Floods, Fanatics, and Fault Lines

Raza Rumi’s column in today’s Express Tribune should never need to be written. A tragedy of the proportions we are facing is a time to put aside petty differences and work to heal our wounds and move our nation forward. But this flood is doing more than washing away our crops, our infrastructure, even our people. It is washing away that layer of social blindness that hides from us our true selves. Like the famous portrait of Dorian Gray, we are finally faced with the truth. So how are we responding?

In many ways, we are responding nobly. Our military has been working tirelessly to save lives and distribute aid. Our politicians, though many were slow to grasp the enormity of the crisis, have been reaching out to friends across the globe to raise awareness and relief funds. Military and political leaders across political parties have donated entire month salaries to victims.

But there is another loud, spiteful, obnoxious response that has arisen. Like a spoiled dauphine, it wails and lashes out with complete disregard for the consequences of its tantrum.

It is truly sad that a hyper-active media elite is fanning anger and hatred in a deeply divided and polarized society beset with problems such as those we face. Yes, the government has its flaws and makes mistakes. I defy you to find a government that does not? But the level of orchestration that appears to be going on, all with the sole intention of promoting division and negativity is stunning.

Honest and constructive criticism is a natural part of democracy, but the way anger and hate is being perpetrated in our country is deeply disturbing. Too often the comments being made through the electronic media are not constructive, rather they are more reflective of a deliberate attempt to polarize society.

And this is, unfortunately, not new to the floods. Certainly there are some opportunists who are willing to exploit such a historic tragedy to promote their own agenda. But lately everything – the restoration of the Chief Justice, the NRO, where some people got their degrees, 18th Amendment…and now the floods – everything is made out to be the arrival of apocalypse, the end of the world and the country. And yet we continue on.

A flood of this magnitude would have overwhelmed any government. Hurricane Katrina almost toppled the Bush government, and they had at their disposal the full force of the American government. Even under the full control of Musharraf who was President/COAS/de facto dictator – even then the response to the earthquake was slow to get under way. Mountains can be moved, but it takes time.

Much of this constant anger and uncivil discourse is the product of a national elite obsessed with power politics and so removed from unable to understand Pakistan’s deeper decline – intellectual, social, economic and military. Polarization does not suit democracy. Democracy is based on consensus, compromise, moving ahead slowly over time to avoid dangerous turns. But these elitists believe they have no need for consensus or compromise – they believe they have all the answers. In fact, they have none.

Take the floods as a perfect example. Already there are the most ridiculous conspiracy theories being emailed around saying that it was caused by a top secret weather control machine used by CIA. Children’s cartoons make more sense.

Why isn’t anyone talking about how deforestation in the mountains made the floods so swift, making the necessary response time impossibly immediate; how meteorologists and climate scientists couldn’t assess the amount of rain expected; how there was no pre-flood evacuation and why the country still hasn’t updated and improved dams over the years despite the fact that floods have been a regular threat?

Cyril Almeida writes that the flood has “uncovered 63 years of the great unwashed masses of this country. The people the state has failed in the most terrible of ways, not this week, not last month, but over its entire, sordid history.”

These issues are difficult, complicated, and often uncomfortable. They require a willingness to look deep within ourselves individually, and as a society both to ask “what are we doing”?

Why is no one talking about the fact that elite media people are promoting jihadi groups? I received an email from Ahmed’s website PakNationalists (what nonsense to proclaim yourself a nationalist – deeds, not political slogans make a true patriot) praising JuD’s response to the flood crisis. But where is the media outcry about jihadis picking and choosing who is holy enough to save? Or that Taliban only offers help with political strings attached? Where is the outcry over this insult as there was over Kerry-Lugar’s conditionalities? Why did no one in the media notice that it was Hizbut Tahrir organising the anti-Zardari protest in Birmingham and it had nothing to do with flood response or anything else.

The unabated holier-than-thou ranting from some of the elite corners of our media is embarrassing. Always with someone to blame, never willing to analyze or understand the problems ourselves, they talk a lot and say nothing. It is easy to blame India for the water crisis, but where are our reservoirs and distribution plans to keep pace with a rising population? It is easy to blame Americans for creating the jihadi nuisance during the Soviet Era, but the Americans did not create the concept of ‘strategic depth’ and they did not create the LeT and set them loose in Kashmir, either. It is easy to blame “the rulers” for load shedding, but why never those who didn’t allow IPPs to go online on grounds of “corruption” or those who steal electricity? It’s easy to turn up our noses at bribery and corruption, but how many of us are not just as guilty as those we love to hate?

Media pundits and wanna-be drawing room politicos have loved to hate Asif Zardari since before he was even elected. But behind the closed doors of their spacious air conditioned homes, you know they must be thanking Allah for delivering him. Unable to study, analyze, and provide constructive criticism on any issues, they sleep easily knowing that as long as Zardari is president, their Mercedes Benz cars and their armies of nokarein will be securely paid for. They would all be out of business if Zardari didn’t provide grist for their vapid blame mills.

Gulmina Bilal Ahmad is 100% correct – until “we assume responsibility for our actions, our thought processes, and our bigoted world vision…our holier than thou attitude is not going to get us anywhere”.

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