Mohammed Muslem, a 38-year-old Egyptian reportedly working as a butcher in Ketermaya village, had been arrested on suspicion of shooting dead an elderly couple and their granddaughters aged seven and nine. He is said to have confessed and was leading police officers through the events of the day when dozens of villagers dragged him away from police custody and began beating him with sticks and knives. Some witnesses said police rescued him and took him to a nearby hospital, only for the crowd to break in to the intensive care unit, drag him out and continue to beat him. [source]
While the crime of the Egyptian was horrendous, it goes without saying that the revenge process was equally, if not more horrendous. Such crimes do take place in the world we live in today, more frequently than we like to imagine. They are nothing new by way of shock value and it’s probably because these sort of things are typically carried out by governments, which, generally speaking, people feel disconnected from and often use as a scapegoat for their lack of political and social investment. The government is to blame – as if it were such a holy and foreign entity beyond the reclamation of the people.
But when such an act is carried out by the people themselves – these crimes tend to gather some shock value. It’s perhaps due to the fact that everyone realizes that the people are no longer restrained. Like a quiet and serene ocean, we tend to forget the sheer power that it is capable of exhibiting until a tsunami or a hurricane hits, and destroys an entire city. It’s chaos. It’s sudden power. It’s a domino effect. It’s a building ocean wave that no organized system, such as a government, is capable of stopping.
It’s historical. When a government hangs someone for a crime, it passes unnoticed. If that same criminal is hanged by the people, all hell breaks loose. Justice, which is theoretically intended to be controlled by a single governing entity, is now in the hands of the people who are incapable of delivering it fairly.
Yet, what is most interesting about such incidents in the 21st century is technology. Now that digital media has become so cheap, or almost free, it is in the hands of everyone. From the richest to the poorest. Everyone has a cell phone, even in the remotest of villages where TVs have yet to exist. Camera phones are part of the norm. We take a billion photos. We send them to one another via bluetooth or we put them up on Facebook.
In the case of Ketermaya Village, such cell phones are likely to become police evidence.
By far, the most interesting images to have emerged from this story are that of ladies standing on a balcony, shocked and in horror of what they’re witnessing, yet, simultaneously taking photos with their cell phones.
This reminded of similar images I saw last year when that girl wanted to commit suicide off a building in Amman. Crowds gathered around to photograph and record videos. Remember this photo?
How many people have their phones out? Next time you drive past a terrible car accident in Jordan, take a look at how many people have stopped their cars to take photos with their phones. Even cartoonist Emad Hajjaj has satirized this several times in his work:
So what conclusions can one draw? Is it a demonstration of how powerful a small and simple tool can be in the hands of the average citizen? Is it a demonstration of how such tools have decentralized information, and, for the first time in history, offered the human race an ability to document an event from multiple perspectives and not merely as written by the “pen of the victor”? A demonstration of how a story can now be weaved together by many storytellers; or how bystanders and witnesses can so easily become documentarians? Is it a demonstration of how crowds are capable of producing vast data from multiple angles, to be collected, data mined and analyzed?
Is it a demonstration of the extent to which we have become anesthetized by the horrors that often engulf our region; so much so that we are able to document a lynching or a suicide, while being equally horrified? Is it a demonstration of our continued apathy and/or unwillingness to intervene in the name of what is right, even if a mob is what stands in our way? So much so that our first instinct today, is to reach for our phones to take pictures than to split from the maddening crowd? Is this evidence of schadenfreude; our secret, and sometimes not-so-secret ability to derive pleasure from the misfortune of others?
Or, taking all of the above in to consideration and then offering the most common denominator: is this, simply put, a good thing or a bad thing?