In Pakistan, we are very good at feeling outraged. People are outraged at a number of things — angry at one another for being too liberal, too conservative, too violent, too peaceful, too privileged, too narrow-minded, etc. However, one thing Pakistanis seem to agree on unanimously is that anger is a fundamental human right and passing judgments about the actions of others is another crucial one. The tragic shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old women’s rights activist who spoke out courageously and persistently against the Taliban, has again elicited vast quantities of moral outrage.
We are angry for a number of reasons — we are angry because Pakistan is not a safe place for women to live in; we are angry because every time we try to pick ourselves up and believe there is a silver lining, something happens and it is back to square one. For every ladder we climb, there are 10 snakes waiting to push us further back. We suffer from misplaced guilt that turns into anger and finds various outlets: the inability of the state to protect a 14-year-old, who intimidated armed extremists through her words and actions; the ignorance and intolerance in our society and the lack of action against injustice; anything we can get angry at, we do. We attack one another for not doing enough. We are changing our Facebook display and cover photos to pictures of Malala, tweeting about her and reflecting on what is wrong with us and our country. We have virtual moments of silence to show our condemnation for the attack on her, our sorrow and our hopes that she will recover. We are doing everything we can to prove that we are unlike those who shot Malala.
Let us keep in mind that Malala had been writing and protesting for a while. Her struggle started when she was 11. What I find most tragic in this situation is the way many Pakistanis became aware of her existence — not through the work she did, but by the incident of her being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. Were we not interested in her work before it came to this? After all, shouldn’t women’s education be a priority in Pakistan? There are many of us who are afraid to say too much because too much means we might be putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk, and that’s okay. No one should feel obligated to endanger their lives. But when someone does put themselves at risk, our inability to protect them is what appalls me the most.
There are those who have given up all hope and blame other people for the privileges they enjoy, while refusing obstinately to use their own to change anything. I am not trying to mock anyone’s sense of disillusionment or pessimism because I am no one to judge where people might be coming from. However, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth when a person not only mocks those who try to do their small bit, but also insist that trying is no use. Steering Pakistan towards any social progress is a gargantuan task and will obviously be one of the biggest challenges faced by the government and society as a whole. It will require a change in everyone’s mindset; a government alone cannot get into people’s minds and change how they think even if it were to become the epitome of progress and enlightenment.
In our 65-year history, one of the things that has been most difficult for us to do is to find a sense of identity that will unite us in some way — and religion has not been the answer. We have become very good at pointing out what is wrong with us, but somehow have not been able to fix it. The biggest question is, why not? And isn’t it time we started trying to find out?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2012.