Tag Archives: Extremism

Writer’s Block and More

5 Feb

Sometimes, words fail you. Sometimes, you fail them.

They’re clamouring in your head, they’re sticking in your throat; they’re fighting to get out. But you just cant string them together into coherence. Sometimes angry phrases escape. But no fully formed thoughts can be hammered out from the shrieking, sobbing, angry mob of words in my hurting head or heavy heart. 

Dramatic? Sure.

But that’s how I’ve felt since the assassination of Salmaan Taseer.

I am confused and angry. A murderer has been crowned hero and the man he slaughtered is the villain. I am told there is a murder of this ilk proudly walking down every street of Pakistan waiting to slay anyone he, in his own head, accuses, tries and finds guilty of blasphemy.  And then there are the hordes who will not only defend him but shower him with petals. Then there are those who will sit in their plush drawing rooms and say the murder shouldn’t be glorified but the victim was asking for it. There are those who will tell you that Pakistan is now a failed state spiraling into the abyss of religious fanaticism. Some will incite you to take to the streets against the illiterate cleric propagating intolerance and violence. Others will invite you to a candle light vigil or a facebook group for the slain Governor where they will collectively wish that they could swat the mullahs back into their caves with their Prada bags.  The blood lust and hysteria of the masses that cheered the governor’s assassin has me mourning for the flight of reason, tolerance and the rule of law from this country. The small band of people advocating that liberals confront this bloodthirsty mob in the streets has me worried for their sanity.    

I’ve tried to write many times since it happened. But everything I had to say seemed to utterly inadequate that I couldn’t. I havent been able to find the words to express my disappointment with Pakistan. I know the words exist and others have used them eloquently, but I have failed in finding them. Maybe, I don’t want to hear what I really feel and think. Maybe it’s not the words hiding from me but me hiding from the words that will spell out in cold, indelible ink, what Pakistan has become today.

Escapist? Sure.

You have to be one if you want to live in a country where 500 lawyers will sign a petition to defend the murderer but not one lawyer can be found to prosecute him for the crime he has proudly confessed to. When the religious right brings out thousands on the road and civil society responds by sending out thousands of emails (the majority of which involve fighting with each other over semantics and ownership of documents!) you have to escape to another place in your head where those leading the charge against intolerant are not busy being intolerant and dismissive of each other.

I’ve thought about writing some brilliantly eloquent response on one of these email lists but then I’ve never found the words to criticize those who have done much more for this cause in their own way than I ever have. What social contribution do I have to give my words the legitimacy they need when lashing out against those who have come out on the streets when I have stayed at home.

Coward? Sure.

I’m not the only one. There are hordes of us lurking about in the op-ed pages of English dailies. Our pens (or keyboards) churning out clever little eulogies for the country lost, preaching sermons of realism,  hiding our cowardice under the garb of “reality,” or taking refuge behind facebook profiles and pages. Some of us have been to the odd protest or two for a more “tolerant” Pakistan. But it was little more than a Sunday afternoon schmooze with friends and statements to the TV. But that’s all we’ve done.

But what more could we have done in the face of such violent opposition? I don’t know. We can’t bring out thousands onto the streets. We can’t take up arms. But maybe we could have found one lawyer to represent the Taseer family. One man or woman to stand up for the Rule of Law in a country that just experienced a great movement in its name should not have to be such a tough ask.

Sad? Infinitely.


Say No to Conformity

28 Nov

A friend of mine told a famous member of the Islamabadi Chatterati that she disliked the Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan. She thought these laws were unjust and were used to persecute minorities. She was of the opinion that these laws needed to be repealed. He, famous columnist and policy analyst, was of the opinion that since she did not like the laws in the country, she should get on a plane and leave; travel to more liberal shores where such laws do not exist and neither is there popular support for them.

“Get a green card and go,” she was told. Apparently, her criticism of the state and its laws, that enjoy support from the masses, makes her unworthy of being a citizen of Pakistan.  She also wears jeans and speaks in English and this also apparently detracts from her Pakistani-ness and makes her less worthy of holding the hallowed green passport or living on the pious shores of the great Islamic Republic.

Now, said commentator also wears jeans, western garb and hob-nobs quite frequently with the white folk; those dushmans of Islam and those busy in plotting the downfall of the shinning beacon of Islamic light – Pakistan. But, this is not of consequence, because Mr. Chatterati despite all of the afore-mentioned is committed to upholding what the masses of Pakistan believe in and conforming to and promoting “mainstream” and therefore “authentic” Pakistani sentiments. Hence, he is worthy of being a citizen, but furious friend is not.

He believes that all the noise created by the “liberal elite” for the repeal of the laws is out of touch with reality.  And there should be no calls for repeal (those people should leave Pakistan). He agrees with supporting a move towards amending the law to prevent their misuse.

There are a couple of problems with this dangerous call for conformity.

While I agree completely with Sir Chatterati that calls for repeal are unlikely to be met with success and that we should focus on building support to amend the laws, I disagree completely, that those who demand repeal of the laws should be silenced, ridiculed or asked to leave the country. For far too long, liberals in this country have been asked to conform to the mainstream – a mainstream that is not appropriately educated or given access to diversity. People like my friend are forced through coercion, bullying and social exclusion to become like the majority in this country who do not believe in human rights, or free speech or even condemning hate speech. Just because they are a majority does not make them right. And sometimes, instead of the saner fringes being asked to become part of the madding crowd, maybe we should be working towards moving people from the mad mainstream into the saner fringes. Why must the upholders of free speech or tolerance be asked to conform to or put up with the intolerance of others?

The conformist chatterer, in his zeal to save Pakistan, has gotten it all wrong. In order to reduce social conflict, he thinks the way to go is to ask the liberals who believe in things like repealing the Blasphemy laws and the Hudood Ordinance and all those laws that make the average Pakistani (Wait!! Not every Pakistani – just the average Muslim Pakistani) sleep better and remain more Muslim and therefore more Pakistani at night; to shut up or ship out. However, we encourage dialogue with and appeasement of those who have brutally and indiscriminately murdered innocent Pakistani citizens. We call them a reality that is not going away and must be accepted and brought into the mainstream political arena – but those liberals with their high ideals – they are truly dangerous and not worth appeasing or listening to and should just be told to shut up or ship out. I’m appalled – to say the least.

And while these political pundits might have their pulse on what’s current, they seem to totally have forgotten, what has been forced onto the dung heap (it’s really no dust heap!) of Pakistani history. Since 1947, support for conforming to and accepting one idea of citizenship and Pakistani-ness have been seen as the only way for Pakistan survival. It was believed that a country, pulled together but the vision of a few and not glued together by one language, religion or even continuous geographical mass would never survive. The separation of East Pakistan is held up as testimony by those who predicted the downfall of Pakistan. What they fail to acknowledge is that East Pakistan became Bangladesh because we told them to conform to and bow down to the will, wishes and the culture of West Pakistan. Apparently, East Pakistan was not Pakistan enough. Demanding conformity of language and culture and obedience to the policies of one ethnic sect became the reason for the partition of Pakistan in 1971. Had we been more accepting of plurality and embraced it instead of fearing it, we could have been a country brought together by historical circumstance but held together by respect for diversity. 

But clearly, we have not learnt our lesson and we insist on demanding conformity to the mainstream – a fluid concept at best – as the only way to our salvation.

And then when cornered, all liberal chatterers parading in their “mainstream man of the masses garb” resort to the conciliatoryand apologetic argument of “extremism of all kinds is bad for the country and the liberal extremist are just as bad as the religious ones. What they forget is that God has not made all extremists equal; one has a gun, a grenade, a suicide vest and a mission to use them. The other only has lofty ideals.

I wonder which one you would prefer to get rid off?

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