A Nation of Sleepwalkers

The day after the terrible terrorist attack at Islamabad’s Islamic University that took the lives of eight innocent students, certain TV news channels ran a footage of a dozen or so angered students of the university pelting stones. The first question that popped up in my mind after watching the spectacle was, what on earth were these understandably enraged young men throwing their stones at?

So I waited for the TV cameras to pan towards the direction where the stones were landing. But that did not happen. It seemed as if the students were pelting stones just for the heck of it.

So I called a fellow journalist friend who was covering the story for a local TV channel and asked him about the protest. He told me the students were pelting stones at a handful of cops. Now, why in God’s good name would one throw stones at cops after being attacked by demented men who call themselves the Taliban?

The very next day another protest took place outside the attacked University in which the students, both male and female, were holding banners that said: ‘Kerry-Lugar Bill namanzoor!’ (Kerry-Lugar Bill Not Acceptable).

I could barely stop myself from bursting into a short sharp fit of manic laughter. It was unbelievable. Or was it, really?

Here we have a university that was attacked by a psychotic suicide bomber who slaughtered and injured dozens of students so he could get his share of hooris in Paradise. The attack was then proudly owned by the Tekrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. And in its wake, we saw enraged students protesting against the Kerry-Lugar act? What a response!

What did the Kerry-Lugar act have to do with the suicide attack? Wasn’t this remarkably idiotic ‘protest rally’ by the students actually an insult to those who were so mercilessly slaughtered by holy barbarians?

But then, some would suggest that in a society like Pakistan, such idiosyncrasies should be swallowed as a norm. And I agree. What else can one expect from a society living in a curiously delusional state of denial, gleefully mistaking it as ‘patriotism’ and ‘concern.’ It seems no amount of proof will ever be enough to dent Pakistanis’ resolve to defend the unsubstantiated, wild theories that they so dearly hold in their rapidly shrinking heads.

Take for instance the recent case of a famous TV anchorman who visited a devastated area in Peshawar that was bombed by a remote-controlled car bomb. He talked to about 10 people at the scene. More than half of the folks interviewed spouted out those squarely unproven and thoroughly clichéd tirades about RAW/CIA/Mossad being the ‘real perpetrators’ and that ‘no Muslim is capable of inflicting such acts of barbarity.’

A friend of mine who was also watching this hapless exhibition of the usual top-of-mind nonsense suddenly announced that he wanted to jump in, hold these men by the arms, and shake them violently so they could be ‘awoken from their dreadful sleepwalking state.’

Pakistanis routinely continue to deny the fact that the monsters who are behind all the faithful barbarism that is cutting this country into bits are the mutant product of what our governments, military, intelligence agencies, and society as a whole have been up to in the past 30 years or so.

Well, this is exactly what happens to a society that responds so enthusiastically to all the major symptoms of fascist thought. Symptoms such as powerful and continuing nationalism; disdain for the recognition of human rights; identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause; supremacy of the military; obsession with national security; the intertwining of religion and government; disdain for intellectuals and the arts; an obsession with crime and punishment, etc.

Have not the bulk of Pakistanis willingly allowed themselves to be captured in all the macho and paranoid trappings of the above-mentioned symptoms of collective psychosis. It clearly smacks of a society that has been ripening and readying itself for an all-round fascist scenario.

This is the scenario some among us are really talking about when they speak of ‘imposing the system of the Khulfa Rashideen’ or shariah, or whatever profound buzzwords adopted to explain Pakistan’s march towards a wonderful society of equality and justice? Words that mean absolutely nothing, or systems and theories either based on ancient musings of tribal societies or on glorified myths of bravado.

I felt bad for the few bystanders at that Peshawar bombing site who kept contradicting their more gung-ho contemporaries by reminding them that for months the shopkeepers where receiving threatening letters from the Taliban warning them that they should stop selling products for women and ban the entry of women in the area.

One shop-owner who said he lost more than millions of rupees worth of goods in the blast was slightly taken aback when the anchor asked him who he thought was behind the bomb attack. For a few seconds he looked curiously at the anchor’s face, as if wondering why would a major TV news channel be asking a question whose answer was so obvious. ‘What do you mean, who was responsible?’ he asked. ‘The Taliban, of course!’

Fasi Zaka wrote a scathing piece on the floozy response of some students who chanted slogans against the Kerry-Lugar Bill outside the freshly bombed Islamic University. He was battered with hate mail, even from those who did agree with him that it were the Taliban who bombed the unfortunate university. But these folks turned out to be even worse than the deniers. They are apologists of all the mayhem that takes place in the name of Islam in this country.

Every time the barbarians set themselves off taking innocent men, women, and children with them, these apologists suddenly emerge to write letters to newspapers and try to dominate internet forums explaining the intricate ‘socio-economic problems’ that are turning men into terrorists. Or worse – as is expected from reactionary news reporters like Ansar Abbasi – they will start giving details about the infidel targets that the terrorists were really after at the place of the attack.

Zaka told me that he got letters suggesting that the Taliban attacked the canteen of the Islamic University because ‘women students were not behaving and dressing according to Islam.’ The state under Ziaul Haq had the Hudood Ordinance for such ‘loose women,’ but now the Taliban have bombs for them. And mind you, those who were trying to justify the bombing in this respect at the University were ‘educated’ young men and even women.

Recently, we also heard about a hijab-clad female student at the prestigious and ‘liberal’ Lahore University of Management Sciences, who bagged her 15 minutes of fame by capturing images through her mobile phone of students indulging in ‘immoral activities’ on campus. Of course, the same lady’s ‘concern’ and righteousness ends at becoming a self-appointed paparazzi for the reactionaries, whereas it was young women (in hijabs) and men with beards who died so senselessly at the Islamabad Islamic University campus.

Pathetic, indeed.

This article originally appearead on Dawn on November 12, 2009.

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