In his book, The German Genius (Harper, 2010), Peter Watson sets out a picture of Germany as it was primarily known in the 19th century — not as the land of genocidal racists but as the land of scholars, poets and musicians, the home of Kant, Goethe, Schiller and others almost too many to name. But in trying to rectify the balance, Watson leaves one very important question unanswered: how did the world’s most cultured nation descend into madness? How did a nation of aesthetes turn into a nation of killers?
Watson doesn’t set out to answer that question so it is unfair to accuse him of dodging it. But for me the question remains: How did people of undoubted sensitivity and cultural appreciation, people who wept with emotion while listening to a piano concerto, reconcile that aesthetic part of themselves with the other part which ordered the deaths of children for no crime but to have belonged to a different religion or a different race?
One broad answer to this question is given in a new book called Mistakes were made (but not by me) written by Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson (Harcourt, 2007). One of the points that the authors make is that small ethical deviations can over time add up to an ethical chasm. They illustrate their point using an experiment in which people were given an incentive to cheat. What they report is that over time, the consequences of that ethical deviation multiply so that the cheater and the non-cheater wind up far apart, as if they had slid down different sides of a pyramid. The non-cheaters remain convinced of their rectitude while the cheaters are convinced that there is nothing wrong with bending the law and so they continue to bend or break the law to greater and greater degrees.
I mention all of this because, as Pakistanis, we need to remember that monsters do exist and that they do not necessarily look different from you and me. The English-speaking liberal elite of Pakistan tends to take a look around its immediate environs and concludes that things cannot possibly be so bad as reported because, after all, we live in a country which is heir to ancient cultures of poetry and dance, a country which has fashion shows and rock concerts, McDonald’s and “Coke Studio”.
Let me be clear here: my problem here is not the assumption that fashion shows and rock concerts are good things for Pakistani society. Instead, my point is that we are headed for a stage where even the people who attend fashion shows and rock concerts are becoming increasingly comfortable with the fact that it is okay to kill people either for being non-Muslim or for being the wrong sort of Muslim.
Think I’m wrong? If so, think again. In the last six months alone, we have seen multiple incidents in which people have been killed, in the most brutal of ways, for belonging to the wrong religion or the wrong sect. The one act of terror I have been unable to wipe out from my memory is that of the Balochi Shia pilgrims on their way to Iran. Their bus was stopped at a deserted spot and each of the Shias was then shot at close range and their bodies heaved out of the bus like so many sacks of grain. Of course, we know all of this because one of the murdering bastards used his cellphone to record the massacre and then uploaded the video on YouTube.
And yet, where is the outrage? Despite the many atrocities in the name of religion that this country has suffered, I cannot remember even one instance where the public, Parliament and the media stood united in condemnation for any length of time. All that follows an atrocity is the routine expression of shock and horror — and sometimes not even that. Geo responded to the recent demise of Rajesh Khanna by spending the better part of two days discussing nothing else. There is no channel which has ever provided equivalent coverage — even if spread out over the last two years — to the atrocities against Shias and other groups.
My point here is not to focus on the Shias. After all, the massacre of the Shias in Balochistan is happening along with the widespread persecution and killing of Ahmadis and Christians, the occasional killing of Punjabi settlers in Sindh, the routine beheading of captured army soldiers and the large-scale terrorisation of urban areas through the deployment of suicide bombers. Instead, my point is simpler, that we are losing the capacity for outrage, that we have reached the stage where we skip over headlines about Hazaras being murdered with the comforting thought that it is just another bunch of dead Shias, and that this cannot, and must not, continue.
I do not have answers. What I will say is that hate has gone mainstream in Pakistan. Lest we forget, the PML-N government of Punjab confessed to paying a monthly stipend to the family of Malik Ishaq, the PPP is formally allied with Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F and even the primary political challenger to the current status quo, i.e., the PTI, is happy to go scrounging for votes along with the thugs who make up the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. As for our perennial political overlords in khaki, our history shows them as perhaps the most wilfully blind.
Let me make this as clear. It is not possible to control the politics of hate. Once you start accommodating hatemongers at any level, you have started down a path that ends only in hate, overwhelming the rest of your politics. Our political parties and military geniuses think hate can be used as an occasional stimulant. They are wrong: they too will wind up addicted to hate.
As a Shia, I know that these trends are likely to end badly for me. All I am telling you, dear reader, is that this will end badly for you too.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2012.