The truly disturbing bit about TTP’s Adnan Rashid’s letter to Malala Yousufzai is that it does not shock too much. Had the name been erased, personal details omitted and contents modified a little, it would not have been easy to guess that it came from a TTP commander. It could have been any of our luminaries of the Urdu press (perhaps even of English press) or any one of our “fearless” prime time television anchors. It could have been someone from the expatriate professional classes. A leftist ‘intellectual’ unwilling to unlearn could have penned it or an aspiring anti-imperialist yet to learn. Of course, it could have been Syed Munawar Hasan, but more unnervingly it could also have been Mr Imran Khan citing the Macaulay quote of dubious authenticity or Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s speech-writer providing the reference to Russell. It could have been anyone. Fanaticism is commonplace, bigotry has gone mainstream. The moral question remains an easy one; we have just got the answer exactly wrong. Adnan Rashid, the ex-PAF, the patriot gets nods of understanding, while Malala is the “native informant”. Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” seems to be the intuitive reference. Mind you there is nothing banal about a child being shot in the head and “respected” people making apologies for it.
How dare Malala only talk about education and omit drones, imperialism, Muslims in Burma? Global warming, children in Africa, the CNG crisis and the patwari system? How weak of her not to be a condemnation machine, an all encompassing and engulfing voice for everyone in the world for all issues. Impeccable logic, one should speak up for everything or speak up for nothing. In Ghalib’s words, “Mushkilen itni parin mujh pay kay asan ho ganyi”. Did she really think that the way to stardom is as simple as getting shot in the skull? No Sirs, not on our watch. How dare she go to the United Kingdom and get operated upon by those infidels, agents of imperialism doctors? Oh, perhaps because none of our brotherly Islamic countries offered treatment. Sure, she could have done the honourable thing and died on our soil.
We know of all this already. So what’s the point? Firstly, ignorance and bigotry should be called out as a general principle. Secondly, and more significantly, while there is some pretense of opposition to religious extremism and violence in the abstract, as soon as the conflict is concentrated in a particular example, the extent of the rot is exposed. The previous seminal example is Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murder and shameful display of cowardice and bigotry that followed. Mumtaz Qadri was not only cheered on by madrassa students, but garlanded by lawyers. A former chief justice of the Lahore High Court volunteered to represent him pro bono. References to Ghazi Illam Din were de rigueur. Facebook warriors expressed solidarity with the murderer. The most generous ones offered to change the subject only. With Malala, it is the same cruel circus all over again.
The steady daily dose of confused notions of hyper-nationalism, fabricated history and paranoia are well on their way to triumph. The only meaningful resistance to the complete descent into madness comes from Malala and her sisters. Malala’s plea for education and the need for it are painfully and ironically vindicated by the reaction to her speech. A whole generation of middle-class and upper middle-class youth is being raised on xenophobia, led to believe that all was well before the war on terror, suicide bombings are blowback to drones, the punishment for any corruption should be death and abuse a valid substitute for thought, etc. The cliche of youth representing hope and all that is hollow and we know it. These young ultranationalists are revolted by the idea of becoming “brown sahibs” (as they should be), yet the idea of becoming “brown Bedouins (or is it Sheikhs)” is not equally unappealing. The disdain for local culture is a common thread, merely substituting one form of imperialism with another, camels for camaros, water kits for Nukes. The diehard nationalist is also a pan-Islamist, go figure. Judging by the product, the education system is, indeed, broken.
The national conversation has to, at some point, move from ideological polemic to policymaking and institutional reform. That point is now. Curriculum reform (particularly post Eighteenth Amendment) has to take centre stage. The outdated and unaccountable Babu Raj of the CSP bureaucracy and the need for civil service reform is not talked about enough (perhaps, not at all). The debate on local government legislation and why the state proposes to go back to Zia’s model of non-party based elections needs to be conducted. Yet, policy debate presumes a minimum consensus on basic human values. Political disagreements and policy differences are not the same as those on whether a child shot by religious fanatics is justified or not. It is difficult to discuss education policy when schools are being blown up. Still, it needs to be done. We cannot wait for the conflict between us and the medievalists to end before we begin, since the conflict is here to stay for a while.
Women in the Karak district of K-P have been reportedly banned from leaving the house without a mehram by a committee of clerics recently. Those outraged at Malala’s address in the UN will probably find this to be an acceptable local custom, culture relativism, etc. Taking ignorant and condescending liberties with the Pashtun culture is now a sport of the overzealous youth and the “all-knowing Punjabi intelligentsia”. That is why Malala had to speak, and she did it beautifully. Malala is Pashtun culture; bravery and eloquence.
In the Holy month after breaking fast, accessing YouTube through a proxy server, Rooh Afza in hand, listening to Pink Floyd’s tribute to the genius Syd Barrett “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” makes the evening easier. Syd Barrett was as different from Malala as is possible, yet these lines make one uncomfortably think about her.
You were caught on the crossfire
Of childhood and stardom,
Blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
May you always shine like the sun, your spirits never be dampened, and the naysayers consigned to the wastebasket of history, as they shall be.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.
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