Generation Mass Hysteria

Lunatics are at the gate, but nuns are in parliament, making ungodly noises about anything except cancer staring at it


Asad Rahim Khan January 27, 2014
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

Ever hear about the meowing nuns? If a book from 1844 is to be believed, a nun in a French convent started meowing like, well, a cat. It wasn’t long before the other nuns began joining in. Soon enough, all the nuns were meowing in this choir from hell.

This being the Middle Ages, and cats considered close to the Devil, panic hit. The army (who else) was brought in to ‘save the sanctity’ of the convent. This they did — with rods and whips — and the nuns swore to meow no more.

When it comes to diagnosing mass hysteria in 2014, science beats Satan. But where we live, Satan is winning. Wave after wave after wave of bombs and death, this is terror on steroids.

But it seems, at long last, like this might be it. The end of the line, fight or flight, if one excuses three clichés a paragraph. Because it was always bad…it was just never like this.

Policemen and polio workers in Karachi. Temple guards in Peshawar. A playwright in Lahore. All in the same week.

Everyone wants to save the country; no one wants to own the rescue.

For a nation of 190 million, governance means six guys from Lahore cutting ribbons in Islamabad. The only opposition is cancelling polio drives in K-P. The Only National Party is putting up a song-and-dance show in Sindh: ageless civilization marketed via Superman logo (inked by a Cleveland comic book artist in 1938).

Might Maulana Fazal save the day? As of January 25, he’s still blaming The Jews. The K-P government just pretends to blame them, eye-rolls Fazal.

The lunatics are at the gate, but the nuns are in parliament, making ungodly noises about anything except the cancer staring it in the face. As with the French convent, the army itches to shut them up and fight it out, or so we’re told.

Yes, hysteria abounds.

But between talking and bombing, there’s a few other kinks to be worked out — like how sectarian outfits are setting up multinationals in Southern Punjab, not North Waziristan.

Then the even littler things: the fact that Karachi and Quetta and Peshawar are burning. That urban terror is fought with cops, not troops. That counter-terror doesn’t mean Rehman Malik buying bracelets from secret slush funds. Pick your poison.

All of it stopped making sense a long time ago. And since no one knows what’s going to happen next, it may be best to explore what all of this has turned us into already. How its affected a whole generation coming up, one that never saw a Pakistan before war.

Is this war? Yes.

Is it civil war? Yes.

Have we ever seen anything like this before? No.

Our novelists used to write about eccentric Parsi families, not ex-pats grappling with 9/11.

Kids still say they want to grow up to be pilots and doctors and star batsmen; by their mid-20s, they’re émigrés. Or security analysts…that’s the next big thing.

Even Pak Studies has no answers to give Generation Y. For Generation X, the Bad Guy was Indira in India, the commies in Kabul, Senator Pressler and his stupid aid-cutting amendments. It was never us, or at least, never of us.

The Good Guys stood out even starker. There were the Nishan-i-Haiders, not Major General Bilal Omer Shaheed, who fought the men bent on suicide-bombing his mosque with his bare hands. There was MM Alam, the war hero downing attacker planes, not Muhammad Khalil, who saved the Sri Lankan cricket team while his bus was riddled with 25 bullet holes.

But rather than accept this new, awful world — a new cast with new good guys and new bad guys and a far darker storyline — it seems better to pretend none of this is happening at all, to discuss Misbah instead.

In his book Strange Days Indeed, Francis Wheen tries to convey a sense of the ’70s, when it seemed all Britain was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Such was the commonness of chaos, Tony Benn’s 1973 diary entry reads, “Three more IRA bombs in London. I tidied the office and wrapped Christmas gifts.”

Sounds familiar? If we’re to overcome the times we live in, it may be time to embrace them. And time, again, will take care of the rest.

A beautiful passage on Partition by Mr Feisal Naqvi reads, “…Traumas diminish with every generation. My father was told by his father to shoot the women and children first if the walls of their house were breached, an episode which he has obviously never forgotten. I was told that story by my father and while I am unlikely to forget it, it is also normally not something I think about. My son, too, has heard the story but what happened to his Dada six decades ago belongs in some distant prehistory when dinosaurs also roamed the earth. They say time heals all wounds. Let’s see what it does in the case of Partition.”

Let’s see, in the same spirit, what it does to Pakistan’s war with itself today. There will never come a time when we tell the next generation about a 15-year-old schoolboy from Hangu, without feeling a pang of pain. But we can do everything to make sure they tell their kids no such story firsthand. As Aitzaz Hasan proved so well, Pakistan’s too beautiful not to fight for.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th,  2014.

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COMMENTS (23)

TALAT MAHMOOD SHEIKH | 7 years ago | Reply

strange PHILOSOPHICAL explanation. it could have been worded simple and made easy to swallow as a 100 mg dose and not 1000 mg which not every body can take it . if your message was more comprehensive and clear it could have been a beacon from a light house. ,analyzing every aspect pragmatically and giving solutions as a think tank or some mastermind which this country does not lack . today all we lack is sincere leaders.hip and just their priorities . i hope you listened to the speech or address to the joint session of parliamentarians by the American president ,where he talked at length about the generations to come and not just those Americans who wanted their problems to be solved name one such leader of Pakistan who ever owned its citizens or they were ever a national priority . its difficult to really put in words the damage done by those who tried to bring enlightened moderation and freedom of press by giving a message to the west that this country (Pakistan ) is now ready to give away the regulations laid down in the holy Qurran ,without any difference ,or ambiguity ,or controversy given to us and entire MANKIND . who doesn't know this basic truth and reality in the global village of today . who is unaware ?

gp65 | 7 years ago | Reply @No really?: The solutions that @Really mentioned were implicit in the author's wrting. Sometimes when absence of something is indicated as a problem, making it available is the implied solution.
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