so fortunate, in spite of our propensity for truly malicious, premeditated carnage?
The Bible says that evil is the result of an ongoing war in the spiritual realm. Satan was a great angel. He was considered the most beautiful of them all. So filled with pride did he become that he set out to occupy the throne of God. Since religions go to great lengths to make us believe that good ultimately prevails, the Satan’s rebellion was crushed. A bedtime story like none other.
In a most glaring error of judgement by God, Satan was cast out of heaven together with a third of all the angels, the Satan groupies. This was the first instance of the ‘you are either with us or against us’ mindset. If we are to believe the Bible, no effort was made by God to try and speak with the Satan and get him to mend his ways through dialogue. It was simply not in the Almighty’s mental make-up to apply diplomacy.
The Lord has always been an unforgiving being, ruthless and abrupt, even though the world’s religions go to extraordinary lengths to make followers believe otherwise, the way that the North Korean media has convinced the ordinary North Koreans that Kim Jong-Un is one great big cuddly Santa Claus type guy whom the peasants would be better off worshiping like a deity.
Maybe only Mullah Fazlullah, Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, has been able to understand the mind of God. Maybe the Radio Mullah has long ago understood that man was really not created in God’s likeness, but the Satan’s.
We really do need a new messiah. Think I’ll apply. I have all the right attributes for the job. A messiah and I have many things in common. We both love leaving behind a mess. We both like letting folk down and then making it look like it was all their fault.
Most of all, a messiah and I, we both like taking onto ourselves others’ sins. (Get me a loose blonde woman and I’ll show you what that means).