I met Rashid Rehman on the afternoon of May 2. It was the last time he was in Lahore and the last time I would meet him. He was murdered days later in Multan. The last encounter will remain with me forever. He was acutely aware of the very real threats he faced, yet there was not a hint of fear. What will remain imperishable was the extraordinary modesty, no overt display of heroism while displaying the highest form of moral courage. Rashid Rehman was simply doing the right thing, as he had always done in life. He did not want our hollow words of praise, and all we now have to offer are hollow words of condemnation and lament.
Rashid Rehman talked to me about the open and specific threats made to him in a matter of fact manner, infinitely easier said than done. The great Mr IA Rehman, his uncle, was present when I met him on May 2, and Rashid Rehman was a warrior, hero and a gentleman in the tradition of Mr Rehman himself. These are people who make one realise the sheer force and charisma of common decency, of core values of humanity. Words of praise have been cheapened by overuse in this country; however Mr IA Rehman and those of his character are heroes and giants in the real meaning of the terms, trying to fight for us without hysterics, and doing it just because it is the right thing to do. Most of us are unable to associate with their courage, primarily because we cannot summon it in ourselves anymore.
To write about Rashid Rehman in detail should be left to those who knew him intimately and there are many. Rashid Rehman is gone. His death was foretold and done so very, very publicly. What was his crime? Rashid Rehman had no allegation against him. He was murdered for defending/representing someone accused of blasphemy. Reflect on this for a moment, not for committing any offence against any sensibilities, just for asking for due process for an accused. The surreal principle is guilt by association, vicarious guilt. The previous seminal example was of Salmaan Taseer, who was killed on nothing but defending Aasia Bibi. As someone who is in the business of representing people (not always causes, to my shame), one also has the petty feeling of self-interest, and a stake in this quarrel.
The principle, however, is older than the assassination of Governor Taseer. The principle is encapsulated in the slogan, which at least partially will be familiar to some of you. It goes, ‘Kafir Kafir’, the omitted part displays the full extent of the intent and scope of it, which goes, ‘kafir Kafir, jo na manay who bhee Kafir’. This, ladies and gentleman, is the gun barrel of what stares us blindly in the face.
As we lament yet martyrdom, the streets are yet full again. The authors and proponents of these slogans today are out again, this time in support of our guardians, displaying their undying love for our intelligence agencies. Our ‘Sensitive’ and ‘National’ institutions should publicly disssociate themselves from this fan club. Do not hold your breath, however, it does mean that the State is not a bystander to the murderers of Governor Taseer and Rashid Rehman. The State has picked the ‘other side’, or perhaps, at present the ‘other side’ has picked the State.
Yet, there will be the semi-literate with their apologia and pretensions and will ostensibly seek to bring nuance, and say that ‘both extremes are bad’, and ‘both sides need to rethink’ and the dangerous ‘liberal extremist’. By both sides, you surely mean, one side that is doing all the killing and the other doing all the dying. It is obvious how both need to show restraint, however, how does one get murdered in a restrained manner, so as to satisfy the apologist? May the heavens protect the ignorant and apologists from ever knowing what it is like to lose people you know one by one to violent deaths, with having a phonebook with numbers you can never call again, yet do not have the nerve to delete. It is plainly awful.
Today, one does not feel the slightest inclination of commenting on the dumb charades of failed politicians happening in Islamabad. Neither does one feel up to pontificating on the obscenity of what is happening on national television, particularly the very public psychotic meltdown of Mubasher Lucman and co.
We have long run the course for condemnations and shrieking. What needs to be done in the interim, while we wait our turn to be killed? The answer is easy; however, we go out of our way to avoid the obvious, the inevitable. Let me begin accountability with myself, in Rashid Rehman’s case, I should ideally volunteer myself to represent the accused he was defending and expose myself to the risks he so nonchalantly did, that will put my lamenting and condemnation to the test. Same for Aasia Bibi, and for countless other blasphemy law accused. That will be solidarity, rest is empty rhetoric. Concerned citizens become parties to the causes they believe in, and do it publicly. Sermonising lawyers like me should volunteer to represent these causes. Will this delay the inevitable? No, perhaps the opposite, it might accelerate it. Yet there is strength in numbers and in any event, there will be some honour in that fall.
Will I do it? The answer would be in layers, maybe I will, however, starting from the emotional, I have loved ones (and pretend that those who are brave have none?) to the petty, paying bills and maintaining lifestyles (and pretend that the courageous are all gazillioniers) to the devious, not really my cause, global warming, perhaps, is my gig. The least one can do is accept that there is only one real reason, cowardice and that’s that. To compensate for the lack of substantial courage, I will lament and wail more noisily and hysterically, since I, after all, believe myself to be a conscientious citizen.
There are those who are still under the illusion that their turn might be deferred indefinitely, it will not. Ours will be deaths without honour. So go write the angry Facebook post (or not) and do ‘your bit’, while I will continue to condemn the state of affairs in disingenuously general terms and do mine. You and I should remember that Rashid Rehman did his bit by willingly embracing death. Just for perspective, so we at least rid ourselves of the delusion that we are unable. We are simply unwilling.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.
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