Choosing dishonour and getting war

Published: September 24, 2012
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The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be reached on Twitter @laalshah. The views presented in the article above are not those of his firm

The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be reached on Twitter @laalshah. The views presented in the article above are not those of his firm

During the first few months of World War II, the British Government produced a propaganda poster that said in large type “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON”. Ever since, that particular poster has become an icon, giving rise to many variations (eg, “Keep calm and eat aam”). The one constant factor in all the variations and parodies is the “keep calm” part. This is because nobody doubts that it is the job of a government to tell its people to calm down; nobody, that is, except the buffoons running this country.

Let’s just rewind a bit. A malicious person produced a video deliberately intended to inflame the passions of Muslims. Since the video was truly terrible, nobody noticed it. An Egyptian Islamic channel was so outraged by this lack of outrage that it first dubbed the video into Arabic and then broadcast it. The immediate result of this was an attack on the US consulate in Ben Ghazi, the death of the US ambassador to Libya and an attack on the US embassy in Egypt. We then followed suit with politician after politician, mullah after mullah, anchor after anchor, all jumping aboard the indignation bandwagon.

Faced with this rising tide of anger, the PPP did what the PPP normally does — run away. The prime minister announced that September 21 would be a public holiday to commemorate the love we feel for the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Then, having taken care of all likely complications, the PPP brain trust decided to chill out.

On September 20, the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad was attacked by protesters trying to reach the US embassy. For a few hours, it was touch and go but eventually the police prevailed. In the meantime, the 111 Brigade of the army had been called in but was unable to assist as it was stuck in traffic. No explanation was ever given by the federal government as to why it had failed to anticipate the scale of the protests.

Friday dawned on the deserted streets of major cities in Pakistan as a scene from a zombie movie. Those poor souls unfortunate enough to own businesses on major roads had plastered their offices with banners voicing their support for the protest and against the film as if that would somehow inoculate their property against destruction. Some escaped. But some didn’t.

From the time when Friday prayers ended till when the sun finally went down, television screens filled with scenes of mayhem. By nightfall, five cinemas had been torched in Karachi, multiple CNG and petrol stations had been burnt, petrol bombs had been chucked at the US consulate in Lahore and 19 people were dead. Three of the dead were policemen. One of the three dead policemen had reportedly been stoned to death by an enraged mob.

The entire day, the federal government was conspicuous only by its absence. Oh wait, I’m wrong. The PM addressed a gathering of politicians at the PM Secretariat and asked the Western world to make blasphemy a crime. However, there was no assurance by the government at any point that it would try to protect the lives and property of innocent people. Instead, the only sense of occasion was shown by the dashing Interior Minister who, possibly having confused Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool with Dress Up for Work Day, paraded before the cameras in a particularly fetching shiny silver waistcoat. Politics, of course, abhors a vacuum and hence the airwaves were filled with the hysterical keening of anchors, all of them shocked, absolutely shocked, to see that such a wonderful idea was being marred by violence.

Let me try to pull together the threads of my outrage. There is a difference between a government and an opposition party. The PPP cannot continue to play at being in power as if it was a six-year-old playing with the steering wheel of daddy’s car. Being in power does not only mean the freedom to rape this country’s exchequer. Being in power means the responsibility to exercise executive authority for the benefit of the citizenry.

The single most fundamental function of a government is to protect its citizens so that they live without the fear of violence to them or to their property. By that token, this PPP government is not just a failure but an unmitigated disaster. The federal government didn’t just fail to stop panic amongst the citizenry: it encouraged the panic. Giving people a day off to protest was, simply put, the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire.

Look, no one is trying to defend the video. Even Hillary Clinton has called it “disgusting”. But there isn’t just a fine line between condemning blasphemy and endorsing general chaos, there is a gaping chasm. Every single sentient being knows that it is more important for a government — repeat, a goddamn government — to protect the lives and property of its citizens than to join the ranks of the howling multitudes. It was, therefore, the obligation of the government to have ensured that the protests remained peaceful or at least to have tried its best. And it failed that obligation.

To take but one example, the federal government shut down all mobile communications in the major cities on Friday. This was allegedly done for security reasons. For all I know, this may have been justifiable (though as noted by one NGO, there are better options available). What I do know is that nobody justified it. Nobody addressed the inconvenienced 50 million people and said sorry to them. Nobody pointed out that our enemies are depraved enough to attack other Muslims demonstrating their love for the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Instead, the country was just left to drift.

In the run-up to World War II, the one voice most consistently correct about the dangers of appeasement was that of Winston Churchill. When Chamberlain came back from Munich after having betrayed the Czechs to Hitler, Churchill’s judgment was simple. “You were given the choice between war and dishonour,” he said. “You chose dishonour and you will have war.”

The PPP government had a choice between dishonour and fighting back. It chose dishonour and it was given war. Some things don’t change.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • gp65
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:01PM

    “A malicious person produced a video deliberately intended to inflame the passions of Muslims. Since the video was truly terrible, nobody noticed it. An Egyptian Islamic channel was so outraged by this lack of outrage that it first dubbed the video into Arabic and then broadcast it.”

    Thank you for reminding readers of this very basic fact. In the end offense is not given it is taken. Ignoring the video would have robbed the filmmaker of the power to offend. First the Egyptian channel chose to inflame people. Then after about 4 days lag, it is Pakistani channels who chose to do that and eventually the PPP waved the white flag of surrender as Cyril Almeida puts it so eloquently.

    While Pakistanis are keen to make sure the world understands their hurt, they also need to understand how “the world” feels. It is always possible for 2 sets of people to have a competing set of ideas that differ with each other (Islam vs Hinduism, creationism vs theory of evolution, people that support right to life vs those that support right to choose). Many times one set of ideas does give deep offense to people who believe differently. This does not mean that the person who screams ” I am offended” the loudest and threatens violence gets a veto and the other voice is silenced.

    Recommend

  • Sep 24, 2012 - 11:02PM

    Surely the government has the sacred duty of protecting the lives and properties of their citizen which they failed . But simultaneously all other political parties be it ruling or in opposition too have a duty to maintain their balance and refrain inciting the mob.
    I have my reservation that any lesson is learnt from this incident.

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  • x
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:03PM

    Brilliant, Faisal. Your best article yet. Sensible, straightforward and succint.

    Recommend

  • Just_one_Word
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:06PM

    Brilliant!

    Recommend

  • Khan Jr
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:08PM

    Quite agree with the writer’s comment that in failing to protect its citizens “this PPP government is not just a failure but an unmitigated disaster”.

    However this episode brings to mind May 12 2007, when a tinpot dictator actively encouraged the killing of scores of citizens in Karachi simply to cling onto power. Sadly, for us in Pakistan it is a case of one horrible disaster of a leader being followed by yet another.

    Recommend

  • elementary
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:10PM

    “*Being in power does not only mean the freedom to rape this country’s exchequer. Being in power means the responsibility to exercise executive authority for the benefit of the citizenry”.
    Brilliantly put.

    Recommend

  • sabi
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:22PM

    Author
    It was Bhutto who started first.He was such a short sighted man that he couldn’t neither read mullah nor generals.To achieve some personel benefits he destroyed Pakistan both economically as well as politicaly.
    Regards

    Recommend

  • Bill Maher (LAX)
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:27PM

    @Author, Thanks for the candid description of what happened.

    Let us face it:
    We are
    – either Mullahs
    – or agree with Mullahs
    – or are afraid of Mullahs

    I don’t know if there is 4th category? If there is one, that is probably less than 1%
    ..In a 12 step program, first step is to admit that “I have a problem”
    ..Peace

    Recommend

  • Bill Maher (LAX)
    Sep 24, 2012 - 11:35PM

    Let us face it, by now:
    We are
    – Either Mullahs
    – or agree with Mullahs
    – or ar afraid of them.

    Is there a 4th category? If so, then probably less than 1%.
    ..Peace

    Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Sep 25, 2012 - 12:13AM

    The events of this fateful day were similar to events of Lal Masjid. If PPP government had resisted and killed few protesters in the process, it would have faced the same fate Musharaf had faced after Lal Masjid incident. The media which is blaming PPP for inaction is the same media which turned against Musharaf when he took action against Lal Masjid terrorists. When protesters had agenda to kill and destroy, resisting them means more casualties. PPP played smart and did not fall into media’s trap.

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  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Sep 25, 2012 - 12:23AM

    @ Bill Maher (LAX), and that 1% was Salman Taseer and he is in a grave now. Leave aside PPP, which are bunch of cowards, anyone else spoken for him? Writer?

    Recommend

  • Gary
    Sep 25, 2012 - 1:13AM

    @Bill Maher (LAX): Spending too much time at AA? :-).

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Sep 25, 2012 - 1:15AM

    @Bill Maher (LAX):
    I think you have hit the bull’s eye! This is a fact that we all are part of the problem with little exception. PPP and ANP leaders have taken initiative against the fanatic rightwing and as a result many of their top leaders are killed by these barbarians who are treated as heroes by the rightwing. I still think that in this dark scenario the coalition govt is bad among worse. It is a shame that we do not have more principled and liberal choice. However, in our fanatic environment no progressive or secular party can survive.
    Cheers,
    MirzaRecommend

  • R2D2
    Sep 25, 2012 - 1:33AM

    Extremists could not have done so much to destroy Pakistan if they were in the govt, that they have been able to make this PPP govt do to obtain that objective. I have not seen such a spineless and brainless leaders , whether they are in power or in opposition.

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  • elementary
    Sep 25, 2012 - 1:51AM

    @Mirza: Can I dare to wake you from your slumber?
    Sir last time I checked Bilour was an ANP leader,who has earned himself the distinction of not only devouring the remaining Flesh and bone of our Railways, but also the first amongst the Faithfuls to offer the the Bounty.Beating even the inimitable Iranians!!.
    Our PM( who is from PPP may I remind you ) gave his support for this nationwide protests approving a National Holiday for the purpose and is actually asking for international Blasphemy law!!.What nerve. What imbecility.

    Recommend

  • Logic Europe
    Sep 25, 2012 - 1:56AM

    one thing all Pakistanis are good is to criticise everybody,

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  • Mahakaalchakra
    Sep 25, 2012 - 3:33AM

    @Bill Maher (LAX):

    Bill you purposely missed the most important category.

    Military – Those who can use or scare Mullah. Remember Difa-e-Pakistan full of Mullahs protesting against the NATO supplies for 10 months. Now the military has agreed to allow supplies with security of containers, Mullahs have run away.

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  • Pankaj
    Sep 25, 2012 - 3:45AM

    I will repeat. Brilliant.

    Recommend

  • Visibly Invisible
    Sep 25, 2012 - 4:50AM

    Thank you for writing this

    Recommend

  • Mian Saqib
    Sep 25, 2012 - 7:02AM

    We see only half water in glass ,Pakistan does not mean only three city where this protest is aggressive by a few person.This day is celebrate calm in other 135 district in Pakistan but Media only show one side of this picture.Recommend

  • Chulbul Pandey
    Sep 25, 2012 - 7:21AM

    @Author
    Naqvi ji, I must admit I am in admiration of your patience with the way things are in your country. The not so subtle fact that it might already be too late to try and change things, is probably not hidden from you and yet you have not given up hopes.

    With respect from across the border.

    Recommend

  • Not Hopeful
    Sep 25, 2012 - 8:02AM

    Who needs external enemies when you have Aashiqs like these.

    Recommend

  • Hammad Siddiqui
    Sep 25, 2012 - 9:22AM

    I feel ashamed with people ask me “are you safe in Pakistan?”

    Recommend

  • Toba Alu
    Sep 25, 2012 - 10:09AM

    Your contribution to re-wiring this nation is much appreciated. Unfortunately, those who need to be re-wired are not likely to have access to your analyses/comments. Why not contemplating to start a TV program in Urdu with a broader outreach? Still miss Dawn and ET in English.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Sep 25, 2012 - 11:08AM

    Brilliant.
    I firmly think the Friday incident was politicaly driven and religion was the excuse.

    Recommend

  • Murthy
    Sep 25, 2012 - 11:25AM

    A very good article that has called a spade a spade. I think it is time knowledgeable people got together and did something about preventing the ship that is Pakistan from sinking.

    Recommend

  • Polpot
    Sep 25, 2012 - 2:56PM

    @Murthy: A ship called Titanic
    ++++++++++++++++++++

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  • Hello1
    Sep 25, 2012 - 5:14PM

    The government handling of the whole issue has been very ham fisted.

    According to CBS News, the online video sharing site, YouTube has blocked the clip in Libya and Egypt, citing “the very sensitive situations” there. It also blocked it in India and Indonesia after their governments told YouTube the video broke their laws.

    Don’t we have anti blasphemy laws in Pakistan? Perhaps the legal eagles of the country are too busy cooking up schemes to save their boss’s skin from the Swiss Courts to care about such trivial matter as insult to our Prophet’s (pbuh) honor.

    .

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  • Bill Maher (LAX)
    Sep 25, 2012 - 6:28PM

    @Mahakaalchakra:
    “@Bill Maher (LAX):

    Bill you purposely missed the most important category.

    Military –”

    Your are correct , but that was not intentional. I was thinking of general populous and not of the institutions.

    Others, Confession time: Yes I have spent some time @AA :-)
    ..Hi All, I am Bill and I have a problem :-) I am in the category “I am afraid of Muillahs”.
    ..Peace

    Recommend

  • Raza Khan
    Sep 25, 2012 - 7:32PM

    Unruly “Ashiks”!Recommend

  • Observer
    Sep 26, 2012 - 1:17AM

    @author,

    ” Every single sentient being knows that it is more important for a government — repeat, a goddamn government — to protect the lives and property of its citizens than to join the ranks of the howling multitudes. It was, therefore, the obligation of the government to have ensured that the protests remained peaceful or at least to have tried its best. And it failed that obligation.”

    Well, the government knew very well that it was provocative to declare a holiday in the name of the prophet at a time when there was an orchestrated “outrage manufacturing” in the Muslim world. It was an invitation of the government to the “outrage manufacturing” factories in Pakistan to riot, kill, burn and destroy.

    The author says the government did not manage the protests! How can you manage obvious sanction to riots in an emotionally immature country like Pakistan? Why doesn’t the author point out that it was a bad idea to declare a holiday to sanction violence couched as love for the prophet?

    Recommend

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