What if it was your child? What if you had to sit with the body of a parent, or of both, in freezing cold, with the feeling that nobody cared? Imagine, if you can, the sound and smell of death. Imagine, if you will that you are a Hazara or a Shia. These are questions that were inescapable the last week. Yet, for those of us who are not Hazara or Shia, it is quite simply unimaginable. What happened to them happened to them. The human capacity for empathy has a limit, perhaps, is overrated. All of us would like to think that deep down we care, that we are not completely heartless.
However, after the second or third day of a sit-in, the traffic jam begins to irritate us a little. The television anchors seem to repeat themselves. There is work to be done, social events to attend, bills to be paid. We have done our bit, changed our Facebook status, expressed horror and outrage, maybe even stopped by at a protest on our way back from work. Now we have to get on with it. In short, we want business as usual. To imagine, that nothing happened or maybe just that bad things happen to other people. In short, not to imagine, that there will never be business as usual for a lot of people, the show has ended. For many children, in Philip Larkin’s words, there will be, “Never such innocence again”.
Our capacity to go on despite the terror and misery around us, is loftily termed as “resilience”, “the spirit to carry on” and other such clichés. Perhaps, it is not resilience, perhaps it is simple cold-blooded apathy. Maybe it is just a validation of Tolstoy’s observation in Anna Karenina, “There are no conditions of life to which a man cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees them accepted by everyone around him.” Maybe, it should not be business as usual, more roads need to be blocked, more of ordinary life disturbed. The sole reliance on human empathy is a feeble hope; all it gets you is tersely worded slogans after the mass graves, after the deed is done, “Never again”, “Never forget”, etc.
The cynicism has facts to bear it out. The PML-N did not have the courage to name the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), even when it had taken responsibility. Not even the shame to apologise for the electoral arrangement with Malik Ishaq. It is even more chilling to reflect on what sort of voters approve of this arrangement. Malik Ishaq was acquitted by the courts; the courts which deem it worth their time to order the registration of a blasphemy case against Sherry Rehman, which has now been registered by the same Punjab police which provide security to Malik Ishaq. The prime minister did not have the common decency or the spine to attend the funeral or even reach out to the victims. The Supreme Court is unwilling to believe the LeJ’s admission of responsibility. Even those who condemn the LEJ by name, in the same breath, ask for negotiation with the TTP. The same TTP which also thinks of Shias as wajib-ul-qatl, the same TTP whose alliance with the LeJ is no secret. What wicked stupidity is this? If we have to do this, let all those arguing for negotiation hold a conference at the Hazara graveyard. Look the victims in the eye and tell them that although we are sorry for their loss, yet we think it best to surrender. Hold the hand of the 85-year-old grandfather in Lahore and tell him that his 12-year-old grandson killed on his way to school, for being born a Shia died in vain. We think it is good strategy to make a deal with his murderers.
The army has never felt the need for forging a consensus when it comes to Baloch nationalists or finding the ‘anti-state’ elements within them and make them go missing. Yet, the TTP and the LeJ hold press conferences at will. The ISPR tells us that the army has no links with any banned outfits. Let us take its word, however, the question of how 1,000kgs of explosives move in the FC garrison, known as Quetta, still remains. How come no LeJ operatives have been apprehended till these horrific blasts? How come Usman Kurd escaped from a maximum security prison? The ISPR might have answers to these questions; we have not heard them yet. Perhaps, a sit-in outside the GHQ might persuade them to answer. Before we move on to our next tragedy in waiting, it might serve us to have that overdue debate on our national security state paradigm and how it is killing us.
Those who were protesting with coffins were not soliciting our pity. Our sympathy is futile. Our empathy is not strong enough. They are not victims of a random accident or natural tragedies. They are victims of carefully planned, sophisticated attacks of murder conducted by people we know of. We have to take on the LeJ, the TTP and anybody who shares this sectarian, murderous ideology for a minimum standard of fairness, decency and self-respect. If that does not persuade us, then we have to do it for self-interest. For that reason, ponder over the almost imponderable question, “what if it was your child?” To argue for the use of force makes some people uneasy. The full might of the state has to be used to crush these criminals. The argument for the use of force has to be made unashamedly; we will be ashamed later for not doing so.
I defy anyone to go to sleep after viewing the picture of a beautiful Hazara child crying over the body of her father. This is when the cliché of “never forget” comes to life. However, at a level we might not be willing to acknowledge yet, we will forget, most of us will. We will find a way of going to sleep soon. Before that time, before business as usual, before the next massacre, we have to take these murderers on and deliver them to justice. Watching the Hazara men, women and children sit in defiance to the cowardice and apathy that surrounds them on a bleak day, in sub-zero temperature, one may end by quoting the words of Edmund Blunden: “This was my country and it might be yet/But something came between us and the sun.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2013.
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