The story of coverage given to the latest massacre in Quetta is a story of gratuitous emotion and new sacred cows for old. We know that some anchors were tossing and turning the night of the tragedy, others so upset they almost took their own eyes out with the curling iron. We know that some parliamentarians were moved to tears by the fortitude and dignity of young Shias chanting “Labaik ya Hussain”. We know that others banded together to demand the ‘khufia agencies’ be made accountable to parliament. We know that the chief justice took suo-motu notice of the incident. We know that people who last week refused to say the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) out loud now sing songs about it on demand. And we know from the LeJ twitter feed that on the afternoon of February 22, “Ameer ul Mujahideen Malik Muhammad Ishaq sb ne ghar se girftari dy di”, and that he set off amidst chants of ‘Kafar Kafar Shia Kafar’.
The public’s anger thus, temporarily appeased, the spotlight will go back to the upcoming elections. Discussion about the countries who fund militants, why terrorists are convinced enough of the toothlessness of our justice system to turn themselves in, and when the few robber barons that run our media will put the country’s interest before their own, can get back in line.
So, too, can any sincere, forensic examination of why is it that our society has proved to be such fertile ground for the seeds of violence. Ask yourself that question, as well as your ‘hukmaran’, and you might get a discomfiting answer.
Contrary to the under-construction narrative, a lot of people in Pakistan DO support the persecution of people for their ‘otherness’. And have done so from before the time ‘Zia launched his Islamisation drive’ and ‘Musharraf nay sab ka baira ghark kar diya’.
Early indications of a future where it is okay to think one kind of Pakistani is superior to others — on the basis of faith or ethnicity — is evident in moves after 1947 to prohibit minorities from holding certain offices, but its biggest manifestation to date remains Bangladesh. A ‘saneha’ for which we have yet to demand accountability, or even offer an apology. Bangladesh, meanwhile, has achieved a growing economy and the enactment of legislation banning religion from politicking.
Not for us such accumulated wisdom. Many Pakistanis have stayed silent through the mistreatment of ethnic minorities and religious minorities, like the Ahmadis, Hindus, and Christians, too. They have stayed silent when there was no real danger of being shot for dissenting and they remain unable to see that the dehumanisation of one ‘other’ opens the door to the dehumanisation of all others. Pressed, they will tell you the incidents of bonded labour, burning villages, executions, daily humiliations, didn’t really happen and if they did, it was because of bad leadership, the army, poverty or illiteracy. As if a top to bottom culture of exclusion, where every aspect of life is dictated by what is kept out and not what is invited in forms all by itself. Sometimes, silence is a choice. And you can’t really sell people spiels they don’t want to buy.
With this history, I must regretfully ask if it is possible that the reason so many of my compatriots are now agitating for the accountability of bigots is because the Shia minority is bigger than all the other minorities put together? Could it be that we can no longer avoid an awkward conversation because there is an awful lot of them and they refuse to go away quietly?
I ask this question now because there is a chasm between what we are saying and what we have been doing, and it will take more than gratuitous emotion to bridge it. Do we want to? Will we manage to? Only time will tell. Time, or the first person to stand on the roof of the world’s tallest building that Malik Riaz and Arab investors were talking about building in Karachi.
Perhaps, it’s just as well the deal fell through. He might have been disappointed by how everything looks the same.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2013.
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