When I read Mosharraf Zaidi’s column this morning which suggests that moderates and liberals are having the wrong debate by discussing the finer points of why the blasphemy laws in our penal code warrant attention, or the utter insanity of people who celebrate a daylight murder, I could not help but be overcome with a sense of defeatism. Mosharraf makes a lot of sense, and in away, I think he’s right. But I also think he’s missing something important.
@kaalakawaa posted on Twitter last week:
“I would somehow like to magically upload my entire consciousness to this weird, liberal, awesome Pakistani land of Twitter.”
Me too. And though I know that I can’t, it has been a constant source of strength to be able to connect with a community of people who I know are sane, thinking people. That’s why I started blogging in the first place. It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re surrounded by people who make you question your own sanity. It’s easy to start feeling like maybe you’re the crazy one. And having a community of moderate and liberal people to talk to, even if virtually…it is a lifeline.
But I take Mosharraf’s point. We need to expand our discussion beyond why the blasphemy laws are misguided and why murder should not be glorified (seriously, I cannot believe I had to write that). And to this end, Mosharraf provides a wake up call.
Extremist mullahs, conspiracy theorists, right-wing wackos – they all play on the same sense of insecurity, hopelessnes and defeatism that makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do. And that’s what we need to start talking about.
This is a point that we must not lose sight of – a lot of what’s going on is not normal for people. I hear people I’ve grown up with saying that they understand Qadri because how can you love the Prophet (PBUH) and not feel defensive, not get angry when someone insults him and degrades him. I try to point out that Salmaan Taseer didn’t insult or degrage anyone, and they just look confused and shake their heads.
And these aren’t crazy, illiterate people. But they are people that feel like everything is completely out of their control. A lot of them are young, educated…and can’t find a job anywhere. That’s cute for a while, but pretty soon you start to wonder if you’re ever going to find a job. And if you can’t find a job, how are you going to get married, have kids, be a person of stature in your community?
And it’s not just the economy. It’s the damn war. It seems like its never ending. Nobody likes the jihadis. And sure the Americans are trying to get rid of them, but they’ve been doing that for years and they’re still here. Can’t we just get rid of both of them? I just want it all to stop. To wake up tomorrow like it’s a bad dream.
So what do we do? Well, I don’t know, exactly. But I’d like to have this discussion with my moderate and liberal friends so we can come up with a solution that’s alternate to Ahmed Quraishi’s dictatorship, Zaid Hamid’s Kalipha, and Mullah Omar’s medieval court.
And it can’t just be discussing the intricacies of macro-level policies like RGST and Foreign Direct Investment incentives. Those are necessary, don’t misunderstand, but they’re hardly sufficient.
Roti, Kapra, Aur Makaan was a brilliant slogan because its directly addressed the people’s needs. It wasn’t a 5-year program to enhance GDP growth. It was saying, “You matter. You deserve a life of dignity and respect.”
But we need more than slogans. We need to find ways to address those basic human needs that Syed Munawar Hasan and Zaid Hamid play to. We need to create space in our society for people to know that they are being heard, that they have some control over their own lives. Maybe I can find that space in the “weird, liberal, awesome Pakistani land of Twitter” but we need to make this space offline. We need to create it in every village, every school, every house, every shop.
I was touched by the words of Shehryar Taseer in an interview with BBC when he said to the extremists that “this is not your Pakistan”. He’s right. Pakistan belongs to all of us, and we should all be invited to dinner. Leaving no one out will not only counteract the spell used by our would-be dictators, it will make us stronger as a nation.
So what do you think? Where can we start?