Mob violence one after another, the nation is on a repeat; we condemn, we mourn and we move on calming ourselves with a belief that the vast majority of Pakistan isn’t like this, it’s silent and helpless. As convenient a thought it is, perhaps it’s time for a reality check that the imagined silent majority does not exist.
The problem with our intelligentsia is that it’s highly elitist and globalised. We don’t know that our local or our rural have a major disconnect with perceptions and what they feel on the ground. We picture and analyse Pakistan by a sample of who we went to school with, who we work with and who we follow on Facebook and Twitter, an echo chamber of sorts that obfuscate our understanding on the issues. But reality does hit for those who seek.
For one, mob violence, vigilantism and helplessness of the government aren’t new to Pakistan. We got the first hint back in 1953 with the Lahore Riots that killed hundreds of members of a minority community in Lahore. The government and courts did take the action only to find itself so helpless, in the face of the mob, to let the crimes go unpunished.
Fast forward to current times, a year back in Murree while running a training session for National Assembly parliamentarians, we were notified about the large gathering for Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral. On my way back what I witnessed changed my entire perspective on our ‘silent majority’. I saw Qadri’s funeral, perhaps the biggest gathering in Pakistan’s history. Many among the crowd said it was bigger than that of Quaid-e-Azam’s — a subtle reference to the rise and might of the right wing that for long we had ignored as a minority or used for our political interests.
The disturbing part is not that the funeral had over 100,000 people but that when you compare it to Salman Taseer’s funeral or Mashal Khan’s, you are hit with a reality that perhaps we are not the silent majority. After all, how could we be? My entire office staff in the government and the private staff during our candid conversations wholeheartedly celebrated Qadri for his actions. The more I fleshed and talked to people beyond my comfort zone, the more I realised that my opinion was almost negligible in the ocean of religious passion and use of violence.
It made a lot more sense then, as to why nobody took to the streets when a Christian colony was burnt in Lahore, or no rallies were taken out against the persecution of minorities, or for that matter why nobody even in the PPP could stand for Salmaan Taseer. The majority simply didn’t have sympathy. The idea of a compassionate ‘silent majority’ serves only to calm ourselves and to feel that we are not alone so to make it to the next day. The reality is that the majority does indeed support vigilantism and mob behaviour to protect ‘religion’ and doesn’t share the same compassion for all minorities.
The only reason why things haven’t completely fallen out is because the bureaucracy, military and political brass, in essence the small elite, is still mostly secular in nature. That is perhaps why the Islamists in Pakistan have for long been calling for the removal of the unholy and secular leadership, which they see as unable and unwilling to fully implement their version of Islamic ideals in the country. Talk to the right wing and you’ll realise their deep distrust in the government for being discriminated against and persecuted for their beliefs. Vigilantism and mob behaviour, hence, becomes a part of their preaching.
On its part, the government is unable to do much. Neither it could stand its ground back in 1953 nor can it today, for the government itself is a helpless minority when it comes to religious sensitivity. As for us, not only are we silent but also a minority — a silent minority too optimistic yet far removed to be true.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2017.