Pakistan, we have a problem.
Actually two. The problem is that we dare not identify the problem. It’s not that we cannot identify it — please note — but that we dare not. It’s right there in our face, carving a fault line in fear and loathing, and yet it shall remain confined to the shadows of social and cultural pretense. It shall not be nudged into the glare of public discourse for fear of the discourse spinning out of control, and it shall not be reconciled with the stated writ of the State for fear that the writ of the State may spin out of control.
How about we singularise this plural problem for simplicity’s sake? So go ahead and ask yourself:
Am I a bigot? Ah! Define bigot, you say. Sure: “A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief or opinion.” Oh ok, you say. This bigot.
Well, are you one? Regardless of your caste, creed, sect or education, are you a bigot in the true sense of the word? Think hard. Look inside you. Feel the hate well up in you like bile. Visualise your deeply ingrained venom sprouting forth and spraying those who do not look like you, speak like you, and think like you. Then ask yourself: am I a bigot?
Because if you are, be happy you are in good company.
Yes you are in good company because bigotry is now a sanctioned social trait; it is an endorsed and approved state of mind; it is a permitted, encouraged and ratified status of belief. Wear it like a badge of honour and strut around like you own this place. Because you know what, you do actually own this place.
And then go ahead and ask yourself:
Am I a racist? Ah! Define racist, you say. Sure: “A person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior, or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” Oh ok, you say. This racist.
Peek inside your heart. Find those dark corners that hide those thoughts you pretend you do not have. Shine the light of rationality in these nook and crannies and peer hard. Do you find a bit of racism staring back? Do you picture yourself looking down upon those who do not look like you, speak like you, and think like you? Then ask yourself: am I a racist?
Now pluralise this singularity across the vastness of this land and sniff the rank odour that radiates from within. That’s the stench of an intolerant society growing fat on a wholesome diet of ‘otherising’ others even though the others may hold the same passport and salute the same flag while living under the Constitutional protection of the same laws.
But who said Constitution was nothing more than a piece of paper?
Is there then a yawning gap between what the Constitution states, what the citizens profess and what the state executes? If this gap does indeed exist, it is here in this gap that bigotry breeds, unencumbered by the shackles of statutory law. It is indeed here that dogmatic narratives find traction without any resistance from the fetters of jurisprudence.
Those well-meaning but slightly naïve Pakistanis who yearn for this gap to narrow and ultimately close have to first acknowledge the harsh reality that the gap is currently widening. The repercussions for us as a society and nation state are rather unsavoury.
Beliefs, as we know, cannot be altered overnight. Neither can they be established within a short period of time. The state is meant to ensure beliefs bind people together, not wrench them apart. Our state has done no such thing because leaders who have piloted the State have opted for the short cut. Yes indeed, short cuts, convenient cuts, expedient cuts that have enabled leaders to skirt around the difficult but necessary task of ensuring that pressure groups do not hold society hostage to their interpretation of a set of beliefs that violate the laid down laws of the land.
The current prime minister is only the latest in a long line of leaders who have pandered to the intolerable intolerance of the intolerants. The more that Imran Khan and his predecessors have ceded space, the more this legion of intolerants has occupied it. Make no mistake, the legion is on the march. These legionnaires now sit on rostrums and podiums, in classrooms and studios, in armoured containers and flagged limousines. Together they are dragging Jinnah’s Pakistan by the hair towards the abyss.
And who dare stop them? Who dare speak for Jinnah’s Pakistan today? Who dare stand up for a Pakistan that is humane, progressive and inclusive? Who dare fight for a Pakistan that embraces its faith and all its citizens regardless of their beliefs; that shelters the weak from the wrath of the strong and protects the marginalized from the fury of the mainstream?
Is there any individual in our political landscape who has the courage and conviction stand up and say he or she will be the voice of Jinnah’s Pakistan? If you are deafened by the shrieking sounds of silence, then know this: no amount of Cabinet decisions and prime ministerial pronouncements about this policy and that policy aimed at this reform and that reform can ever bandage the bleeding we suffer as a result of this gradual drift towards obscurantism. If Imran Khan and his team believe they can make a Naya Pakistan by pandering to intolerance, they are about to have a rude awakening. Except by the time the real horrors of this appeasement manifest themselves in our society, we may all be dead.
Let our children deal with it. It’s their problem.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2018.