Drown in their own blood

Sialkot lynching has also led to reactive and de-contextualised demonisation of the entire Pakistani nation.

Shibil Siddiqi September 02, 2010

Following a traumatic event, it takes time to move from reaction to reflection. The gruesome lynching in Sialkot of brothers Hafiz Mughees, 17, and Muneed Sajjad, 15, has rightly led to an outpouring of condemnation. But it has also led to reactive and de-contextualised demonisation of the entire Pakistani nation.

What allows such incidents to proliferate is the dangerously precarious position Pakistan occupies between tradition and modernity. The trappings of modernity — from the nation state to attendant economic dislocation and social fragmentation — have penetrated Pakistani society enough to cause a breakdown in the structures of traditional social authority. Previously, hierarchical mechanism of social control, such as elders, biraderi networks and tribal ties, were able to exert a form of order, albeit a highly conservative one. This is decreasingly the case, and the power of traditional community leaders is ebbing.

The Pakistani state has been thoroughly incapable of filling this social vacuum with well functioning institutions. In this it has failed in its most basic function: to provide for the security and welfare of its citizens. Pakistan spends so much time obsessing, and obsessively spending on, an externally oriented military security apparatus that it scarcely has the capacity to maintain law and order. Law enforcement in much of Pakistan borders on the non-existent. Moreover, the judicial system, particularly at the lower levels where the majority of citizens are likely to encounter it, is unraveling at the seams. These are the real threats to Pakistan; parasites consuming it from within, not predators stalking it on the outside. The receding authority and legitimacy of both traditional social structures and the state were on display in Sialkot. Members of the community and functionaries of the state — the police officers who idly stood by — were equally impotent in stemming the orgy of violence. A steady brutalisation of Pakistan’s social psyche has occurred in this context. The state and traditional power-brokers have been fully complicit in this process by making a virtue out of violence, and by contributing to intolerance, ethnic and sectarian fissures that spew an unceasing stream of hatred.  Thus Pakistan’s predicament is not that it is too traditional or not modern enough (or vice versa), but rather that it is lost in a twilight of inertia where it is not sufficiently either. This condition was vividly captured by Germaine Tillion on the eve of the violent decolonisation of Algeria, who may well have written that Pakistanis too are “living on the frontiers of two worlds — in the middle of the ford — haunted by the past, fevered with dreams of the future. But it is with their hands empty and their bellies hollow that they are waiting between their phantoms and their fevers.”

The middle of the ford holds only a brutal confusion cannibalising Pakistani society. It is where these two children in Sialkot and too many others like them have drowned in their own blood.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2010.


User | 11 years ago | Reply We are by nature neither saints nor sinners, we are by nature people. That is the triumph and the tragedy of all people, everywhere.The line between good and evil, ventured John Fowles, does not run between people but through them. No nation lacks either angels or demons. We must look upon our reflection without flinching, but should not allow ourselves to be consumed or numbed. If Pakistan is the country of the Sialkot killings, it is also the country of Edhi. Our neighbour to the east produced devout followers of Gandhi who faced beatings and death armed with nothing more than serene convictions, living the creed of ‘turn the other cheek’ better perhaps than any others in modern history. That same country, so well regarded now in the international community, birthed the nightmare in Gujarat, mobs that murdered men and raped women and butchered children with boiling lust, capped by the re-election of the complicit Modi. The difference in people’s actions lies in the context of their lives, not the content of their souls. The latter is immutable; the former we are given to shape.In the gulf between those two poles lies hope.We cannot blind ourselves either to the worst of our nature, nor the best. Like any conscientious Pakistani, I am shamed by the symbol of Sialkot. But I salute, elsewhere, our charity and courage in the face of a torrential calamity, in the midst of a bewildered government. Private relief camps and charities and shelters, fuelled only by the compassion of our people, have sprung up like implausible flowers in the darkness. Even Imran Khan has suspended his political adventures and swivelled back to his true talent after cricket: social service. His organisation Pukar has enjoyed incredible early success, and it is one of many. The context of Sialkot is worse than the crime itself. The true horror is not that the Sialkotians butchered the social contract, wherein we sign away our right to vengeance in exchange for a right to justice. The true horror is that no such contract existed. This is the crucial point that many of us miss in the savage crime, perhaps because few of us have ever been personally placed in a context of justice forever deferred, forever delayed, forever denied.
Aamer | 11 years ago | Reply Excellent article, really unique take.
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