The cockroach anniversary

Published: September 13, 2011

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August 24 went by quietly. No one really cared to celebrate the cockroach anniversary. Compared to September 11, Altaf’s song and dance routine, and Zulfiqar’s Amitabh avatar, the 24th isn’t that important.

Last year on that date, in August, I penned a piece titled “Pakistan’s human cockroaches”, a polemic aimed not at the state, the military or any foreign power, but at the people of Pakistan. I had seen, late at night, the brutal murder of Muneeb and Mughees at the hands of ordinary Pakistanis in Sialkot on YouTube.

For several days, I couldn’t sleep. And that was the day I wrote my first article while I was in a seething rage. It set off a chain reaction, making it one of the most shared articles on social media in Pakistan, getting mentions in The New York Times and the BBC.

The reaction was overwhelmingly negative. For a while, it seemed as if I was public enemy number one. The Express Tribune had a score of articles criticising the piece; Talat Hussain suggested I move to another country.

Given the brouhaha surrounding the article, I sat down this year wondering what I had learnt from the whole episode.

First, I learned that I may never be shocked by brutality again. When I saw the video of the rangers killing Sarfaraz Shah in Karachi, I wasn’t moved. It’s as if all my empathy drained out never to return after the Sialkot murders. I think I have spotted a trend; the dead will almost always be accused of thievery or worse.

Second, I learned that things will keep getting worse. In their anger, readers missed the central point I made in the last paragraph of “Pakistan’s human cockroaches”. I wrote “Truth is, there is only one way to get change, and it’s not hanging the people who killed these boys. It is raising your voice to contradict people who advocate death for others, no matter who they are speaking of.” Later in the article I had suggested that people try it and see just how difficult it is.

By that I meant challenging the cycle of justifying extremism casually, that even ordinary people do. Kill Jews, kill Ahmadis, kill Christians or finding excuses for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and their murderous mission. Just three months later, Salmaan Taseer is killed for trying to raise his voice, and then Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped.

Third, and this is almost superfluous, I learnt how blinkered expatriate Pakistani’s are. Their sense of patriotism seems to emanate from a flight guilt complex. Pakistani Swiss bankers wrote to express their rage, but continued to work in a country where minarets are banned. Patriots who justify the killings in Balochistan, the missing people and silence on other ills find that honour is more important than the life of someone killed extra-judicially.

Fourth, I learned that self reflection remains an elusive dream. Any argument about how bad things are at home, seem to be excused by others who suggest its worse in other countries.

Fifth, I learned that it’s getting harder and harder to express sorrow. In the multitude of excesses that has shocked people since, there is only so many times we can use the prose, “First they came for the Shias… I was silent because I wasn’t a Shia”, or the “Today I am ashamed to be a ….”

Sixth, I learned that Pakistanis who do nothing but defend the indefensible almost always absolve their guilt by pointing to the greatness and the work of Edhi and Imran Khan. Unfortunately, their great work doesn’t absolve other’s sins.

My only regret? Using the word cockroaches; at the time of writing, I did not know of its insidious use in the Rwandan context, something I am sorry for. I would now substitute the errant word with ostriches, who are incorrectly supposed to duck their heads in sand rather than face a problem.

So what did happen this August 24? Ansar Abbasi wrote a plaintive appeal to his country in the wake of the death of his mother, because he believes that his motherland is on its way to its demise if it doesn’t change. The left and right agree, one year on.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (38)

  • Husyn
    Sep 13, 2011 - 8:44PM

    What a fine writer you’re Fasi. Simply admirable. :)


  • Maryam K.
    Sep 13, 2011 - 8:49PM

    Hey Fasi, I hope you’re well. I read all your previous articles and I want to personally apologize to you on behalf of hundreds of people who attacked you for expressing your feelings. When our slimy politicians voice their uneducated and violent views, these same people say nothing because they know they can’t. It’s easy putting in your two cents worth when you’re hiding behind a computer, which many of the people who comment on your articles are.

    I can sympathize because I too have done it before; voiced my reaction without much thought but in the age on the Internet Fasi, you will not find many sympathizers. Many people in Pakistan are unhappy, and they need an outlet. People find it difficult to understand a point of view different from theirs and sadly, we have forgotten to be kind and gentle. We’ve become hard the way a gem stone does, after years and years of exerted pressure.

    I too moved away, a long time ago, and I am glad I did. Today I live in peace. I hope that you will find that peace, along with all the other Pakistanis who are aching for it.


  • Sep 13, 2011 - 9:11PM

    Till the time Pakistan has people like me (i.e. Zaid Hamid) it will never progress.


  • Dr Mishra
    Sep 13, 2011 - 9:15PM

    Sir, I an Indian, watched the Sialkot murders repeatedly till I thought I would go out of my mind. That week I became a Pakistani, united with the parents of the killed brothers in grief.

    Pakistan’s problems are 100 times worse than India’s, and that does bring out the best in Pakistani journalists. The insight shown by Fasi here, and by Hassan Nissar and Cowasjee, Najam Sethi and others would be welcomed on our side of the borders too where sadly, as the Radia tapes disclose, many of our journalists have sold their souls to corporate houses.

    Anna Hazare’s peaceful nationwide agitation really galvanised the Indian people and how I wish someone of that stature could start a nationwide deep cleanse of Pakistani society in a peaceful Gandhian way to rid the country of its deep seated violence which sees it hurtling towards a dark abyss.

    In medicine we say- never change a winning game. We could, in this political context, paraphrase it to- why not follow a winning game? Pakistanis should look across the border and ask a brutal question of themselves and of their leaders- why cant we have a winning game like India ?
    Best wishes, DR MISHRA, UK and IndiaRecommend

  • narayana murthy
    Sep 13, 2011 - 9:58PM

    I read your previous article. It brought tears in my eyes. And believe me, this is the first time (not even when my mother died when I was 16) my eyes were wet out of sadness. Usually my eyes are wet, when I’m inspired.

    Honestly, there’s a lot of hatred towards Indians in Pakistan. Which is totally absurd, senseless and the biggest tragedy of the 20th century. However, I have to tell you that barring a few incidences (like 26/11, when I lose my reasoning), I never wished bad for Pakistan.

    This is something Pakistanis must understand. A majority educated Indians (who have a real power or a real say in this world) have no ill feelings towards Pakistanis. We actually lament how Pakistan has become such a wretched state.

    Just a point that I wanted make over here. Well…


  • narayana murthy
    Sep 13, 2011 - 10:07PM

    One more unrelated (not totally) point.

    Most countries have produced splendid, unbelievable arts mostly during the time of crisis. Case in point – Iran, Nazi germany.

    Perhaps, this is the time for Pakistan to emerge as a leader in the field of art in South Asia.

    I already saw it happening in the movie BOL. A brilliant script (with a plot!!! Kudos) only ruined by its Bollywoodish ending.


  • Sep 13, 2011 - 10:24PM

    To me, what was most memorable about the responses to your “ostrich” piece was this plea by “trahim”:

    But what about the handful of us
    (literally) who are stuck in this god
    forsaken place, scared for our own
    lives when speaking up for Ahmedis,
    Christians, Women, Children and
    against brutality and moral decay as a
    whole? I don’t want to be fenced in
    with these animals. I don’t deserve to
    be. I don’t believe in the self
    righteous religious hypocrisy
    spreading like a disease in every
    segment of the population, educated
    and uneducated. I hate it. I think the
    people who have the opportunity to
    complete 4 years of college in a
    Midwest private college only to return
    and have the audacity to be
    unapologetic about holding unfounded
    beliefs like how Ahmedis are not
    Muslim, or blowing up Jews is an act
    of goodwill, or beating a woman is
    acceptable, are the worst of the lot.
    You are right. Pakistanis are the
    problem. We are sick…I
    know that tomorrow, if I put my name
    on an article condemning the
    inhumanity of the Pakistani peoples
    beliefs, and their states laws I would
    be a target as well. So what do we do
    Fasi. What do we do?

    No one responded to trahim. No one, it seems, is willing to defend him, either in anonymous print or in real life. Yet it seems to me that what Pakistanis can do is to change that by forming societies willing to protect such outspoken folk, even with their lives, and seeing to it that those who threaten them are prosecuted according to law – and if that is not done, then to agitate to remove the prosecutors. It would be a start…


  • narayana murthy
    Sep 13, 2011 - 10:25PM

    @Zaid hamid

    First I thought you were serious.

    Now, i like your way.


  • cockroach
    Sep 13, 2011 - 11:35PM

    Fasi, love u. I am thinking myself as a cockroach.


  • Sep 14, 2011 - 12:05AM

    Its easy to blame our problems on the U.S or even incredibly, somehow India or Israel. But like it or not, the fundamental flaw in Pakistan is that the majority of its population have a radical element and ideologies that justify violence of intensity. I don’t know if its a lack of education, or a slightly violent version of religion they are taught, but things need to change. Every religion and culture has moderates, liberals and extremists but the latter is in minority. Not the case in our homeland, and it kills to realize this. Well written Fasi.


  • mary
    Sep 14, 2011 - 12:14AM

    im sorry fasih, that was typical and uninspiring. ur dragging the point again and taking it on various tangents, also u seem to think the word cockroaches was wrong taken in rwandan context. it was plain wrong, u can speak about ills but u dont have to conflate it with an entire nation being cockroaches. thats how contexts build-prolly in the rwanda case too…keep it objective but not demeaning! rest u are usually a charming writer!Recommend

  • Nadir
    Sep 14, 2011 - 12:40AM

    “My only regret? Using the word cockroaches; at the time of writing, I did not know of its insidious use in the Rwandan context, something I am sorry for. I would now substitute the errant word with ostriches, who are incorrectly supposed to duck their heads in sand rather than face a problem.”

    I’d go with ‘cockroaches’ baray bhai. No apologies required ‘far as I’m concerned.



  • WhatsInAName
    Sep 14, 2011 - 1:40AM

    Honestly speaking and speaking to better our society with a wish to cleanse it from injustices.

    Fasi Zaka’s writings and other articles especially on express tribune, represent another form or category of people.
    We can call them the twitters or facebookers or bloggers. All of them mostly liberal in thinking. Being liberal is not bad, but being liberal to the point of extreme liberalism is evil. More wretched and harmful to the society then the suicide bombers who kill little children.
    Pakistan is caught in between these two extreme cases of suicide bombers. May Allah protect us from both.
    We as Pakistanis should know that this liberal generation with majority on twitter and express tribune, represent only 0.01% of the Pakistanis. You 0.01% Pakistanis are not the voice of Pakistan. One of you can write an article and the others can flood in the comments with their support. Still you do not represent Pakistan.
    While this article has nothing extreme liberal but Fasi’s others articles do. One psuedo-writer that has plagued this 0.01% is Nadeed F. Piracha.
    I know most of you 0.01% people will not agree to this comment. And I hope that you 0.01% realise that you are 0.01% and stop masquerading yourself as the voice of Pakistan.
    You 0.01% have ruled us for decades, you 0.01% fill our bureaucratic setup, you 0.01% are now shouting out aloud on internet.Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2011 - 1:55AM

    Being an expat isn’t always about being blinkered.

    That’s a fleeting generalization and as an expat, I resent it. I suppose you’d be okay with people working in the Middle East? Expat of a Better God?


  • Arindom
    Sep 14, 2011 - 2:18AM

    Sad, for improving the lot of the entire sub-continent, we need to drop the hatred – especially the hatred that Pakistani establishment stokes. I am an Indian and open say I have nothing against Pakistan and have great Pakistani friends abroad. But Pakistanis need to stand up and get rid of the Establishment which is primarily the Pakistani military that has deep interest in keeping fires burning and keep their hold.


  • Ahsan Jahangir
    Sep 14, 2011 - 2:37AM

    I admit we, the Pakistanis have problems that are complex and crucial to solve. Every country has got weaknesses but do you think you article of calling the people of Pakistan cockroaches will do any help? And btw i dont know why but express tribune is full of Indians who are so much worried about Pakistan. May be they don’t know or don’t want to know whats happening in India right now. May be you should watch again your shining India where world’s largest child prostitution markets are present. Stop bieng so keen to see whats happening in Pakistan.Recommend

  • NO
    Sep 14, 2011 - 3:45AM

    Apology Not Accepted !!!
    Roach festival has to continue until Roaches become Human !!


  • Truth Seeker
    Sep 14, 2011 - 6:04AM

    You should not be ashamed of using the word cokroaches for people, because if a person can be called a lion, a fox, a jackal, an owl, a chicken and a vermin; there is nothing wrong in naming a person cockroach.
    Famous Singer Madonna has been proud to claim that,’ I’m a survivor. I’m like a cockroach, you just can’t get rid of me’.
    Twenty nine of 30 cockroach species are nocturnal and run for darkness whenever exposed to light. Humans who hate enlightenment and prefer to live in their darkened environs are not ostriches but cockroaches.


  • narayana murthy
    Sep 14, 2011 - 8:40AM

    @Truth Seeker, very informative article.


  • Shay
    Sep 14, 2011 - 9:25AM

    @Ahsan Jahangir:
    Ahsan, it is people like you who unfortunately can never decipher the true meaning of posts here, adopt a defensive strategy and chuck out unhelpful comments, as above.


  • YB
    Sep 14, 2011 - 10:03AM

    Pakistan should be handed over to intelligent souls and minds like Fasi Zaka and NFP.


  • Hammad
    Sep 14, 2011 - 10:06AM

    I think the core which is really the heart of this article and which i really like in this piece of fasi is that living in a brutal, violent society people over time tend to get used to it and think it as the norm. We should realise it before we too fall as a society into dark ages of such ignorance.


  • sars
    Sep 14, 2011 - 10:21AM

    I think you were right first time around.
    If we want to behave like mindless animals (cockroach may be too gentle to convery the savagery seen in a large proprotion of our society; insects are disgusting but generally not ill intentioned) we should not be afraid to be called what we are behaving like(not neccessarily what we are).

    An ostrich hides it head in the sand to continue to propagate the delusion that all well.Thats what we have become in general, us victims that is.The people doing this to us all are animals of another species, a rabid, blood thirsty (and probably haram) lot.

    Dont worry about what the majority thinks, if we all lived our lives democartically, we would never do anything of any value.


  • Feroz
    Sep 14, 2011 - 10:30AM

    There is nothing wrong if intellectuals have higher expectations from the people that populate that society. It is also very true that no change can be brought about in a country if the majority do want it or lack the will. First, the cult of violence has to be defeated and that cannot be done if the ideologies that underpin it are overlooked, out of convenience.


  • Nurmomad
    Sep 14, 2011 - 11:38AM

    Lucid, flowing, poetic, edged and perfected masonically, but far away from being a solution.

    9% of Pakistan, at max., can read English or access internet/buy ET.

    The nice ideas are circling in the same circle of social circles, mostly Indians (as expressed by comments above, who might sympathize with us or use the opportunities to try to prove their presumed supremacy, at best).

    Revolution seems to be the only answer. But, then, who will bless the cat and will the elitist Army allow such a move by the cockroaches!


  • Gull AJ
    Sep 14, 2011 - 12:28PM

    Love your writing, but one thing in your writing [a very common] perspective, no mention to the brutal killings (videos) in Balochistan and Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, don’t know why?


  • Dure Yasrab
    Sep 14, 2011 - 1:28PM

    Could not agree more, great analysis. And yes, Self Reflection is a difficult task and we all try our level best to run away from it.
    Plausible reason being our innate fear of the self realization that its none other but OURSELVES who are to blame. Thus we prefer sticking to justifying our bitter failures by blaming it all on to Government, state, politicians,the so-called OTHERS and end up making this blame game the cornerstone of our lives and defend it to the death and in the process believe that this is the only way to vindicate ourselves of the vexatious obligations. Sad indeed.


  • Sadia
    Sep 14, 2011 - 1:35PM

    “Being liberal is not bad, but being liberal to the point of extreme liberalism is evil. More wretched and harmful to the society then the suicide bombers who kill little children.”

    How can any human being have the opinion that anything, anything at all can be worse than suicide bombers killing little children! I am furious that such content is allowed on this website. Tribune, please moderate the comments as is the general practic.


  • Umair Savul
    Sep 14, 2011 - 1:41PM

    We lack honesty in everything we do, Why would introspection be any different

    Well written as always


  • Sep 14, 2011 - 3:18PM

    The government, even disregarding its complicity in certain areas, is too busy trying to find some stable ground to build on to knock itself off balance further with extremely controversial issues. I’d say helping to create something stable instead of trying to tear it down every time something happens would be a start.


  • Nim Ra
    Sep 14, 2011 - 6:04PM

    @ Above

    We, Pakistani, now at this point of our country’s situation, are becoming totally ruthless!
    As Fasi said after watching murder of “Sarfarz Shah” he wasn’t moved and so didn’t we,
    The thing is once we see a brutal case of killing people next time we’re as If what is wrong with this media, but we do pray for the happiness and protection of our family, So is the matter with our politicians, they just work for their own betterment people live or die belligerently they just don’t care.


  • Kammi Kameen
    Sep 14, 2011 - 6:57PM

    Fasi Zaka, the 4th point has made all the difference, hasn’t it? ;)


  • Alina Chaudhry (Fake)
    Sep 14, 2011 - 10:02PM

    @ kammi kameen
    I’m still wondering how come your name got “moderated” :-O


  • pmbm
    Sep 15, 2011 - 1:58AM

    what Pakistan needs is not liberal/conservative,leftist/rightist, but honest and truthful people from top to bottom and vice versa. That will solve all its problems.


  • Sep 15, 2011 - 8:41AM

    This article could not have possibly been written by Mr. Fasi Zaka as the byline suggests. I refuse to believe this fib. This could only have been inspired by a Higher Being! Absolutely fantastic but again I will give no credit to Mr. Fasi Zaka who has probably acted only as a medium for conveying it to us. It is time for those who suggested that Mr. Zaka leave Pakistan to pack up and make sure that this time ‘the flotilla’ is attacked and sunk. That would damage the Israelis, relieve us of pseudos who flaunt their ‘intellectualism’ which in fact is non-existent, and most important keep Mr. Zaka with us. God bless!


  • My Stuff
    Sep 15, 2011 - 3:32PM

    You are Right We as a nation are totally in habit of blaming all our shortcomings on to AMERICA and INDIA And me a fool But I am still hopeful.There are many good people among us also and we need to highlight that as well ,not just spark our negativity and sorrow on others.
    the people with knowledge has the responsibility of educating others.


  • Saman
    Sep 20, 2011 - 11:48PM

    Brilliantly written.


  • amy
    Sep 24, 2011 - 10:17PM

    There are worse things a country can go through other than extremism, like an epidemic….

    Dangie- the time bomb, no it’s worse then a bomb. It can be found within the safety of our homes so chill out. As they say when all “hell breaks loose”, or is this our fated punishment by the Al-mighty for being even dumber and dirtier than animals.
    [email protected] ostriches :)


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