Paris equals Peshawar?

Can we bring ourselves to genuinely proclaim that there must be no ‘but’ when condemning the slaughter of...


Fahd Husain November 14, 2015
PHOTO: AP

Peshawar and Paris are now linked by a trail of blood. Can we connect the dots?

The government of Pakistan issued an unequivocal condemnation of the mass slaughter of innocent people in Paris on Friday night, but the analysis peddled on the Pakistani airwaves was — shall we say — a bit more nuanced. Normally nuance is a good thing, but in the time-space continuum that we are operating in, it can smell dangerously like justification for murder.

France had it coming? Did Parisians listening to music or dining in restaurants or enjoying the spectacle of football deserve to die? Did these people pay the ultimate price for Paris’s role in the Syrian conflict?

Our darkest hour

A year ago, many in Pakistan would have nodded in agreement. Of course, they would have argued, bad policies will come back to haunt you. It’s sad, they would say, that innocent people got killed, but the fault lies not with those who pulled the triggers but with those who pull the levers of national policy. Many would actually have applauded the barbarity while pointing out how Western governments have a track record of brutality across the world. Terrorism is the weak man’s response to State aggression, they would maintain.

Then APS happened.

Now everything seems a bit complicated. Motor-mouth commentators pause in their rapid fire verbal assaults the moment they realise their justifications for killing ‘non-believers’ end up transforming into justifications for murdering our children in APS Peshawar. The irony suddenly dawns on them: if French policies are to be blamed for the Friday night massacre, should Pakistani policies be blamed for the APS slaughter? If the Islamic State (IS) is a quasi-legitimate response to Western imperialism, is the TTP a semi-legitimate response to the Pakistani role in fighting terror? And if it is, can we then nod our heads and say well, you know, if you kill their kids, they will come and kill yours?

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Pakistani anguish and anger at APS and the Pakistani State’s response to the outrage did unite the nation. Well, almost. The extreme right-wing lunatic fringe still dithered and sprayed the screens with nauseating arguments, but soon they were shouted down. They represented a line of thinking that had trickled out of the fringe and seeped deep into mainstream Pakistani discourse. It was then peddled by men and women in positions of influence, gained legitimacy and traction and began to shape policy. The ill-fated dialogue with the TTP by the PML-N government was a shocking example of this muddled and befuddled thinking, fanned as it was by the PTI, the JUI, the Jamaat-e-Islami and their ilk.

Did the APS tragedy wipe this tainted thought-process clean? At best, the shock convinced the fence-sitters to jump to the rational side. The rest probably decided it was wiser to zip up their mouths and not swim against the current; the current that was now defined by a new resolute State policy that had sharp teeth and sharper claws.

But slaughter in Paris is different from slaughter in Peshawar, right? The arguments are back in public domain. Yes killing innocent people is bad, and yes suicide bombing and hostage-killing should not be condoned, but…

‘Act of war’ in Paris

And with that ‘but’ starts to pour forth vileness that cuts through fundamental rationality and dissolves into a rant for violence in the name of one thing or the other. The attack on Paris has reminded us that underneath the thin veneer of national consensus against terrorism flows toxic lava of intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. If the State dithers in its firmness, the lava could burst forth through an angry volcano of apologia.

But what if we supplant the Peshawar argument on Paris? Where will this logic take us?

We now believe we are clear about one thing: masked men barging into schools, hospitals, bazaars, offices, airports, bases, spraying bullets and exploding suicide jackets — this is not good. Well, not good for us at least. But if you add this last point, are you then validating the ‘otherness’ of a human being? Are you saying masked men killing my people is wrong, but masked men killing a person with a different nationality is slightly less wrong? But if you delete the last point, and maintain uniformity about the fundamental wrongness of masked men killing random innocent people, you are then entering uncharted territory.

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Can Paris and Peshawar have a fundamental moral equivalence at some basic minimum level? Can we in Pakistan say with all our hearts that slaughtering of innocent men, women and children cannot be justified under any pretext? Can we bring ourselves to genuinely proclaim that there must be no ‘but’ when condemning the slaughter of innocents? If the answer is yes, it proves we can de-complicate the layers upon layers of toxic arguments in favour of violence against ‘others’ that we have internalised over the decades.

But if the answer is in the negative, or falls somewhere in the middle, let us then admit that our supposed consensus against terrorism rests on very thin ice. As it does for the United States. And the United Kingdom. And France. Washington, London and Paris do not shed tears for Islamabad when blood splatters on our soil. Their domestic consensus on terrorism is a consensus on keeping them safe. Their history is based on ‘otherness’ and therefore hard-nosed policy trumps humanity, and self-interest dominates universal principles of compassion and the intrinsic value of human life.

From these complications, is it possible to distill any conclusion that is shorn of relative ambivalence? It depends on the shades of your moral spectrum. Perhaps we fight it to keep ourselves safe, even though the definition of who is included in ‘Ourselves’ continues to shrink and expand. And perhaps tomorrow we will shift policy, and shift arguments to suit the new narrative. Our fight against terror is based not on global, but local factors. Perhaps in this, we are no different from others, regardless of their principled posturing.

Nawaz, world leaders condemn Paris terror attacks

Humanity or hard-nosed policy? The pendulum swings from one end to the other, but the realisation of our own inadequacies grows stronger by the day. For most of us, Peshawar will always be greater than Paris, and for the French, Paris will hurt more than Peshawar. At the end, the only solace is thus:

We may not have enough humanity to genuinely believe that Peshawar equals Paris, but as children of One God, we can muster enough compassion to grieve for both.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2015.

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COMMENTS (51)

Mohammad.Amin | 6 years ago | Reply Why from Bombay, Peshawar, Paris, Kashmir, Why not from Karbala the begning of terrorism killing innocent respectable personalities, .but it was also reaction of four wars between two personalities,this will continue till the human being on this planet,
Protege | 6 years ago | Reply @ajeet: does shamelessness has any limit for Indians? NO.
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