Year after year, Pakistan has witnessed a gradual erosion of the state’s authority, deterioration and decay of institutions and fraying of the social and moral fibre of society. We live in a Pakistan where life has become cheaper and expendable, where law is selective and easily manipulated and where bitter realities eclipse any idealistic notions. Often, duplicitous and hypocritical behaviour marks day-to-day actions and interactions in society. Tolerance is on the wane and extremism is thriving.
But the sheer brutality of the mob lynching in Sialkot has unnerved the national conscience and there has been a massive outpouring of grief, outrage and condemnation. And, therefore, I would take an exception to Fasi Zaka’s article (‘Pakistan’s human cockroaches’ — August 24) where in utter bad taste he belittled Pakistanis as ‘cockroaches’. He is right, there is a sickening sense of moral superiority in Pakistanis, but collectively denigrating and insulting the whole nation is unfair. George Fultons’s ‘Don’t be surprised’ (published the next day) went further in his over-the-top characterisation of Pakistanis as ‘brutal’ and ‘savage’. He tried to explain that violence was rooted in the ‘bloody Partition’ but conveniently ignored the factors that resulted in the massacres during those times. Mr Fulton needs to revisit the history books. His characterisation of Maula Jutt movies as representative of Punjabi ethos and psyche ignores the tolerant sufi traditions of the land and erroneously describes the violence of that genre as emblematic and the sole mirror of Punjabi and Pakistani identity. The ordinary public that made Maula Jutt a cinematic success did not approve of vigilante justice but found it cathartic when a poor man on the screen would rebel led against oppressive feudals, politicians and police officials. Injustices that confronted ordinary people every day and the disheartening realisation that the odds are stacked against a poor man pursuing justice found empathy in the minds of those who made Sultan Rahi a star.
And herein lies the problem. Should the people of Pakistan be given the opium of cinematic catharsis or be stereotyped in the most negative of aspects? Should we keep on lamenting about the state of affairs and simply resign? Or should we get our act together and change this miserable status quo in Pakistan? We need to make an effort at the micro and macro level to change for the better no matter how gargantuan it may seem or how naively ambitious it sounds.
The efforts should be to improve society in general, not from top to bottom but collective and individual. The outrage over the Sialkot incident demonstrates that those who view the incident as a grave injustice exist in society. Such voices need to be heard, strengthened and amplified. We also need clarity on why social order collapsed in this particular episode. The culprits should be brought to justice according to the law and in absolute terms. Media and civil society should keep the momentum strong enough to force the government to take tangible, meaningful action.
Had the pieces by Mr Zaka and Mr Fulton been reflective of national soul-searching, one might have given them credit. But the acerbic and demeaning stereotyping and insinuations screaming out of such articles will do nothing to prevent any future batons that hit those young brothers in Sialkot.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2010.
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