Riots in London: A Pakistani perspective
We cannot live our lives in fear, we cannot shut our doors, we cannot leave our homes because there is nowhere to go.
The police sirens blaring outside my window are not just keeping me awake. Like countless others, I sit listening and watching as steps from my doorstep on many doorsteps - London is burning.
Over the weekend, London fell prey to ruthless rioting, looting, burning and violence sparked by a fatal police shooting. What began as a peaceful protest has turned into a devastating catastrophe. I happen to be in one of the many locations that have been targeted by the faceless youths.
Earlier Monday evening, I was held for 20 minutes while I waited for a police escort, unable to reach home in time to break my fast as my area had been cordoned off by blue and white plastic ribbon. This is nothing – elsewhere, people were being evacuated from homes or jumping out of burning buildings.
As I walked home with the female officer, she warned me to be alert and watch out for any large crowd coming towards us; she said that if that does happen, I must do as she asks and run.
I told her not to worry as I’m used to this.
This article is not a comparison by any means.
I’m not weighing up Pakistan’s infrastructure or crisis response to the UK and Scotland Yard.
Just that, here I am once again amongst the masses, amongst the apathetic in another city watching violence unfold. While my heart goes out to this city and country it also goes out to my home.
How can I not be reminded of my beloved Pakistan?
I remember the street I still call home in Karachi. Whenever something kicks off in the city, sure enough my street will be the first to show the signs of distress - the street caught somewhere in between PPP, MQM, Lyari, Civil Hospital, it’s own agony and it’s own desire for freedom. Gunshots, rioting, cars burning, general terror and like every Pakistani I’m no stranger to this except I’m not back home.
Something surreal is happening.
This is London, UK – not Karachi in Pakistan, not the West Bank of Palestine, not Syria, not Libya or Egypt. Did we honestly think that this sort of violence could not happen here?
Facebook statuses pour in; perplexed, angry, scared people begging to know: what is going on?
They ask the larger question: what is going on in our world? Because the same mindless violence that has plagued countless cities and countries across the world has come here and no one really seems to understand why. And therein lies the problem.
Even as I stare in total bewilderment at the pictures of the vandalism, I feel sad and realise that this has something to do with our perilously divided cities, countries and world. These riots in London have made me realize how immune I have become to violence living in Pakistan and how accustomed in general the world has become to such events in our part of the world.
The public response in London reminds you that this violence is not normal. That these events are shocking regardless of where they happen, whether they happen everyday or out of the blue. The official response makes it clear that riots and violence will not be tolerated as part of daily life and there will be accountability in London - thank goodness! Will it inspire the same in other countries?
In London there are means to bring this violence to an end, to find those responsible and give the citizens some sort of justice if not total satisfaction. Over 1,700 police officers have been deployed, arrests are being made and people have been charged. I’m not afraid for London because I know it will heal – eventually. That makes me happy but it is an empty sort of victory when I think of all the countries that will never heal.
My fear for Pakistan and countless other countries grows deeper, a fear that now has roots so deep in our hearts there is no choice but to become accustomed. Not because we want to but because we have to. In Pakistan and so many other countries we have no choice but to inoculate ourselves for the sake of ourselves. We cannot live our lives in fear, we cannot shut our doors, we cannot leave our homes because there is nowhere to go to, there is nowhere to hide and there is no one to implement any security against violence that has been going on for days, months and years.
The sadness and anger I feel is shared by many as I watch my city and country, countless cities and countries torn to shreds by the madness of politicians, armies, mullah’s, ex-pats and civilians.
There can be no retribution in violence – the buildings that burn in London and around the world tonight are a reflection of the disarray that has manifested itself in our societies and hearts.
So the blame lies with our apathy and ignorance towards each other. Yet, we all long for the same thing: for perpetrators to be arrested, for the violators to be held accountable and for the lawlessness and needless dying to finally come to an end. Perhaps all I long for most is the simplest of things, that everyone in Pakistan and the world is able to afford a cup of tea and sleep soundly in their beds knowing that someday things will be fine.
When will the people of Pakistan and the rest of the world, who are truly affected by everything that goes, on sleep soundly again? When will the rest of us wake up and do something about it?