In all the narratives written about Pakistanis, the most important descriptor is always missing. Articles have been filed calling us terrorists or traumatised or victims of the Stockholm syndrome. Books have been written about how we are conflicted and confused. Blog posts describe our passion for conspiracy theory and our frightening tendencies towards violence. We are said to love food, love lawn prints and love religious intolerance. We are the bogeymen of the world or the victims of invisible forces all converging towards our eventual destruction. The detail everyone misses though, the crucial bit of information that goes ignored each and every time, is that we are all of this and one thing more: We are brave. Bloody hell we are brave.
We are attacked by terrorists with a regularity that is past frightening and has entered the world of reliable regularity. We are killed by political parties, who, in their desperate and pathetic battles over inches of territory, catch us in their crossfire. We are killed by the military leadership and their hoodlums in the intelligence agencies, who, when confronted by their own incompetence and decadence, would rather torture and murder the truth than confront it. A thousand ways, on every day, someone is out to kill us. Yet we, the average Pakistanis, continue on. There are no armed guards to protect us, no barricades for us to hide behind. We cannot run anywhere, since no one will accept us, and we cannot change our circumstances because the forces that conspire against us have shown no will to change. In every airport, it is our passport that is loathed. In every news story, it is our nationality that is criticised. All because of decisions we never made nor could prevent others from making for us.
Lesser nations crumble in the face of such adversity. They fall apart or pull themselves to pieces. They are invaded or commit collective suicide. Yet, despite all the efforts of the terrorists, the military leadership and our ineffectual political parties to do all these to us at the same time, we persevere. Through bomb blasts and firings and tortured corpses and assassinations, we continue struggling for the fundamental right to live our lives. If we, as a result of all these inhuman pressures, act more than a bit eccentric, even to the point of inflicting self-harm, please forgive us these weaknesses. We tend to be a tad overzealous about religion, have a propensity for outbursts of mob violence and can spin webs of conspiracy fantasies around even a flat tire. These are just coping mechanisms. They offer sources of easy exploitation to religious groups and political parties (the former and latter are more or less the same), but these indulgences are no different from a teenager who takes to cutting himself and smoking too many narcotics when faced with abusive parents. The teen does that because self-harm is the one thing he can control. With no electricity, dissipating gas resources, an army that is beholden to no one, elected leaders who are incapable of anything, terrorist groups that will kill anyone and foreign forces that will go anywhere, we too feel a lack of control. So we turn that need for sadistic authority inwards. We will grow out of it when we have the maturity to see that we have more influence over our lives than we thought. But that time is not now.
Journalist Saleem Shahzad was tortured to death. We can only make educated speculations as to who did it. But he knew death was coming, and despite that he searched for the truth. And even after his passing, that search will continue by so many more. That is the kind of bravery that we Pakistanis are capable of. All others be damned.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2011.