Clams — shellfish that live under water — have become metaphors for silence and inactivity. They live on whatever drifts by and apart from a few species of scallops that have rudimentary eyes — are sightless. Many are microscopic but some are huge, up to 400 pounds and a lot are edible. Us humans consume them in vast quantities. They are also vital to the maintenance of the status quo in Pakistan and bear at least some of the responsibility for the advancement of an extremist mindset that is now opening up to the beguiling siren-song of the IS.
Whilst not all the clams of the middle class, the supposedly-educated, the thinking class — are radicalised, my observation is that an indeterminate number of them are. I have the acquaintance of several that harbour leanings in the direction of extremism. Not that they are about to blow anything up or openly call for the death of all who do not follow their line of religious adherence, but it is there, hanging at the back of the mental wardrobe. Others, not of my acquaintance, reveal themselves in the comments sections of stories carried by the English-language newspapers and are even more revealing of themselves on the Babel that is Facebook.
Those who are not drawn towards the darkness, occupy a shrinking space, a virtual ghetto wherein live the Twitterati, the secular (and who really understands what is meant by ‘secular’ any more I wonder) liberals and the non-conformist hoi-polloi. As is the nature of ghettos historically, they are stuffed to bursting with minorities of all types and stripes, and in our case, are rendered clam-like by what ghettoised them in the first place — fear, intimidation, murder and a burning desire to weed out and preferably eradicate ‘the other’.
So, there are scattered clam-beds made up of artists, writers, intellectuals, musicians, poets, the remnants of the political left and a leavening of journalists, along with the occasional media-person — and they are all marked for future consumption. The clam harvesters will be along shortly to cull this clammed up crowd.
Consumed as the clam-beds are with day-to-day survival, they are largely depoliticised and have no access to the spaces where power is exercised and the delimitation of their boundaries defined — the various parliamentary assemblies being the most obvious repositories of the powers that are currently allowing a radicalised mindset to prevail. There are others of course and we should not underestimate the heft of the madrassa when it comes to hijacking the national psyche. The sacerdotal classes are fed and watered from afar as well as on their home turf, and they busy themselves with the erosion and eradication of the space the clams live in. In silence.
There is a collective delusion on the clam-beds is that their Twitter comments, occasional demonstrations and online petitions are heard or heeded. They are not, and to all intents and purposes, they are voiceless.
All that said, even clam-beds and ghettoes can reach the point at which they boil over and — eventually — find a voice. Currently, no such voice exists. The media in broad terms is aligned well to the right of centre; there is no truly ‘secular’ platform where the famously elusive countervailing narrative has a podium — but that is not to say that such an entity may not be created and perhaps, now is the time for that. A time before the clam harvesters reduce the clam-beds to nothing.
This is an enterprise not without risk for all concerned and at every stage of the process from conceptualisation to delivery. Hints of revolt in the ghetto are usually put down with both ferocity and swiftness — remember Warsaw — so this will need to be by sleight of hand, possibly the construction of a paradoxical injunction that allows those who define the ghetto and its clam-like inhabitants to be led to believe that it was their idea in the first place.
However it is to be achieved, is at this point, almost immaterial, but what is vital is that the hitherto clammed up ‘other’, needs to begin the search for a collective voice and the means to make that voice heard outside the ghetto. If not, the future is clam chowder.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2014.