About a week ago, a 20-year-old by the name of Adam Lanza walked into a school in Newtown, Connecticut — a small town a few hours northeast of New York City. In the next 30 minutes, Lanza shot and killed 27 people before finally killing himself. Of those 27 casualties, 20 were children aged between five and 10.
The massacre at Newtown set off a firestorm in the US, with most of the anguish and the anger aimed at America’s notoriously lax gun laws. President Barack Obama announced at the funeral of the victims that he would be pushing for legislative changes to prevent future massacres. And The New Yorker spoke for many when it asked, “What does it take for a society to be sickened by its own behaviour and to change its attitudes?”
By the end of the week, The New Yorker had its answer: the vice-president of the National Rifle Association responded defiantly that the answer to massacres like Newtown was to have more guns not less, because “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.” And pundits had already started scaling back their earlier optimistic predictions that American society would now support limits on guns.
The Newtown massacre and its aftermath are instructive because they show that Pakistan’s pathological society is not unique in its pathology. As I write these words, the newspapers lying crumpled around me all carry banner headlines announcing the demise of Bashir Ahmed Bilour in a suicide attack. Page after page praises his bravery; page after page laments our inability to unite in anger against his killers. Which again begs the question: what will it take to wake us up? What does it take for a society to be sickened by its own behaviour and to change its attitudes?
The honest answer is that I don’t have the faintest clue. About a month ago, a remote controlled bomb was recovered from under the car of famed journalist Hamid Mir. The recovery of the bomb had been preceded by news reports stating that the TTP had decided to strike against journalists like Mr Mir who had condemned the attack on Malala Yousufzai. And after the fortuitous recovery of the bomb, the TTP expressly accepted responsibility, saying that it had wanted to kill Mr Mir because of his criticism of the TTP and its tactics.
Mr Mir’s response to his brush with death was instructive. On the day the TTP took responsibility, he began his show with an oddly defensive monologue in which he denied being an enemy of Islam and hinted broadly that even if the TTP were actually the ones who had carried out the attack, they were only tools being used by others upset by Mr Mir’s efforts in favour of an independent judiciary and the Muslim world.
As I watched Mr Mir’s show and waited for the defiant condemnation of the TTP that never came, I imagined a scene as surreal as the one unfolding in front of me.
Somewhere on a psychiatrist’s couch, a TTP spokesman is holding forth. “Doc, what do we gotta do to be taken seriously? We killed BB; they blamed Musharraf. We shot Malala; they blamed the US. We beheaded an SHO in Peshawar and I thought people would compare us to Grendel; we didn’t even make the front pages! We attacked the Peshawar airport and people worried about tattoos. We killed polio workers and even a Harvard-educated lady senator thought it could have been a conspiracy. I swear the next time this happens, I’m gonna set someone on fire outside the Islamabad Press Club! Maybe that way we’ll finally get some respect.” And then the psychiatrist leans forward and murmurs “Have you considered changing your PR agency? I have a brother who’s got lots of great experience, knows all the right people …”
Back here in the real world, I am still bemused by our national confusion. I was, for example, stunned to learn that the late Bashir Bilour was the brother of Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, our railway minister. Why was I stunned? Because three months ago, Bilour the senior called the Taliban his ‘brothers’ and offered to pay a US$100,000 bounty for whoever would kill the idiot responsible for the blasphemous anti-Islam video. Note, by this time, Bashir Bilour had already survived at least two assassination attempts by the TTP. So, Haji Sahib was referring to his brother’s murderers as his brethren.
Really, how complicated is this? There are people trying to kill us. They have repeatedly announced that they would like to destroy our Constitution, kill the educated ones and subjugate the rest. Since 2007, they have killed more than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers and more than 20,000 civilians. Our options are either to fight back or be killed. But it looks like we would rather be victims.
All I can say then is to count me out of the list of idiots. Despite my Shia heritage, I have no interest in being a martyr. My sentiments instead are those of General George S Patton: “No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making other bastards die for their country.”
Let me add one thing more. These are days whose history is being written in blood. There will come a time though when the blood will stop flowing. And then there will be an accounting. The people of this country will look back and ask why their leaders were so quiet for so long.
That moment of accountability may or may not be in the lifetime of those currently in charge. But even if it happens after those currently in power have passed on, our people will be justified in digging up the bones of their current leaders and hanging them as traitors to this country. The people will have their revenge. And it will not be pretty.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2012.
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