Blind to our blindness

Published: November 26, 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

We are told from childhood onwards that all will be well, that everything always works out for the best. It doesn’t. Bad things happen and sometimes never get fixed. Lives get destroyed and never get restored. Nations fall apart and are scattered to the winds.

This column starts on a pessimistic note because I look around and I see a country bent upon committing suicide. We are under attack. Barely a day goes by without Pakistanis getting killed through terrible acts of violence. And yet, the will to fight back is missing.

As I write these words on Ashura (Sunday, November 25), word has come in that earlier today, three people were killed in a blast targeting a Muharram procession in Dera Ismail Khan. This follows the 10 people killed in DI Khan a day earlier, the abortive suicide attack on an Imam Bargah in Lakki Marwat on Friday, the 37 people killed via multiple attacks in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Quetta on Thursday, and the three people killed in Karachi’s Orangi Town a week ago. But for the heroism of the Karachi police, which successfully defused two bombs, and the equally valiant Peshawar police, which managed not only to defuse a bomb but also to thwart a suicide bombing, Pakistan would probably have lost more than a hundred citizens this past week.

My point is very simple: the killing of Shias is neither an aberration nor unprecedented. It is the direct and intended outcome of a campaign by people who also call themselves Muslims, not a malign conspiracy by the West, the Jews, the Indians or aliens from outer space.

Yes, it is true that we have enemies and that those enemies may be exploiting our divisions. But even if that is the case, the fundamental flaw remains ours. More importantly, getting rid of our enemies will not get rid of our internal hatreds: we are the only ones who can heal our wounds.

The clearest precedent for what is happening in Pakistan today is what happened in Iraq. After the US invaded and destroyed the political infrastructure of that country, multiple fundamentalist groups sought to take over Iraq. Al Qaeda’s man on the ground was Abu Musab al Zarqawi and he deliberately sought both to attack the Americans and to marginalise the Shias.

Between 2003 and 2006, al Zarqawi was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Shias. The attacks on Shias included the car bombings on shrines in March 2004 which killed 180 people and the attacks on the city of Najaf in December 2004 (which killed 60). Despite all the killings, Zarqawi failed in his quest to destroy the Shias of Iraq. He failed, in fact, because the killings backfired. Sickened by the carnage, the tribal leaders of Sunni Iraqis came together, first in the province of Anbar and then across Iraq to reject sectarian violence and embrace peace.

As I look around Pakistan today, I see no signs of an equivalent realisation or even an equivalent moment of national revulsion. The majority of this country does not believe itself to be under threat as yet. For them, all violence is either inexplicable (“How could anyone do something like this?”) or the result of a foreign hand.

The truth is that terrorism against Shias in Pakistan is neither inexplicable nor imported. The people who are killing Shias are not hiding their lights behind a bushel; they are proclaiming their deeds through every means possible. Why then do we refuse to face up to this fact?

Part of the answer comes to us from a famous psychology experiment carried out by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. In the experiment, a group of volunteers were told to watch a five-minute video of a basketball game and asked to count the number of passes made by one team. Midway through the video, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit enters the court and jumps up and down before exiting.

One would expect the entry of a gorilla into a basketball game to be observed by just about everyone. But in actual fact, half the volunteers never saw the gorilla because they were too busy counting passes. In his book, Kahneman summarises the conclusion of the experiment as follows: “We are blind to the obvious. And we are blind to our blindness.”

I don’t have a full answer as to why Pakistan’s decision-makers refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are at war with ourselves. Part of the answer is that like the people counting basketball passes, they are too busy plotting their next move into the corridors of power to notice the consequences of their actions. They assume instead that things will always go on as before, and that we will somehow muddle through.

Which in turn brings me to where we started from: things don’t always work out. I know the old saying that there is a lot of ruin in a nation but in all seriousness, how much ruin is left in us? It is anybody’s guess today as to whether we will run out of ruin and collapse or avoid that fate by mustering the collective strength to reject sectarian hatred.

I want to end this column with a tribute to Ardeshir Cowasjee. I have narrated this anecdote before so bear with me if you’ve already heard it.

Many years ago, Ardeshir wrote a column in which he accused judges of being corrupt. The Supreme Court of that era was roused to fury and promptly issued a contempt notice. However, when Ardeshir appeared, he refused to be cowed down and pleaded truth as a defence. The matter was then promptly adjourned.

A few years later, Ardeshir bumped into one of the judges involved at a human rights function. The judge, now forcibly retired by Musharraf, made the mistake of saying, “Cowasjee Sahib, aap humaray say bach gaye.” Cowasjee’s response was instant and legendary: “Saala, tum jaisa @#&$@ bohut dekha hai hum nay.”

Pakistan has always been short of people willing to speak truth to power. With Ardeshir gone, there is now one less. Saala, tum jaisa bohut kum dekha hai hum nay.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (40)

  • Toticalling
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:18PM

    I think we all know that the country is in a mess. Whereas the politicians and the establishment are at each others throats, the religious obsessed are showing us to kill innocent people and scaring those ones with courage to stand up.
    An Indian friend sent me this today:

    from : Pakistan Zindabad

    to : Pakistan Se Zinda Bhag !

    Written Behind a Rickshaw ……..

    JIYO TO KAISE JIYO?
    Pant shirt pehno to Moulvi nahi chhorega,
    Salwar qameez pehno to MQM nahi chhorega,
    Chaddi baanyan pehno to Taliban nahi chhorega,
    Aur Nanga ghumo to PATHAN nahi chhorega!!
    I do not translation for that.Do I?

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  • thor
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:20PM

    The truth is that terrorism against Shias in Pakistan is neither inexplicable nor imported..they are just an extension to the brutality on Ahmedi started decades ago.
    This article should have been written in favor of Ahmedis during that period.
    Why Shias could not see the writing on the wall?

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  • Parvez
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:21PM

    Firstly on Ardesir Cowasjee you were brilliant. In a few lines you summed it up beautifully.
    On the larger issue that you have written on, one of the factors why our leaders are blind is because the quality of leadership has been getting diluted and degraded, over time. None of our institutions are capable of producing worthy stock, and so we suffer.

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  • Toticalling
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:32PM

    I think we all know that the country is in a mess. Whereas the politicians and the establishment are at each others throats, the religious obsessed are showing us to kill innocent people and scaring those ones with courage to stand up.
    An Indian friend sent me this today:

    from : Pakistan Zindabad

    to : Pakistan Se Zinda Bhag !

    Written Behind a Rickshaw ……..

    JIYO TO KAISE JIYO?
    Pant shirt pehno to Moulvi nahi chhorega,
    Salwar qameez pehno to MQM nahi chhorega,
    Chaddi baanyan pehno to Taliban nahi chhorega,
    Aur Nanga ghumo to PATHAN nahi chhorega!!
    I do not translation for that.Do I?

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  • indian 001
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:35PM

    fantastic article need few cowasjees in india too the experiment example was top class boom u nailed it this time to pakistanis

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  • BlackJack
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:44PM

    An interesting application of the Invisible Gorilla experiment, and very apt. The main difference between Iraq and Pakistan is that there was no entrenched counter narrative that had been force-fed to generations of Iraqis – of Iranians/ Israelis/ Aliens using the most diabolical ploys to kill them and force them to blame each other. The Iraqis did not blame any foreign hand for the violence – they knew that the problem was internal, and that they had to fix it themselves – still work in progress and extremely fragile. Of course, the common element between the two cases is that violence is an acceptable means to settling differences permanently when the debate concerns religion, and those who embrace violence in defence of Islam are rarely rebuked or reviled – there is always a ‘.. but’ somewhere in the story – usually tendered by one of the blind in Pakistan whom this op-ed describes; else, how they could miss this massive trend line is truly puzzling. Touching tribute to Ardeshir Cowasjee – truly a remarkable Pakistani.

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  • gp65
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:46PM

    “I don’t have a full answer as to why Pakistan’s decision-makers refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are at war with ourselves.”

    Fear. Do read the excellent OEd by Khaled Ahmed saab.

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  • sabi
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:48PM

    And second: after shias,brelvis and devbandis are next target of this holy constitution.No way out.It pains to write such scenario but can we change destiny that we have made by ourself.We can not change the results if we break the laws of nature.

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  • Khan Jr
    Nov 26, 2012 - 11:53PM

    In all fairness to the truth Mr Cowasjee did disappear for many months overseas during this period. He returned once things had cooled down.

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  • ashok
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:20AM

    Many outsiders especialy in the West, USA and India think Pakistan like a suicide bomber wearing a giant jacket in the forms of Lashkars brimming with 100s of nuclear bombs from all pockets where Haqqanis or LeT have been trying to light sparks such as Mumbai 2008 attacks to destroy itself alongwith Afghanistan and/or India, which constitute more than 1/5th of Human race on this planet.

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  • Arindom
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:23AM

    @Toticalling:
    ha!ha!

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  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:23AM

    @Toticalling: I always enjoy your posts and definitely do not need translation. But this line I do not understand “Chaddi baanyan pehno to Taliban nahi chhorega,” I thought Taliban is only concerned about getting the womenfolk to dress conservatively? DO they also give a hard time to guys that they feel are scantily dressed?

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  • andleeb
    Nov 27, 2012 - 2:38AM

    “………that we are at war with ourselves.”
    No! No!! We are at war with our “strategic assets” !!

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  • Nadir
    Nov 27, 2012 - 2:43AM

    We have become accustomed to playing the victim. This is what happens when you construct an ideology and indoctrinate society to believe that India,US, Afghanistan, Israel,Foreign hand, foreign force, third hand etc etc, are out to get us. All this does is to maintain the security state and its largesses. Since we have been taught to believe that the whole world is jealous of our potential and have nothing better to do but to wake up, and ponder, how to mess with Pakistan, we will never believe that terrorists, murders, rapists, suicide bombers etc,could be amongst us. It must be someone else. While we accept that Pakistani mobs, beat to death two young boys, a mentally ill malang, pass edicts burrying women alive, we also think that Pakistanis are not capable of terrorism and sectarian hate.

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  • Sultan
    Nov 27, 2012 - 3:08AM

    No one is blind. The problem is who will bell the cat?

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  • Mast Maula
    Nov 27, 2012 - 4:35AM

    Root of the whole situation is the way Pakistan was born. Reasons for birth of Pakistan were religiously skewed enough to set a wrong example for its forthcoming generations and leaders.

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  • F
    Nov 27, 2012 - 6:31AM

    Your last line should be in deference and respect to Mr. Cowasjee. It should be: “Aap, jaise bohut kum dekha hai hum nay?” You would agree.

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  • Aviator
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:09AM

    @author

    You have read my mind, these are my thoughts and feelings also about the situation in Pakistan…

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  • Lofty
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:56AM

    Regarding the Cowasjee imbroglio with the court he did offer an unconditional apology. The rest of your article deals with an issue that we have no control over. We continue to teach our children murderous hate. We teach people that life begins after death, and that life can be immeasurably improved by killing a few Shias or Ahmadis. Musharraf could have done so much for this country. He was a dictator but didn’t act like one. In his shoes I would have rounded up every religious personality and sent them on a one way trip to the holy land. I would have shutdown the Madrassahs and regulated the mosques in number and content of what they preach. By decree I would have abolished the blasphemy law, lifted prohibition and tried every corrupt politician. And I would have used the military to put down any dissent in the most brutal fashion possible. Perhaps in another twenty years the country might have recovered from what ZAB initiated and Zia finished.

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  • MSS
    Nov 27, 2012 - 10:44AM

    Problems can still be fixed.”Where there is a will…'” I am afraid the nation collectively lacks the will- thinking the head is sufficiently above the water. Alas, they are misjudging the speed of flow of this flood of terrorism. Time is short.

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  • gee
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:04AM

    With all the killings going on between various factions of Pakistan it need no foreign trouble makers to destabilize it. I wonder, I never hear Indian, Bengladeshi, Malaysian, Indonesian etc. Muslims getting at one another’s throats. Is it due to intolerance and/or law and order problem in Pakistan?Recommend

  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:04AM

    It pays to keep blaming US/India/Israel for the mess we have created. Firstly, you do not need to find out who created the mess, and secondly, you do not have to take any action.

    The easiest and the best way to pass on the buck!

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  • faheema
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:46AM

    Dear Naqvi Sb, terrorism against Shias is continuation of what Ahmadis faced in hands of same fanatic mindset, atrocities against Sikh and Hindu minority before 47 which caused widespread carnage in East Punjab. It is difficult to change this course because none of the community, group, sect even ruling class will accept its responsibility to remain silent spectator while members of another defenseless minority group were being ruthlessly killed. However attack at the caravan of Qazi Hussain Ahmad is welcome sign as his party has remained a fore runner is most of the hate campaigns and conspiracy theories, its leadership is still under the same delusion, blaming some foreign hand and majority amongst us, even media is readily buying their stupid version.

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  • Trippy Lucifer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:13PM

    As long as we don’t recognize people behind Al Qaeda as our enemy we will remain clueless.

    Syria was a peaceful country until NATO decided a regime change.

    Libya was a peaceful country until NATO decided a regime change.

    Raymond Davis was not Al Qaeda.

    Al Qaeda is the Arab legion of CIA. You can back in time and read about Arab legions.

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  • ishrat salim
    Nov 27, 2012 - 1:36PM

    @MSS: If the nation lacks will to change ( this problem has been deliberated more than once by many good intellectuals )…how do you expect problems to be fixed..? this is why ” because our intellectuals have gone intellectually bankrupt “….

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  • Raza Khan
    Nov 27, 2012 - 2:54PM

    Because they themselves created this enemy called Talibans! What an irony?

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  • Abdul
    Nov 27, 2012 - 3:28PM

    @thor: why can’t all pakistanis see the writing on the wall?

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  • Kristen
    Nov 27, 2012 - 5:02PM

    @ashok , this is not true what you said about the US. The people of this country truly want peace. The people you speak of with bombs strapped to your chests, we know they are extremists. They are the exception, not the rule. The same goes for my country. You think we are all terrible wishing doom on your nation. It is not true. That is the opinion of one of OUR extremists. Every village has their idiot and the media shows only this. As a VAST majority the US wants peace and truly cares about Pakistan. Some of my best friends are from there and from Iran, India, Palestine, Lebanon.. The US is a country with EVERY type of person and we mostly live in peace together. Please don’t think the opinion the media has gown you is true. We hear you, we support you. Also, This is a beautifully written piece, by the way! Thank you for sharing it. Really. Love from Florida

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  • Iftikhar Khan
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:22PM

    @Trippy Lucifer:
    Agree, that people behind Alqaeda are our enemy but people in Alquaeda are from us, percentage wise they may be miniscule of the population but in absolute terms and with that sick mind and ammunition they make a very large numbers.

    That same enemy is a enemy of many other countries and nations as well but the others don’t let that destroy their societies. If our society is on the path to destruction it is our fault and nobody else.

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  • Iftikhar Khan
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:26PM

    Along with all the reasons that the author and the people mentions I think ‘CIRCULAR FEAR’ is also playing a major role in things going spiralling out of control. Within every institution people are afraid to do something positive as they fear that their colleagues will not stand with them, b/w institutions there is not trust on each other, for example police is afraid that if I catch them there will be phone calls from above and later they will be freed by courts and in the end the arresting police officers will personaly face the wrath of terrorists

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  • Rationalist
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:36PM

    The deeper malaise afflicting our country is quite simple. It is not a rise of the Taliban or hatred of the West. It is not CIA or RAW or ISI turned on its head. Its not democracy or the lack of it. Sure taliban suicide bombers, corrupt politicians and CIA stooges have lead us to the precipice. But all these are tools. The reason we are at the precipice is because people today are more unequal than ever before. Good old class warfare has finally reached the tipping point.

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  • Nov 27, 2012 - 7:38PM

    Two questions to the Shias of Pakistan:

    1) Why were you quiet when Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Ahmadis were being targeted?

    2) Since you were quiet, why should others do anything different?

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  • Mirza
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:14PM

    A very bold and spot on Op Ed by ET. Thanks for that. All my comments yesterday were not published. Just want to say thank for telling like it is. No matter how we sugar coat it but the majority of the country is not concerned about the ethnic cleansing of Shia. That is why there is not much concern let alone outrage. I am sorry and ashamed to say that.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:20PM

    @Rationalist:

    What you say Sir, is absolutely right. But that raises other questions. Why did we permit the situation to deteriorate to such an advanced sorry state? Why did we not wake up earlier?

    In my humble, but considered view, we have no thinking capacity left; we have been in the non-thinking-mode for far too long. That in turn is because there are so many relevant issues our minds are closed to. We are not permitted to even talk about them. Can anyone of us question anything that Jinnah said or did? There are many more like Jinnah in this world and the one above, unfortunately. Then there is fear of so many shadowy figures lurking all around us.

    We are headed towards our doom, and even thinking now will be of no use.

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  • qzj00
    Nov 27, 2012 - 8:22PM

    @thor:
    Why Shias could not see the writing on the wall?
    Same reason that the Sunnis are not seeing it today!!!

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  • gp65
    Nov 27, 2012 - 9:34PM

    There are some signposts to the present situation of intolerance. They are 1946, 1949, 1954, 1970, 1974.

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  • MSS
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:51PM

    @Ishrat Salim,
    ‘problem delibrated intellectually?’ Have you ever watched the debate on ARY? Within 30 seconds it is down to point scoring and politics. PTI lot are openly against any stern action against taliban. There are some really capable individuals in Pakistan and it is worth reading what they have to say. Aysha Siddiqua, Ejaz Haider, Khalid Ahmed Sahib, Hassan Nisar are among some of the most competent but nobody in power wants to listen to their views. The problem is also with the masses. A nation that applauds and garlands the murderer of a state governor needs a lot of introspection and have to be devastatingly honest with themselves. Else, this problem will reach a critical mass.
    Generally nations do not need to fear extremists (because the extremists can be dealt with qucickly as they are few in numbers if there is a political determination), nations need to be concerned about the trends in the moderates. Moderates, usually the bulk of a society can become disaffected easily and provide criticality to extremists and bang goes the society or the nation.This statement looks absurd at first but it is what happens in reality and I am convinced a mathematician or statsiticians can produce some differential equations to justify this view.

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  • jahandad
    Nov 27, 2012 - 11:57PM

    WHY cannot we call ourselves pakistanis,,,,??religion is a personal choice and is between man and his creater,,,,,the religious acts either personal are socially combined are all set for after death scenario,,,,,keeping in mind this no one has the right to impose something on others lives without the consent of the later ones,,,,,,this is in perfect form tought by islam ,,,,which says,” everone is free in religion ,,and there is no jabar in deen [jabar,,,”forceful taunting in religion”],,,,,ILLIETRACY IS THE KILLER ,,,,,,WHEN YOU ARE IGNORANT YOU ARE BLIND,,,,,,SO IS THE CASE HERE IN PAKISTAN,,,,

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  • ishrat salim
    Nov 28, 2012 - 1:01PM

    @MSS:

    Thnk u…the problem is not with the masses, they have been deliberately kept away from good quality education,hence exploited by these half-read religious zealots….& keeping away our masses from education & enlightenment is our fault & we should take full responsibility for education system breakdown.Though constitution has very clearly stipulates provision of free education up to primary class, has any of our politicians / govt in power or members of civil society done anything to improve the education system ? these masses have been kept away from education, because our elite need cheap labors to serve their lands / farms / industries & cheap housemaids to serve their family….

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  • Dec 30, 2012 - 9:49PM

    Very nice article. Isn’t the difference between Iraq and Pakistan obvious? Think about who is in the majority in Iraq and who is in a majority in Pakistan. Shia are a majority in Iraq, Iraqi sunnis are largely progressives, the education levels are high and the “establishment” there has the will to call a spade, A SPADE. Can we say the same about Pakistan? Think for yourselves.

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