Let us just deny it out of existence

Published: March 31, 2012

The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house ajmal.kamal@tribune.com.pk

By striking out ‘Hira’ from ‘Hira Mandi’ in Saadat Hasan Manto’s famous short story “Naya Qanoon”, the editors at the Sindh Textbook Board have joined the prominent literary critics of Urdu for whom Manto’s politics is as intolerable as it is for these worthy gentlemen. This masterful deletion is clearly in line with the state of denial in which we, as citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, are supposed to perpetually live. Our cultural decision-makers have a firm belief in their miraculous power to make troublesome, unpleasant facts disappear just by denying their existence or blacking them out from public discourse.

There are several interesting examples of this attitude. Since we are an Islamic nation, and Islam does not permit promiscuity, there can be no question of the existence of AIDS in our country — hence, no need to conduct a survey to find out if there are any unfortunate people out there who might be urgently needing medical attention and social help.

One striking example of recent times is how the public perception has been moulded about the events that took place in July 2007 in Islamabad — the well known Lal Masjid case. Nobody is supposed to remember how the two sons of a deceased peshimam of the Masjid had considered it their family inheritance and then gone on to illegally occupy huge tracts of Capital Development Authority land — five times its original area — to build a huge complex housing not only the madrasa, but also family residences of the two brothers, of which one had been dismissed by his appointing department from his inherited job. No one is required to recall how the Masjid had been turned into a den of heavily armed criminals during the 18 months before the illegal possession was finally vacated by the army’s Special Services Group commandos. We are expected to forget how armed young men and women belonging to the two madrasas attached to the Masjid created an atmosphere of absolute terror in the neighbourhood surrounding the Masjid — burning and tearing down CD and barbershops and threatening their owners and workers for weeks leading to the notorious siege and operation.

No one should remember how a gang of stick-wielding, burqa-clad female madrasa students had forcibly occupied the nearby children’s library and reading room. Not a word is to be uttered any longer about how another such gang of female students — aided and abetted by their male accomplices carrying firearms — had abducted a female citizen Shamim belonging to the minority Shia sect, brought her to face an illegal, shameful mock-trial in a ‘court’ consisting of sectarian fanatics and forced her to publicly confess to ‘crimes’ that she later denied she had been involved in. The nation’s free media covered the statement forcibly extracted from the helpless woman but — faithfully following the dictates of our national habit of self-censorship — ignored the statement that she made after her release from unlawful detention. (Her abduction was followed by the kidnapping of people from a Chinese healthcare establishment, which put tremendous pressure on the administration to put an end to this religious bigotry and hooliganism.)

No commentator mentions any longer the heavy presence of roguish young men around and on the rooftop of the Masjid — their faces covered with large checkered handkerchiefs and automatic rifles in their raised hands — that the nation watched on TV screens for several days in a row. No one recalls how the self-appointed Ghazi Abdul Rasheed — later declared a shaheed after being killed during the operation — had arrogantly and openly bragged on the electronic media about the presence of as many as 250 would-be suicide bombers inside the Masjid; how he allowed only some female students to escape before the crackdown, while in a cowardly act, kept some others around him as a human shield; how he refused to surrender and tried to blackmail the administration into providing him a ‘safe passage’ and so on. Meanwhile, the memory of his elder brother — the dismissed peshimam of the Masjid — disgracefully escaping through the barricade wearing his wife’s burqa, survives only in the line mulla nasya wich hijab ai of the endlessly naughty, courageous, hard-hitting and popular YouTube song called “Aloo Anday”.

Barring that, what has been allowed to remain in public memory is an entirely distorted version of the whole thing, according to which none of the aforementioned events ever took place. What is supposed to have actually taken place — given the summary marvelously manufactured and repeated ad nauseam by a number of Urdu newspaper columnists and ghairatmand TV anchors — was an unprovoked invasion and killing of hundreds — thousands — of innocent little girls peacefully reciting the holy scripture.

This is a mind-boggling example of how false history is created and standardised just in front of our eyes. Those who strive to keep unpleasant, disturbing facets of past and present reality alive — Manto being a prime example of such precious individuals we have been blessed with — are, therefore, to be dealt with in several ways by their ‘critics’: preventing them from occupying centre stage in the nation’s intellectual discourse; censoring their works to make them ineffective and sanitised; misrepresent them to confuse their readers, etc. In Manto’s case, all these and other tricks have been employed by his detractors for whom his message — both in its form and content — was impossible to tolerate.

The most blatant form of criticism that Manto had to face during his lifetime were the court cases, both under colonial and Pakistani dispensations, in which his stories were found obscene and against public morals. However, he was able to defend himself impressively and produce a luminous list of defence witnesses — Faiz and other progressive writers among them — to demolish the prosecution’s case.

An Urdu critic Muzaffar Ali Syed — not so politically perceptive and clearheaded otherwise — once rightly said that although the charges Manto faced in these court cases were related to obscenity, the real reason for the rage of his detractors was his political viewpoint.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Mirza
    Mar 31, 2012 - 1:59AM

    A great Op Ed and very true. We have to be honest, truthful and transparent if we want to make any progress in true education. Names and slogans are empty words it is the message behind them which counts. Thanks for a moment of self evaluation.

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  • A Pakistani
    Mar 31, 2012 - 2:20AM

    Lal masjid-like operations are the only solution for our mullahs. They only understand one language.

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  • Babloo
    Mar 31, 2012 - 2:21AM

    Sir, From Mughal history, Aurangzeb’s rule, invasions from Arabia, Turkey into the Indian subcontinent, the history of Jinnah and Muslim league before partition, everything has been re-written and a picture drawn as per the imagination. I sometimes wonder, how smoothly and comprehensively is history re-written ( euphemism for falsehoods ).

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  • Haris Chaudhry
    Mar 31, 2012 - 3:26AM

    An absolute masterpiece. Simple, well written and well put.

    You are 100% correct on how quickly history could be re-written.

    Some nations never learn.

    Pls keep writing on topical issues. You writings are very simple and easy to comprehend and yet still a very high degree of articulation.

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  • Faraz
    Mar 31, 2012 - 3:31AM

    Ah!! The mad hatter(s) prance about.. Off with their heads say the generals and the bearded worthies spring to the task… The jesters clap and froth and thus is life down the rabbit hole. Pakistan, that fortress of Islam, that beacon of light, that wonderland of the east.

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  • M I Khan
    Mar 31, 2012 - 4:49AM

    Brilliant as always Ajmal Kamal! Keep it up. It would be a great service if these columns are shaped into a book.

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  • H Chaudhry
    Mar 31, 2012 - 5:21AM

    Very well written and well said article ! Honest is the best policy. Our religion and our prophet have placed a tremendous regard for honesty, yet in Pakistan and most muslim cultures, honest living is hard to find.

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  • Mar 31, 2012 - 7:37AM

    A very well written article exposing a society where hypocritical values have taking deep roots. Basically we are a people in self denial. The best way of not tackling and solving a problem or a crisis is to deny it. For example the killings carried out by terrorists or by professional killers ” Karachi” of our political parties, groups with vested interest and clans is to lay the blame on foreign hand ” Yahood O Hanood. ” To establish this point it is enough to say that a Muslim cannot kill a Muslim. This mantra of our ghairatman brigade and the Patronage of terrorists in the name of Islam if not checked will turn Pakistan into another Somalia or Sudan.Recommend

  • Talat Haque
    Mar 31, 2012 - 9:45AM

    It is a gift to the nation that we have writers like you !

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  • naive
    Mar 31, 2012 - 10:38AM

    A very honest and well articulated article. I hope you are publishing the Urdu version of this article in your quarterly journal.

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  • gouri patwardhan
    Mar 31, 2012 - 10:40AM

    “Barring that, what has been allowed to remain in public memory is an entirely distorted version of the whole thing, according to which none of the aforementioned events ever took place. What is supposed to have actually taken place — given the summary marvelously manufactured and repeated ad nauseam by a number of Urdu newspaper columnists and ghairatmand TV anchors — was an unprovoked invasion and killing of hundreds — thousands — of innocent little girls peacefully reciting the holy scripture.”
    For the benefit of those who don’t know the details of “Lal Masjid’ case, the last part of the above sentence should be ” – was an unprovoked invasion and killing, by Musharraf’s army- of hundreds, thousands of innocent little girls peacefully reciting the holy scripture inside the Lal Masjid compound.”

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  • saleem
    Mar 31, 2012 - 12:40PM

    Constitutionally speaking How can a country be a Republic if it is also called Islamic which denotes it to be bound by a particular religion

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  • Imran Ahsan Mirza
    Mar 31, 2012 - 12:48PM

    I sometimes think who are the Editors of the PTV news too. They must be the ones who write text books for Pakistani children.

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  • wonderer
    Mar 31, 2012 - 12:49PM

    The fact that Pakistan has been living in habitual denial mode besides falsifying history is by now well known, and reluctantly acknowledged by a large section of the educated population. One can see many video/audio files where knowledgeable people like Ayesha Jalal, Najam Sethi, Nazir Naji and many others discuss the subject openly and point out various deliberate falsehoods. The writer of this piece, Mr. Ajmal Kamal, has put in commendable effort to show how the textbooks have been mutilated. People now openly talk about the life and work of Dr. Abdus Salam and the book “Murder of History” by K.K. Aziz. And, it is heartening to see that the song “Aaloo Andey” did not evoke any protest.

    It is now accepted that these things have already done much damage to the Pakistani nation and society, and will cause indeterminable damage in future. In my humble view the time has now come to start thinking about what should be, and can be, done to restrict and then reverse the damage. I hope we shall soon see some articles devoted to that effort.

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  • Mohammad Assad
    Mar 31, 2012 - 2:00PM

    I dont agree with this. Firstly, no one has forgotten why the Laal Masjid was a den of criminals, and secondly because the disagreement is not whether or not action against them should have been taken…the disagreement is on HOW the action was taken.

    For instance why exactly was there even a need to storm the building once one of the Ghazi brothers was apprehended and the other one had agreed to a surrender in a deal brokered by Chaudry Shujat. And similarly why exactly did it take so long for the Musharraf government to do something about the brothers of the laal masjid.

    Same was the case with Akbar Bugti…chaudry shujat got him to agree to most of the government demands, but recklessly Musharraf was advised to ‘teach him a lesson’. And the Bloodshed in Balochistan then ensued. Same was the case with the Laal Masjid. It should have been handled much much better then it was.

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  • Mohammad Assad
    Mar 31, 2012 - 2:09PM

    And before people here start complaining about Mullahs and how they only did not support the lal masjid operation, let me show u this: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=200774\story4-7-2007pg7_17

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  • khurshid
    Mar 31, 2012 - 5:24PM

    Bravo Ajmal Sahab. The manipulation and distortion not just of history but of contemporary events is now an everyday phenomenon in this country. In this particular case the Jihadi mindset cannot afford to have these elements seen in their true light for fear of losing public support for that which, in the final analysis, is a complete violation of all norms of an organized state viz. the freedom for armed groups to exist and exercise their authority in parallel with that of the state. These people are being protected and being lied about because our Lords and Masters continue to perceive them as “assets” in their obsession against India.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 31, 2012 - 8:11PM

    why dont u write a something on our respectfull rullers since the creation of this holy land and why would u write on them then u know where gonna be prison and even get killed by unknown hands what a shame that peoples of our shurfah migrated from other side of the border had used thses innocent god fearing peoples and killed them and called the extremist and terrorist and u guys dont even see how they killed the doughters of nation and why do u care they were not yours right shame on this land.

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  • Irshad Khan
    Mar 31, 2012 - 8:40PM

    A wonderful article based on facts. Lal Masjid seemed to be a very strong base of Taliban in the heart of Islamabad. They were challenging writ of the government. They had established a state within a state. The whole area was badly terrified. So much so that anti-aircraft and machine guns were mounted there. Imam of Kaaba shareef had failed to negotiate with them. Statements of Ch. Shujaat and Ijazul-Haq are, most of the time, not trust-worthy. JI and their strong propaganda wing is always there where-ever there are trouble mongers against the state.

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  • Saif M
    Mar 31, 2012 - 9:00PM

    One of the few good things Gen.Musharraf did was the Lal Masjid operation. But, he took too long to launch the operation. That was his only fault. He should have nipped it in the bud.

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  • kaalchakra
    Mar 31, 2012 - 9:03PM

    “was an unprovoked invasion and killing, by Musharraf’s army- of hundreds, thousands of innocent little girls peacefully reciting the holy scripture inside the Lal Masjid compound.”

    Gouri Patwardhan

    Thanks for keeping the flame of truth alive in Pakistan. You must be the daughter of the great Pakistani legend Achyuth Patwardhan.

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  • @plarkin
    Mar 31, 2012 - 9:06PM

    Bravo! Absolutely spot on. If there’s one good thing–albeit late–that Musharaf did, it was to send in the commandos to clear out that viper’s nest also known as the red mosque. It makes my blood boil to see that awful mullah, who tried to escape dressed as a woman, now hectoring the supreme court. Why is that man not in jail awaiting execution? Why was Pakistan army blood spilled only to see that man still at large, enjoying life and liberty. If the CDA had any sense (and muscle) it would take back all the land illegally stolen by these brothers and demolish the mosque. There are enough mosques serving the capital city; this particular one needs to come down and its inhabitants prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
    @plarkin

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  • Fateh Mohammed
    Mar 31, 2012 - 10:31PM

    Only Musharraf could take the action against these thugs and the role of Chaudhry was simply pathetic and machiavellian and read well in time by the President other wise opportunity would have been lost to punish these religiouly criminals . Surely the action was delayed for all nay entire nation to see what was going on except the terrorist supporters who are still looking for opportunity to subvert this nation of 180 million people . These criminal supporters of Aloo Andey if they have any conscience must hang their head in shame and seek forgiveness from God .

    Mr Kamal overlooked or forgot to mention the name of our brave Col who was genuine martyr in the action . I can not forget the pain and anguish of Col ‘ s widow and other military martyrs .

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 1, 2012 - 12:35AM

    @khalid pathan
    u still think we better than sudan or somalia ?? hahahahahaRecommend

  • Noor
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:27AM

    I must say its a very refreshing article to read. I remember listening to few interviews of those burqa clad women in Lal Masjid before the operations I think they were definitely brain washed they must be told moral stories based on hatred and intolerance. But I do want to ask the author what is the solution to this problem I want to be part of change what can I do or what can we common Pakistanis do in this regard. I am these days reading Manto and I find his work beyond genius. In one of the stories he actually did mention about his court trials and what his opponents said about his work. Not only Manto but his publishers were punished so that he would be discourage. I guess if I never read his work my views would be the same as those of his opponents. It would really help us as a society if we keep an open mind towards things and refrain from adopting views which are constantly bombarded at us from main stream TV.

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  • Dee Cee
    Apr 1, 2012 - 2:54AM

    @saleem: A state can be both Islamic and a republic because republic means “of people.” Republic commonly is used as an antonym to monarchy. Unless, Islam specifically asks for un-elected monarchs (I am completely in the dark), a state can be an Islamic Republic.

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  • Shams ZA
    Apr 22, 2012 - 9:59PM

    Excellent,very well articulated.Do hope fake Anchors and journalists like Hamid Mir,Ayaz Amir,Kamran Shafi,Najam Sethi,MujeeburRehman Shami,Rauf and others who are responsible for falsifying truth specially in the case of Lal Masjid,the Army,Bugti case ,Benazir Murder case and overlooking the massive corruption learn some thing about reporting honestly.
    Pakistan is being destroyed by the falsification f reality. Y these false anchors and journalists.Very soon the people will hold them accountableRecommend

  • Shams ZA
    Apr 22, 2012 - 10:02PM

    Excellent article.truthfully written.

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