Terrorist attacks have become such an accepted reality in this country that we are now forced to find reasons about why people should not be killed. Since the attack on Ismailis in Karachi there have been conversations in the media, on social media, between family and friends, about why Ismailis should not have been harmed. These conversations are hinged on what Ismailis have done for Pakistan and how the religious sect contributes to society at large. “They have given so much to the birth of this country”; “the first president of the All-India Muslim League was Ismaili;” “they do so much charity work for the city;” “they are innocent, peace-loving people not involved with politics,” are how the conversations go. How they helped ‘us’ and what are we doing with ‘them’.
Listing these contributions and achievements comes with the best of intentions, those who choose to point out these facts want to ask “why them” and in turn highlight that Ismailis did not deserve this. Questions are asked about why would the people who helped build this country today be targeted and what would Muhammad Ali Jinnah have thought of this Pakistan?
These arguments, if only subconsciously, are based on the underlying respect given to nationalistic values and ideas, directly equating the value of human life to perceived degrees of nationalism. It begs the question: does compassion and empathy for the loss of human life need reason? What about the people who are not seen as nationalistic enough and have not contributed to society in ways that benefit all? Are they less equal in death? And is ‘giving’ to Pakistan and ‘doing so much for the country’ the only argument we can present against systematic murder? Do such arguments make the attack in Karachi’s Abbas Town or those in Hazara Town, Quetta, less worse?
Similar arguments are presented for attacks on non-Muslims too. After an attack on a church, Christians’ contribution to education is praised. The fact that this needs to be highlighted as a premise against persecution makes it seem that condemning violence for violence is not good enough, that we need to find other, better reasons for it.
Reasoning with killings or ‘unreasoning’ with them, however, is an exercise we should have given up on long ago because the list of reasons has long run out. In incidents of terrorist attacks the questions have often been why the victims were there to begin with. Why did Benazir come to Pakistan? Why did people go to the Muharram procession, why did a governor speak against blasphemy laws? Their presence at a particular point in time was reason enough for them to die. But the deceased can no longer be held accountable for their death. We can’t ask why children go to school or why people use a community bus service. The death of reason has been made certain too many times.
But that we can in fact find reasons in some killings points to our inhumane comfort with death of those who we do not see as innocent or innocent enough or those who are not portrayed as patriotic enough. It makes our compassion selective, which has made too many people tolerant towards some sort of violence. There is little debate or concern that Pakistan keeps breaking its record in the number of executions in a day since the moratorium lifted. At least 15 people were hanged in a day in April, breaking the previous record of 14 in March. More persecuted communities are tolerant of violence towards the less persecuted ones. A crude joke that springs up frequently after attacks is that the only way to survive in Pakistan is to be a Punjabi, Sunni male. These jokes are based on the bitterness of our times and selective humanity, where we can fail to remember the plight of Punjabi labourers in Balochistan. Our humanity has become so compartmentalised that while some people feel no sympathy for the death of military personnel, others do not feel anything for killings in Fata or Balochistan.
This erosion of humanity is one of our greatest, collective losses. And it is a great loss indeed when to create impact on the death of 46 we need to depend on nationalistic fervour.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2015.
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