Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Graveyard for Lunatics

DISCLAIMER: This piece was written yesterday, and then languished overnight due to a PTCL outage. It contains emotion and other profanity.

I am rarely at a loss for words. I certainly wasn’t this morning, when I started out on a smarmy skewering of George Fulton’s ‘I’m leaving Pakistan because she’s being mean to me dammit!' piece in the Express Tribune yesterday. I was going to run with his personification of the blessed motherland as a flighty female prone to self-destructive megalomania, I was. I was particularly taken with the bit featuring the Bryan Adams song where Pakistan, the impenetrable, fecund, feminine other, sings to him the lyrics To really love a woman/ To understand her - you gotta know her deep inside/ Hear every thought - see every dream/ N' give her wings - if she wants to fly/ Then when you find yourself lyin' helpless in her arms/ You know you really love a woman...

Then I ran it by another Pyala who, with what is in hindsight admirable self-restraint, politely asked me if I’d bothered turning on the TV or reading the news today. I did both and found out that our Federal Minister for Minorities had been assassinated in Islamabad. And then there I was, open mouthed, shell shocked, silent, on the dreaded Island of Lost Words. In such a situation, what is the value of mere words?

Ironically enough, it is Infinite, according to those behind the latest assassination in Islamabad this morning. I will be happy to issue a retraction should the motives behind this senseless tragedy be conclusively proved to be something mundane, like extortion, or something exculpating to the national conscience, like ‘a hidden hand’, but until then I shall continue to assume that, like the late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti was killed because of the words he uttered.

These words, for which he had been receiving death threats for the past month, had specifically to do with the late minister’s position on our blasphemy law. Mr. Bhatti, representing as he did some of the most disenfranchised citizens of this blighted nation, bravely and ceaselessly kept pointing out the way the law has been misused to harass and oppress his constituents. His essential argument, that a law that leads to injustice more often than it does justice merits reform if not repeal, was in direct opposition to the simplistic, ignorant stance taken by most of the participants in what passes for public discourse on the subject. For this principled stance Mr. Bhatti, like others before him, paid with his life.

Words then, I have to continue to assume, are powerful enough for other people to feel threatened by. Words that carry truth, particularly when they touch upon the misinterpretation of religion, intimidate those whose words don’t. In our history, or rather our collective amnesia, we have often responded to words of truth and beauty with the vituperation, forcing into exile or silencing of those who utter them. But now I have to ask myself a different question, i.e. what is the value of mere words when the other side is using guns?

There was a time when some of us would have leapt at the chance to throw words into this maelstrom, to comment on a senseless tragedy like the one today. As journalists, as commentators, as columnists, it would have been like going to the Promised Land. High profile murder? Check. Law and order issue? Check. Spectre of extremism? Check. Possibility of point scoring against toothless government? Check. Energizing, empowering, emboldening feeling of being part of a struggle that is bigger than one’s self? Check, Check, Check and Check!

That time is long past.

Now, when we sit down at our keyboards, our desks, or take our notebooks in our hands to begin the process of writing another Pakistani’s obituary, another summation of the life of a brother or sister felled by the demon of militant extremism we have allowed to feed on our children, it is not the purposeful elation of a collective struggle we feel but despair. Despair, in someone else’s words, “of the possibility of ever changing the prevailing state of affairs, of ever being redeemed from it..”

Faced with this insidious, creeping bleakness, even the strongest of us might be tempted, fleetingly, to embrace the self-anesthetization, the comfortable numbness, of those who survive by not speaking at all, by not writing at all, by not thinking at all. But we must. We must because there is soft ground beneath us and if we stop, even for a second, to rest or lick our wounds we might sink and be lost.

So today I write this not as a journalist or a commentator or a columnist or a wiseass but as a Pakistani. I write this for those moderate Muslims who no longer wish to think, write or speak into an apparent vacuum so that you know you are not alone. I write this for my Christian, Hindu, Scheduled Caste, Atheist, Agnostic countrymen and women, so that they know that they are not alone. I write this for me, so that I know I am not alone.

I write that I condemn, in the kind of language I would like to hear from our gutless, myopic leaders, the brutal, unjust slaying of a brave, principled man advocating a return to the pluralistic principles on which this country was founded. I write that I condemn those within the political and military establishment who protect the nest of vipers in our midst. I write that I condemn the spineless, self-preserving hedging about of the spineless, self-preserving fuckwits swarming TV and newsprint. I write that I condemn the willful, witless intolerance seemingly decent people practice through their silence during bloodthirsty sermons delivered in mosques and drawing rooms. I write that I condemn those whose reaction to events like this is a diminishing of their personal and political engagement with the world around them rather than an expansion. I write that I condemn every parent, grandparent or caregiver who lets strangers dictate their child’s moral code.

And I write that I take personal issue with every man, woman or adolescent who says ‘but’ when debating whether dissension merits death.


I picked up the papers with trepidation this morning, precisely because I was afraid to read passages like the one below, taken from Dawn’s story about PM Gilani’s ‘new strategy to fight extremism’.

"THREE REMAIN SEATED: But many in the house and the galleries were surprised to see three bearded members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman remaining seated in their chairs when the rest of lawmakers stood up to observe two minutes’ silence for Mr Bhatti.

There was no immediate explanation what motivated the JUI back-benchers, in the absence of their party leader, to violate a parliamentary etiquette, and a directive given by the chair, in agreement with some voices raised in the house, that members stand up to pay a silent tribute to their assassinated colleague."

Here’s a new strategy for you to fight extremism with PM Gilani: name and shame those who will not rise against it.


Deep said...

The 'But' troubles me no end. Not one person on television has been able to condemn the murder of Taseer without the but and as days go by the codemnation is muted but most of the answer is devoted to the 'BUT'.

Shoaib Mir said...

Closed minds are, as a rule, a little too liberal with their "BUT's." And unless these "butts" are tightly shut forever, the jihadi minds are not going to open anytime soon!

TightDhoti said...

Its quite obvious that members of the JUI, and those who think like them, who share the "bilkul acha huwa" attitude, are using religion to feed their own egos and power. As the accumulate power - the more deranged and aggressive they are likely to become. What happened is sadly shocking, and that many are relating this as connected to the Raymond Davis affair, or foreign designs just goes to show how anti-Americanism has taken over our own reality, that assassinated public representatives are just a small part of the big (imagined) picture, when it should be the other way around.

The real test of the government will be, who they will choose to take up his position. If its someone who can stand up to the ideals and value he sets, then more power to them. If the choose to offer the seat to a timid "yes" man, then it will be another shameful capitulation of what is supposed to be a left leaning party.

Also, why is the Army silent? Where is the condemnation or words of solidarity for the victims family? In any other matter the Army doesn’t take a minute to voice is displeasure.

Unknown said...

I took this Katana symbol I use when I first joined a social networking site.

Now I wish was in front of the three members of the JUI-F, Katana in hand, so that I may have used it upon all three of their necks in one blow.

I wish I had been there in parliament and had done it there.

Meera Ghani said...

The 'but' is the bane of our existence.....if people can justify indiscriminate killing and murder of innocent people just because they spoke up or stood for what they believe in the all humanity is lost in this country....and all that there is left to say is RIP Pakistan!

BZ2 said...

Here is my prediction: The shameful attitude by the JUI walas in the parliament will be "tolerated" in the name of "Shaheed Mohtarama ki Mufahamat ki Siyasat". WTF.

I just wish that the top leadership of Zardari-Gillani government demonstrates its willingness to fight extremism by, to start with, attending the funeral of Shabaz Bhatti. (They had avoided this in Taseer's case.) Of course, showing up at his funeral would be a token, but it will give a message. Secondly, they should arrest those who have publicly announced head money and encouraged acts of incitement -- for example, that Peshawar prayer leader who had announced reward for the murder of Asiya Bibi.

@ TightDhoti: 1. I am glad that you used the qualifier of "supposed to be" before describing the PPP as a left-leaning party. However, the present-day PPP is far from what you have described. At best, the present reincarnation of the PPP can be described as a "populist" party. 2. No nitpicking per se, but why do you want the army to issue condemnations?

PS: Excellent post. MSS, you should write more.

Unknown said...

These people are fascists, and we should persecute them as harshly as the Americans persecuted their white supremacist groups. These are Muslim Supremacists, and they have to be stopped.

I hope every member of the Christian community speaks up against these laws, because only if the minorities demand, and fight a bit for freedom, will they get it. Just the way the Shia have against the Sunni genocidairres. Notice that the psycho-Sunnis aren't doing largee scale attacks against the Shia folk. That's because the retalitation would eventually be on the heads of those who ordered the killings. Shia's have been killed, but not targetted in the concerted way they were in the 1990's. So the psycho-Sunnis have rebuilt their orgs stronger than before, but targetted against a much weaker community. These psycho Sunnis are cowards.

Unknown said...

Umair, Hi Tisha here.Please do believe it is darkest before dawn.

ginbhoot said...

darkest before dawn, dear?

oh sure, a horrifying war with India (a real one this time) and the violent dismemberment of a country of 180 million, with the worst violence (just like at Partition) occurring in the most densely populated parts of it...
is that the aakhir-e-shab we should all look forward to? the deep-dark that we'll just *have* to endure (lips pursed, eyes shut) in order to witness the "breaking" of dawn?


dontkillme-iwillnotblaspheme said...

I respect your sentiments. I am a Hindu, that too of a lower caste. It's a double whammy! all i ask is "Dude, where's MY country?"

Theo_Fidel said...

What you are seeing the nature of Pakistani society being expressed.

There is the English speaking elite on top and the Hijab wearing serfs at the bottom. The two never interact or engage each other in any way. There is no social mobility or mechanism to allow the serfs to rise above their station. You are two separate nations and this is odd dissonance is a sign of it. A sign of how primitive your society remains. I wanted to laugh at the comparison with Egyptian society earlier. It is a perfect sign of how blind Pakistanis are to the nature of your society.

When I get the odd chance to talk to Pakistani's I get this strange wringing of hands as though all this happened by itself. There is no taking of responsibility. All are still in denial. You created this, all of you. And you can end this, all of you over the next 30 years. That's how long it will take to inoculate your society with Tolerance, Equality, Women's rights, Separation of Mosque and State, exercising control over your military. These are not easy things and Pakistanis have chosen not to propagate any of these ideas into their society. What do you expect after taking the easy way out.

Get some spine people and liberate the serfs in your kingdom.

Magnum said...

Brilliant bradar, brilliant. Jeetay raho. Powerful stuff. And yes, that Dawn editorial did well to expose those fat JUI fat munafiqs.

Vidyut said...

As someone who follows news on Pakistan's internal unrest regularly, I am alarmed to find that the space is shrinking so rapidly. It seems like it was only a couple of years ago when there was still a pretense at least, if not more of civilization.

And then, it all just seems to have exploded. If you look up news on various countries, you usually have a mix of stuff on the first page - business, human rights, laws, sports, terrorism.... for Pakistan, cricket is possibly the only thing that breaks into the walls of endless stories of social unrest and dissent or political posturing about it. the rest all appear briefly and flicker out faster like someone entering the wrong room.

This post fills me with sorrow. Somewhere inside, I feel a kinship with Pakistan, like the filmi twins separated at birth. I feel outrage at this hijacking of all sane social discourse for religious extremism. It is the people paying the price.

When there is hate, the person hating suffers more than the hated, who lives in blissful ignorance for most time. In hating India, west, US, minorities, Ahmedis, Shias, this, that and the other... they have suffered, sure, but the biggest suffering was to Pakistan in its awareness itself being poisoned by thoughts of unreasoning hate.

I want to invite the Pakistanis to see that India, US or indeed any other country hasn't invaded Pakistan. Indeed, not even after their actions in Bangladesh, Kashmir, Afghanistan. Perhaps its time to stop being so worried about enemies. Perhaps its time to let go of hate and intolerance.

No one can sit with a list of injustices to be avenged. It doesn't work that way. The list never ends, and new injustices are created.

Anonymous said...

I am an Indian. I read this peace end to end hoping I will find the one thing I haven't yet heard a Pakistani Muslim demand, and that is an unequivocal and unconditional repeal of the anti-blasphemy law. Until I see that, I cannot believe that even these words, however strong they may appear on the surface, have any real meaning or strength behind them.

Rational Discourse said...

Sarcastically, those who command respect for their religion from others through violent acts and a criminal repertoire themselves do exactly the opposite to people of other faiths. In doing so, they do not give much reason to the non believers to honour the belief system which has been enveloped with a thick blanket of terror, intolerance and violence.

Brahamvakya said...

I don't know how to react to this pussyfooting of the Politicians on such ghastly crimes. Why the 'all powerful' army is silent? What will warrant a bigger threat to the existence of Pakistan other than the decimation of morality and humanism completely?

Or they want to blame Israel, India or USA for this too? I am shell shocked. Any voice that holds views contrary to the mullahs/Army is getting silenced by murder. When will this stop? who will decide who is 'Pure' in this pureland? My fear is with 18 million Guns in private hands they are going to decide the purest and kill the rest.

Army is heavily compromised for the islamification that started with Zia and then nurtured as a bulwark against 'kaffir' India with false sense of martial puke, "One true believer is equal to 10 hindus".

The bulk of Soldiers and troops come from the lower strata of population, fed on this zeal, they are wanting a purer and true state and Officer corp just can't move against mullahs as there shall be mutiny in the ranks.

It is sad to see, fellow erstwhile indians, shunning history, Race and language binds to go for the artificial construct of 'Arabic' and focussing one religion out of the 4 core variables of Nation/Civilisation state.

Guys please respect and love the land that fed your forefathers and will do so to your children too.

Anonymous said...

If we tolerate this, our children will be next.

Everytime I read such news, this song comes back to haunt me.. Never before has it haunted me like this ..
Never before

The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
So if I can shoot rabbits
Then I can shoot fascists

Bullets for your brain today
But we'll forget it all again
Monuments put from pen to paper
Turns me into a gutless wonder

And if you tolerate this
Then your children will be next

realist said...

i don't think this post makes a difference either. get used to it pyala

Anonymous said...

I am curious whether Pakistanis think there were no Salmaan Taseers and Shahbaz Bhattis among the thousands of Afghans and Kashmiris killed in the last 30 years by Pakistanis - that Pak liberals are so devastated by two deaths today and now?

The loss and despair you feel today, caused by gun and bomb wielding Pakistanis, Indians began feeling years ago.

The remedy for Indians' loss and despair was then too in Pakistani hands(namely crack down on extremist groups carrying out indiscriminate killings), but because Indians were at the receiving end, Pak liberals and their Western counterparts preferred to lecture us on our evils and tell us such killings were our own fault.

What do you want the same Indians to do or say or feel for you now?


Anonymous said...

If Spielberg ever made a film about Indian trolls on Pakistani blogs he could call it 'IT, GO HOME'.

(just to clarify, this is aimed at people like the one above, not the many others who are able to respond as one human being to another)

Anonymous said...

Yeah Pak liberals think they are special people even the matter of death, what's new about that for anyone else in the region?


Mobeen said...

It doesn't matter if JUI members remained seated. Afterall they have been allies of the great liberal and secular party PPP.

Taimur said...

thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

Your piece is good. This is what I wrote in my yesterday's comment which never appeared. Yes, I know about *that* glitch.

Urooj Zia's piece in Himal [ ] is also very good. She writes just like you.

vikas ranjan said...

Well BB agreed to fund the fundos for India operations leading to complete eradication of Hindus from Kashmir valley, PMLN made budgetary provisions for JUD and gave joy rides to the LeJ honcho in a ministerial vehicle, Senate as a whole refused 'fatiha' for Taseer and NA failed to pass a resolution condemning the Bhatti killing. So when it comes to naming and shaming you have my vote to go the whole hog. For this war has no half measures.

Anonymous said...

actually I believe the george piece was written before Bhattis assasination said...

This article has captured my feelings on the matter to a T. So thank you for that.

Unknown said...

Note to interested Indians:

The military establishment sometimes uses religious maniacs to attack Pakistanis working for democracy. It then uses the Jamat-e-Islami and the JUI to justify these murders or attempted murders. Kids, adolescents and youth brought into politics by religious maniacs or Jamatis, realise upon growing up that the Jamat way is no real way to run a society or a country. Upon realising this they promptly jump to the PML-N or the MQM. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

As hard as it sounds, everyone will have to talk to the PML-N, seriously and with concern, about their past, and sometimes present "friends" and how they have to be dealt with. This is the only way forward. That is because the PML-N represents a legitimately massive section of Punjab's society. They will have to be spoken to with concern, care and understanding, but a firmness nonetheless, that things this way cannot continue. It will have to be emphasised to them that it is their sons who as security guards, policemen and soldiers (considering the deep connections many members of the PML-N have with the military, politically, economically and familialy) who have died, and will die, if these sectarian and religious fanatics are not dealt with. The PPP cannot make such momentous decisions until the PML-N is moved on this matter. It, along with everyone else has to push them on this.

Unknown said...

The above also applies to Pakistanis. Blaming Gillani and Zardari for their lack of leadership is transparent leadership is difficult when their seat count is about 37% whilst the PML-N has about 26% of the seats, and the next party, with 14%is the centre right, to far right lota confederacy of the PML-Q. With only 37% and not much power, unless we had someone who could use the bully pulpit, and those type of progressive leaders are murdered fast in Pakistan, you do not have anyone who can combat one of Pakistan's deepest prejudices. So you have to go about this in more indirect ways, of pressuring the PML-N. Certainly ask for Rehman Malik's resgnation, but please inform the PML-N of their disgusting tolerance for hatred. And please do not forget that our military uses religious fanatics to keep democratic governments down. Their silence on two murders speaks volumes. Volumes that they screamed multiple times through media proxies demanding these governments be brough down whilst remaining mum on the extension an ISI chief is about to be granted.

Please push on the powerful pressure points. Not on the weak ones like these bullies have been doing.

Sakib Ahmad said...


You have hit the nail on the head. A primary reason for the existence of two Pakistans is the "Berlin Wall" of English (George Fulton's phrase). You might care to read the following two articles:
[please treat the comments thereon as an integral part of the article - you may leave your own comments]