Uncomfortably numb

Published: July 6, 2010
The writer is a freelance broadcast and  print journalist (george.fulton@tribune.com.pk)

The writer is a freelance broadcast and print journalist (george.fulton@tribune.com.pk)

I hate what I have become. I am no longer able to catch my gaze properly in the bathroom mirror. The man I used to be is not the man I am today. And today I am not the man I wanted to be. I am a coward. Worse. I am an apathetic coward.

The attack on Lahore’s Data Darbar, which left 42 people dead, had no impact on my life. I am ashamed to write this, but it’s the truth. Even when faced with the disturbing images of worshippers recoiling from the impact, I went about my business as if I had just glanced at the latest Ufone ad. No momentary reflection. No mourning for the dead. No fleeting sadness at the senseless loss of life. It was the same when I learnt about the attacks on the Ahmadis, the suicide bombing at the market in Peshawar, the attack on the volleyball match and the countless other attacks that have become a daily part of our lives.

Nor do I believe I am alone in my indifference. You see it on people’s faces — this strange frozen rictus of anaesthetised impassivity. It wasn’t always thus though. In my early days in Pakistan there was a suicide attack on the Hyderi Mosque, situated within the premises of the historic Sindh Madrassatul Islam in Karachi. It was one of the first such attacks. The powerful explosion that day killed 14 worshippers and injured 200. I can still recall the date. It was May 7, 2004. I remember feeling both revulsion and an intense sorrow at the inhumanity of it all. I was working at Geo at the time and seeing the graphic images of the dead, their flesh hanging limply off their bodies, and the blood stained mosque floor made me physically sick. I vomited in the toilets that day. Neither was I alone in my disgust. Colleagues and friends huddled together with fear, worry and sorrow etched on their faces.

Few of us now bother to huddle, to mourn, to care. I can’t recall the day of the Ahmadi attack. The contents of my stomach remained intact the day 42 families lost a loved one — a father, a mother, a son, a daughter — during the attack on Data Darbar. Like soldiers who have fought too many tours of duty, we are numb to human suffering.

As a nation we are collectively suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Accurate statistics are difficult to come by in Pakistan. According to the Global Criteria developed by the WHO, 10 per cent of the world’s population suffers from mental illness. I once asked a psychiatrist how many people he thought were suffering from depression or stress in Pakistan. He felt somewhere between 40-70 per cent of the population. The Karwan-e-Hayat, a leading mental health charity based in Karachi, believes there are a least three million people in Karachi alone with some form of mental health problem. That’s a conservative estimation.

But our indifference, numbness and sheer depression comes from a feeling of helplessness. Our political ‘leaders’ are incompetent, moral cowards. We have the likes of Shahbaz Sharrif claiming that the perpetrators of the attack on the Sufi shrine will never escape. Yet in March this year he asked the Taliban not to attack the Punjab because they shared some similar ideas. This is the same Punjab government whose law minister confessed to giving Rs82 million to the Jamaatud Dawa — a ‘charity’ put on the UN terrorism watchlist after the Mumbai attacks.

Then we have the likes of Imran Khan claiming that if he were prime minister he would eradicate terrorism in 90 days. He also fuelled populist anger by blaming American drone strikes in Fata for the latest suicide attack. This is illogical. Whilst the drone attacks are indefensible and inhumane, what do they have to do with an attack on fellow Pakistanis at a Sufi shrine? This was sheer intolerance by a small population who consider Sufis, Shias and anyone else who doesn’t follow their version of Islam as heretics. Imran bhai, suicide attacks on Sufis and Shias precede drone attacks. Do you still recall May 7, 2004?

With these moral and intellectual weaklings representing us, no wonder we are all uncomfortably numb.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Jul 6, 2010 - 11:25PM

    We have unbelievably short memories. Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jul 6, 2010 - 11:37PM

    Well I am not sure I agree with you completely.

    At the expense of sounding like the same cold indifference you decry and abhore, Pakistani’s have learnt to cope with terrible times. That is not a weakness or something to be ashamed of. It is a strength. As someone said, we must go on with our lives because if we hunker down in our homes and never step out, never go to the bazaar, meet friends, go to restaurants, the club, or just go for a walk — “they” have won.

    The numbness one feels at the horror around us is the body’s defense mechanism. That is the way it copes. Recommend

  • faraz
    Jul 7, 2010 - 12:52AM

    Imran only confuses its young followers by connecting sectarian voilence, Swat insurgency and bombing of schools, barber shops, CD shops etc with drone attacks.Recommend

  • Amaar
    Jul 7, 2010 - 12:54AM

    People like ‘Imran bhai’ are part of the problem rather than part of the solution who contribute to our collective indifference to breeding intolerance within.Recommend

  • Jul 7, 2010 - 2:53AM


    disillusionment, indifference, despair and impotency are a lethal mix….and on the deck of this s.s. absurdistan we sit behind high walls and chatRecommend

  • Jul 7, 2010 - 9:34AM

    Oh! We all are ashamed of acts of terrorism especially intellectual terrorism! Yes, George!Recommend

  • Atiq Rehman
    Jul 7, 2010 - 11:15AM

    While I agree with Meekal that our attitude is our defense mechanism, I find it sad that the state of affairs existed long enough to require us to ‘get used’ to this madness.

    And yes, I do hate that we have become cowards. If we had the guts and the pre-requisite intelligence, we would have been on the streets, in the heat, every day, taking those charged with our responsibility and our policies to task.

    While this may sound ‘undemocratic’, I truly believe that if those in power do not fear accountability by the Lord of the Law, they should be made to fear the public that they put through so much pain. Sadly, they do not fear us because we are apathetic, complacent cowardsRecommend

  • Ifrah Mirza
    Jul 7, 2010 - 1:06PM

    Couldn’t agree more! I remember throwing up after watching such images of a blast in May 2007 in Sadr, Peshawar and going into “some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder” after a cousin of mine passed away in the Marriott blast in September 2008. But now, we as a nation are a bunch of apathetic onlookers. Recommend

  • Adarsh
    Jul 7, 2010 - 1:20PM

    The fact that you are writing this article proves that you are not numb. When you heard the news, you compartmentalised it for later processing. We all do that, it is necessary if we are to function relatively normally. I agree with you that to a large extent we have become desensitized to the violence. People say that life has to go on. We are given examples of the Palestinians, who despite all hardships have to function to the best of their abilities. Whereas the argument is logical in that if we let these terrorists destroy our ability to function, we would be playing into their hands. We must persevere. However, maybe we should let these incidents effect us and stop us in our tracks. Maybe this disruption into our lives might compel us to do something. Life should go on, but not like this.Recommend

  • Z ali
    Jul 7, 2010 - 3:57PM

    i simply ask whats our contribution towards pakistan( i mean we youth)? we can change things if we want but we are looking for Govt.what we are waiting for us.lets join hands and come out and safe pakistan………….. is’t sound good han. yes also . lets sleep again.
    another bomb blast killed 43 oh very bad. what to do lets ignore after day and lets sleep…………. oh another bomblast .lets watch TV oh 2 killed no proble its little number .pata nahi kia ho rah hay. silence again lets back to work. and have rest . ……………
    That what we are………Recommend

  • Sana Jamal
    Jul 7, 2010 - 5:08PM

    Yes, I feel we have become somewhat numb to the bleak scenario around us but fortunately or not, I am not numb yet.Recommend

  • Imran Faris
    Jul 7, 2010 - 5:31PM

    George, you have written very nice thanks for sharingRecommend

  • SalmanZ
    Jul 7, 2010 - 6:05PM

    Totally agreed! No matter what happen we blame America. It is our war and our people are suffering, but still govt wants to play double game and people like Imran Khan blame America. They have been using Taliban for Afghan war and so called Kashmir liberation. They still think they need Taliban as second army. Army and establishment had created this Taliban Monster and now Monster is eating its maker… as usual. We are paying Tax to the Govt. and Govt is giving money to UN banned organization and these organizations will use this money to buy guns and bombs to kill us in our mosques… So Sad. Totally Numb!Recommend

  • Salman Ali
    Jul 7, 2010 - 7:40PM


    You are 100% spot on. As a whole, we have become desensitised to the suffering around us. Each one of us is happy as long as he/she or any one of his/her nar and dear ones is not affected.

    The perpetrators of these attacks will go to hell definitely, but so will we all as will our politicians and everyone who has ever been in the government, either for actively aiding and abbeting these terrorists or for idly turning a blind eye to them.

    With each passing day, I fear, Pakistan may be nothing more than a cameo of a less than a century in world history. It took 27 years to lose half of it. I wonder how much longer the remainder will take.Recommend

  • Taimur
    Jul 8, 2010 - 12:04AM

    George I fully agree with you. We have been turned into an hypocrite nation – condemning the terrorism and at the same time supporting terrorism in some form. It seems there is no law in the country. The organizations get banned and the next day they start working under a different name and nobody has objection on it. Many of us try to find excuses for these killings by giving justification of drone attacks or the American presence in Afghanistan. When the horrible scenes of the suicide attacks are being telecasted, at the same time our tv channels are telecasting musical programmes and the cable network broadcasting cheap punjabi stage shows. We have turned into a senseless nation. Majority think in a way that as long as my home is safe it is ok. This is the time to wake up. This terrorism has reached our markets, schools and hospitals and it is reaching our homes.We have also seen some shameful scenes on television when the members of the ruling party were posing for photographs with the cartons containing blood donation from the President of Pakistan for the injured during the incident at Data Ganj Baksh shrine. Our media also telecasted the anti PPP slogans by Mulim League N workers and anti Nawaz Sharif slogans by the PPP workers at the shrine. What more can one expect from these fake degree holders. They have a limited vision. And also why should they worry as they have more than 80% of the police deputed on their security. Our Punjab government is still in the state of denial and not accepting that we have any terrorist organizations in Punjab. It is playing the same role what MMA government played in Khyber Pashtoonkhawah to strengthen the militant organizations. The so called Islamic laws which were formulated to supress people from certain sects and minorities have become a source of spreading hatred. They provided the basis to suppress few sections of scociety and to protect those who believe in violance. Now the whole nation is suffering. Can anybody tell me how much Islamic have we become after introducing such laws? We rank high among the corrupt nations in the world. There is an atmosphere of injustice, the number of suicides due to poverty is increasing, the poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer, honor and life of the citizens is not secure. Recommend

  • mussarat ahmedzeb swat
    Jul 8, 2010 - 8:49AM

    George I fully agree with you.The woman I used to be is not the woman I am today. I am not a coward BUT i no longer have feelings and it scare,s me.I have witnessed so much in swat that there are no word,s to discribe them.Recommend

  • Sumbul Amin
    Jul 8, 2010 - 10:39AM

    Very nice article!! touched my heart. You are so true,we are so helpless and I don’t know which direction are we going? :(Recommend

  • Ali
    Jul 8, 2010 - 11:04AM

    Spot on!Recommend

  • Zahid - Karachiwala
    Jul 8, 2010 - 12:58PM

    As you sow, So will you reap. Zia ul Haque strengthen them and now his followers, Nawaz Sahrif and company – doing the same. People are time and again electing them. I agree with you “Our political ‘leaders’ are incompetent, moral cowards.”Recommend

  • Mohsin
    Jul 8, 2010 - 4:24PM

    Thanks for writing on this. Atleast some one step up and wrote on the brutal attack at Datadarbar. I remember many blogs were written by different authors against the inhuman act against the Ahmadis,But No one wrote against the attack on the holy sufi shrine.

    I feel that your’s feelings directly coming from yours’ heart, George!! I don’t know why i feel so but i felt it like this. Perhaps feelings of helpless/powerless person!!

    All of us have become apathetic because we care nothing else than the Money…. Every one of us is running behind the money and want to fulfill the own needs only. No one cares what is going on but just to save them-self.
    May almighty rest the souls of those were martyred during the cruel attack on the shrine of data sb whose aim was Peace only!!!Recommend

  • Ibrar
    Jul 8, 2010 - 6:54PM

    I am somewhat impressed by the skill with which the article is written. Moreso with how your political analysis and views are so well intermingled amongst the emotional self assesment.

    As an ignoramus sat thousands of miles away, with very little knowledge and understanding of local Pakistani politics, please permit me to ask a question (or afew):-

    How, after 50 years of (mostly) tolerance and peace amongst Pakistani Muslims of all sects, does this sort of conflict suddenly arise? (Yes there have been differences and the Ahmedi’s/Mirzai and Ismailis have never been accepted by most other sects, but this has for the most part resulted in nothing more than discrimination- not outright killings)

    And should the average Pakistani not blaming the drones, really look to blame the leaders weak pathetic self interest led leadership they have almost always had? or should they be looking at the outside influences such as other nations foriegn policy and communications strategies aimed at Pakistan and Pakistanis?

    Should the average Pakistani be questioning your article as something that is heavily loaded with substance that can potentially create further unstability at home?

    And finally, who is arming the ‘terrorist’? Is it bombs that are doing the killings? or are the views and statements of journalists the actual weapons that are creating suicidal maniacs?

    Please do forgive line of questioning- I am merely a spectator from thousands of miles away with limited understanding searching for knowledge.Recommend

  • Maha
    Jul 8, 2010 - 7:30PM

    We become numb because we don’t know what else to do. We talk trash about our country, play the blame game and just want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. There are those few heroes who do go out and try, even if on grassroots level, to make someone else’s day, and maybe even life, better.

    We can help these local heroes out however we can. Let’s stop talking and start doing. Recommend

  • Immy
    Jul 8, 2010 - 9:59PM

    Very good article indeed, but can’t agree on the whole contents of it…I condemn all the voilence going on..whether against Brailvies, Ahmadies or general public at large.Regarding drone attacks my point of view is quite different from that of the author..per stats available so far…over 1000 innocent people have been killed in drone attacks and the number of terrorists killed in these attacks hardly exceed ten…when you kill one innocent you infact you are producing 10 terrorists who have lost their loved ones…you can’t win a war without the support of the locals….Swat is an execellent example…success of the swat operation was due to reasons…1) operation was conducted by the pakistani army and not the americans drones 2) was fully backed by the locals…..
    The use of weaponary only can never bring a durable solution to this problem..we need to identify the cuases of this curse…at present there are three types of militants are are operating in Pakistan…1)Pakistan+Afghani Talibans, 2)Criminals who are takin advantage of the drab security situation 3) Are those who have lost their loved ones in this war against terrorism and have been forced to join militancy to take revenge therefore are playing in the hands of actual culprits. we need disassociate the third type of dissents from the others, make the realise they are pakistanis, and must be given due respect in the society. Lastly All the operations against militants must be conducted by the pakistani Army and not the by the DDDDRROOONNNNEEEESSS…..WITH WEAPONS YOU CAN WIN A PEICE OF LAND AND NOT THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE……AND WINING A WAR IS ALL ABOUT WINNING THE HEARTS…..Recommend

  • Hasan
    Jul 9, 2010 - 2:08AM

    How, after 50 years of (mostly)
    tolerance and peace amongst Pakistani
    Muslims of all sects, does this sort
    of conflict suddenly arise? (Yes there
    have been differences and the
    Ahmedi’s/Mirzai and Ismailis have
    never been accepted by most other
    sects, but this has for the most part
    resulted in nothing more than
    discrimination- not outright killings)


    Actually Abrar you need to brush up on history. In both 1953 and 1974 there were massive violent movements against Ahmadis killing numerous Ahmadis and destruction of their properties. The 1953 movement actually caused the first Marshall Law in Pakistan thanks to Jamaat Islami and we have not been able to get military establishment off our backs since then. Have a read of the famous official court of enquiry report on 1953 riots by Justice Munir and Justice Kiyani, fascinating read, I can assure. You’ll be amazed how relevant it is even today.

    There were no Drones in 1953 and 9174 so your premise is wrong however we did have fire breathing Mullahs even then. A wise will get the hint from here. Sawat was fine until Mullah Fazlullah came there.Recommend

  • Ibrar
    Jul 9, 2010 - 3:22PM


    Your are right (and also very wrong), I do not need to brush up on history of Pakistan, I need to learn it!
    My knowledge is based on whatever public and media discussions have been had since I was old enough to understand. And perhaps the occassional read of the Daily Jang whilst sat waiting for hair cut in the local hairdresser.

    Living and growing up in Bradford (UK),I have through life shown very little interest in Pakistan, and with no intention of ever moving there to live, have had no reason to. During childhood, my only link to Pakistan was the two pictures my dad had put up in the living room (Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal – oh and also the pic of Minare Pakistan).

    In 2002 I visited Pakistan and met with a colleague working for a NGO in Islamabad. I have never forgotten his words – “the War in Afghanistan is the the begining of the end of Pakistan. Over the next 4-5 years you will also realise why India didnt attack during Kargill, there wasnt a need” (starting to sound like a conspiracy??). He was very much insistent that the destablisation of Pakistan was in the planning long before Kargill.

    The media in the UK over the last 10 years has consistently made Islam and muslims the bogie man (i’m just waiting for some biochemist to discover a new disease which will be given an appropriate islamic root/name – e.g. german measles, yellow fever).

    The media has (given it’s blessings)to the wars in the last 20 years. The war in Iraq was supported by media with front pages that only had three letter words with bold fonts and size 300 i.e. WMD. The media questioned and killed any voice that was raised against its agenda (to cause/create opinions in favour of war and destruction). And now, to create disharmony and disunity in Pakistan in line with an agenda planned long before the war in Afghanistan.

    The above article paints a picture of Pakistani’s killing each other because of religeous difference. I have never seen this side of Pakistan, and certainly not in the last twenty years. I have visited pakistan on 5 occassions (albeit as a tourist) and have never heard the local population discussing religeous difference in a manner that would lead me to believe that the intolerance could lead to these kinds of outbreaks.

    I am a Pakistani by birth, I have no issues with religeous differences as is the case with most religeous scholars i have met. Yes, there is a religeous discussion and debate to be had (as has been happening for 1400 years+). And no i do not accept the Ahmedi/Mirzai version as true Islam, but I wont contemplate killing anyone for it, and nor would anyone I have ever met. I live 300 yards from an Ahmedi mosque in Bradford, which is only a 100 yards from Deobhandi mosque – I have never seen any sign of violence, or difference expressed in action!!!!

    Ahmedi Islam only becomes an issue when the media makes it.
    Here (as i would expect in the rest of the world), religeous intolerence escalates only when the media makes an issue of it!! the rest of the time 99% of the population couldnt care less for such difference.

    Finally, question time again;
    How is it that there has been an increase in the bombing of religeous places in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?? is someone trying to divert attention away from the real issues?
    Is there really a rise in intolerance or is someone busy creating one?? (with the media appropriately reporting and SUPPORTING – so that it does become an issue!!).

    (my apologies to all for the lengthy note)Recommend

  • Ibrar
    Jul 9, 2010 - 5:48PM


    Agree with you on most of what you say. No individual or nation can be changed/taught by stick.

    Only one question “…when you kill one innocent you are creating 10 terrorists” – would those retaliating and seeking revenge for losing loved ones still be classed as terrorists?Recommend

  • Immy
    Jul 10, 2010 - 2:33AM

    Many thanks Ibrar..lets take an example….when somebody in a family does something wrong…my question is how the other members of family reacts to him…do they throw him out of the family forever??? ofcourse not…wat they do, they get angry with him for sometime and then adopts diplomatic ways to bring him home…the very same way these people are from us, just chosen a wrong path due to whatever reason….my request and point of view is that dont elminate(kill) them from the soceity rather bring them in the mainstream….make them realise, yes there was something wrong we did and there is something wrong you are doing,…i know this cant happen in a month or two,,,but thats the only way towards durable peace.Recommend

  • Ibrar
    Jul 11, 2010 - 3:53PM

    There have got to be ways of bringing these people back into society. For that to stand a reasonable chance of success, every criminal should pay thier dues to society and every victim should get the justice that is due to them. It’s only when people are not served thier dues, and there is no system or option to get justice, that people drop out of society and act in manner that is wrong eg a Michael Douglas in ” Falling Down” situation.Recommend

  • Munzir Naqvi
    Jul 15, 2010 - 6:01AM

    Indeed, the attack on Data Darbar in Lahore was tragic and evil, as well as the attacks on the Ahmadis and other people throughout the nation. The fact that you have become immune to it is of no surprise. Immunity is something we are use to in Pakistan. If we were not immune to corruption, we would have stopped it. But this immunity does not make the social evils of our society right.

    However, criticizing Imran Khan on the same level as Shahbaz Sharif, is unmerited, for the reason that he does not have any political position right now. Shahbaz Sharif is a Chief Minister of Punjab who has served in the same capacity in the 1990’s is one of the leaders of a major political party. Imran Khan is not even an MNA. Whether Imran Khan’s stances may be logical or illogical, he is not even a Minister, much less, MNA in the current Parliament. Right now, Imran Khan is a head of a political party with no representation in the Parliament. It is unfair to criticize him or the political party for the terrorism that is happening. It is like criticizing Noam Chomsky on the policies of the United States administration.

    Criticizing and discouraging our emerging leaders who are trying to bring change is not helping the situation but sustaining the current government system. Many people who want to bring change may not be perfect, but at least we should not discourage them away from at least trying to do something. At least Imran Khan has won a world championship, build a major cancer hospital and has developed a university which aspires to be of an international standards, and has a real degree from a prestigious institution that is world famous. We need more people like him to do something and help empower good people to get in to power. Then once they are in power, we can help guide them in Anti-Terror policies. Discouraging our emerging leaders, but most importantly discouraging our youth away from Pakistan Politics is the reason why you have become numb. Recommend

  • Ibrar
    Jul 15, 2010 - 3:41PM

    very much inclined to agree with your closing statement.
    In the current UK climate, such an article published by a Pakistani writer/journalist would have him branded as extremist trying to destabalise society. Might even be accussed of being an intellectual terrorists!! And get locked up for 42 days without charge, whilst someone investigates the possibility.
    @ George:
    question time: (and in serious risk of becomming a conspiracy theorist) Given so many comments above around the potential negative effects of your article on Pakistan and Pakistani society, what would you say to those that might accuse you of being part of the 5th Column and busy destabilising Pakistan rather than helping it towards recovery? Recommend

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