“Look look! There’s a dog with the American flag!” The dog is soon shown up by the donkey made to look like the US president, clad in a t-shirt with an artfully placed half-full bottle of whiskey around its neck.
At Numaish, the scene from the top of a building is a breathtaking sea of men. They all know what they’re supposed to be railing against, but they don’t know where they’re going.
“US Consulate,” said one.
“Tower,” said the Jaish-e-Mohammad protesters.
“Tibet Centre,” cried a Jamaatud Dawa supporter.
Standing on top a low deserted building around Numaish, about a dozen Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat workers are surveying the scene after having shimmied up the wall using a broken crate for support.
“Get off that building!” shouted a man on the ground to them. “Don’t you know the Kalima is written on the wall?! Tell the other men to get off too.”
The protesters shrugged it off. Blasphemy, for them, is the video on YouTube that they can no longer access, and could not have told anyone about on a cell phone as they didn’t work for most of Friday.
It was certainly an unusual day with most of the people in Karachi feeling a bit unhinged because their cell phones didn’t ring or beep. There was no halwa puri in the morning. An Espresso delivery guy said he got hit in the head with a rock. The folks using World Call said they could watch Star Movies.
At about 3pm, after prayers, the roads to Numaish began filling up with protesters. An Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ) truck headed from Baloch Colony road bursting at the seams with activists. It was so overloaded that one rather heavyset man could only find a seat on the bonnet.
“Where are you from?”
“Jaish-e-Mohammad,” say two separate groups on motorcycles, referring to the banned militant group led by Masood Azhar. “We came from Korangi, about a hundred, 150 of us. Our local ameer is up ahead!”
The road leading to Shahrae Faisal turned into a carnival. Everyone had turned up, the ASWJ, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD). Even the Muttahida Qaumi Movement joined in. There was a tense moment when the MQM buses rolled in. After a scrap of hesitation, they were allowed to pass. One truck was blaring a lyrical ode to religion. Everyone brandished sticks.
“I don’t belong to any group!” declared a man standing by a burning effigy at Numaish, as he held a Jamaatud Dawa flag. When asked about the flag, he replied, “No, no, I don’t know whose flag this is. It has the Kalima on it and we are all united under this.”
Two protesters – a middle-aged man and an adolescent – were in the crowd.
“Which party are you from?”
“Jamaat-e-Islami,” replied the man.
“MQM,” said the child.
The clothes on the effigy burn down, leaving a wooden carcass, which looks like a cross. A man holds the ‘cross’ to the fire, not realising that burning a cross could be considered an act of blasphemy akin to the one he is there to protest.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.