The tragedy in Sialkot has been dissected from every possible angle, the people have come out with an unprecedented outcry for justice and the civil administration has, for once, risen to the occasion and is doing what is expected of it. Although after thoughts will no longer be of any use to Mughees and Muneeb Butt, the brothers who were made pawns in the orgy of violence, these reflections might help to prevent another incident that makes the overwhelming majority of the population ashamed to be Pakistani. While the Sialkot incident does not represent every Pakistani and must be compartmentalised as an act perpetrated by an isolated minority of extremists, we must reflect on the underlying causes that are directing society towards moral decay.
The past decade has brought so much death and destruction that an average Pakistani’s psychological defence mechanism is to become numb in the face of violence. Do terror attacks shock us with the same intensity as they did a few years earlier? How many of us care about the war that wages in our north? Has our response not been a tad bit slow to support the 20 million internally displaced flood victims, compared to the urgency with which we responded to the 2005 earthquake?
It is a sad reality that our children know what a bomb explosion sounds like while the sound of gunfire is something we have long been accustomed to. One needs not visit the war ravaged north for this — terror attacks, targeted killings and public floggings have become part of daily routine. As a nation we are exhibiting signs of immunity to violence. Is the mind’s defence mechanism for survival now morphing into something more sinister? Is the anxiety, anger and anguish that have inflicted the masses propelling society towards becoming a party to violence?
For far too long we have condoned mob mentality. We have cheered mobs for setting government offices on fire, clashing with police forces and setting alleged robbers on fire in Karachi. We have fooled ourselves with the notion that zealots in angry mobs could bring the retribution that governments have been unable to provide. This point can be validated by visiting and reading the comments of scores of people condoning acts of mob violence in Pakistan. The Sialkot incident is a rude awakening and shows that the Frankenstein monster created by the silence of some and the cheering of others is now out to get us all.
The state needs to take an elaborate initiative on sensitising society by embarking on an endeavour that promotes humanism and pluralist traditions and gives space to progressive elements in society. At an individual level, we need to introspect our threshold for tolerance.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2010.
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