In Pakistan, we are trained to play the blame game: Zardari, Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif; India, ISI; the US Army, Israel. We point fingers and say we have been wronged. Conspiracy theories prevail. On August 15 in Sialkot, we had no one to blame but ourselves. Our silence is a microcosm of our ineptitude and unwillingness to habituate change in the country, at both the micro and macro level. Dangerously resigned to the incompetence of the government and the judiciary, our desperation has caused to lash out on each other. Despite everything Pakistan has gone through in the last 10 years (in a post 9-11 world) — the corruption scandals and assassinations, the drone attacks and suicide bombs, the refugee crises and earthquakes, I have always stood by my country, my home. But today, after nine years of emotional testimony, the defense rests. I have no bold words and no excuses.
Our country is falling apart; every day it loses a piece of itself, amidst floods, bombs, threats to our very existence as a nation. Yet these threats have become a way of life for us, mere obstacles for an emboldened Pakistani spirit. We continue to radiate with pride. We market Pakistan's great promises, its foundation of enlightened religious philosophy and democracy. We are the ultimate warriors, always ready to weather the storm. But because one Pakistani stood by and watched this brutality occur, we are all to blame. The warrior is not as strong as we thought he was. How did a country that taught me my most important values stand by silently, unflinching and resolute? I am enraged by our inability to speak out when it mattered most.
I cannot tell the family of Mughees and Muneeb Butt that we lost ourselves as a nation, that we bow down to a God five times a day, but can just as easily take away two lives that he brought into this world in a flash of mob delirium. We are armed with harsh criticism for the US, for their capitalist appetite and insatiable desire to take over the Muslim world. But if such a thing happened in the US, not a single person would stand by and watch. I say this with the utmost conviction. Yet, we move on with our lives. We watch the news, pause for a moment of grief, and carry on.
The flogging of a woman broadcast all over YouTube in early 2009 steered us towards the tumour of radical Islam growing rampant in the bowels of our nation. We shouted for freedom. We would not stand by and watch our country fall into the hands of terrorists. “They are not Pakistani,” we told the rest of the world, “We don’t stand for this.” Today, in New York, we are embroiled in a bigger debate. We fight for a Muslim community centre, one that preaches interfaith dialogue and the prosperity of a peaceful Islam. “Let there be an emblem of moderation; let this be a symbol of the real Islam,” we shout. We beg the world to give us room to redefine ourselves, to erase the memory of the Islam the world saw on September 11. But I have one question for you, Pakistan: What kind of Islam did you represent in Sialkot? Whose badge were you wearing, half-starved, as the country drowned in the month of Ramazan? And what do you say in your prayers to God when you watched two teenage boys hanging upside by their feet, strung like animals?
I have never felt more broken then I did watching the camera footage on my laptop. Submerged in monsoon rains, scarred from corruption, hungry and starved, we took more lives instead of preserving them. There is no deeper bottom to hit; this episode threatens anarchy of history book proportions. On August 15, one day after thousands gave up their lives for the independence of this very country, I was ashamed to call myself a Pakistani. I was ashamed because in that one minute clip, I lost my strongest weapon — the hope that our shared human experiences could continue to bind us together as a nation.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2010.
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