A few days ago, Mosharraf Zaidi wrote a must-read piece titled ‘The Unthinking Pakistani’. In it, he asks why hard-hitting questions were not asked in the wake of events such as the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terrorists’ audacious attack on PNS Mehran, and the brutal killing of one of Pakistan’s premier investigative journalists, Saleem Shahzad.
Any questions asked were met with feeble, half-hearted answers. Mr. Zaidi correctly declares that anyone who asks a pointed question is immediately dubbed a traitor, or an enemy of Islam. But, he goes on to say, “We don’t need an inquiry commission to explore these questions, we just need a healthy respect for Pakistan.” We can take that thought farther: Pakistan, a country of 180 million, badly needs a healthy dose of respect for the individual.
When a suicide bomber detonates in a crowded bazaar, mosque or office building, chances are the public will never know the names of the innocent victims. We will never see their faces, know their ages, hear about their dreams from their families and friends. Our media does not bother with those details. After a devastating attack on Ahamdis, the media spent its time debating whether to call the site of the bombing a “mosque” or “house of worship.” This attitude is systematically dehumanizing Pakistanis to their fellow citizens. It is this thought that comes to mind when reading monotonous stories about deaths in Balochistan, disappearances in Karachi.
Governor Salmaan Taseer sought to tell the country the story of Aasia Bibi, a poor, illiterate Christian woman and mother of five, imprisoned and awaiting death for alleged blasphemy. Imagine awaiting death, merely because enough people accuse you. Imagine a court meting out such a sentence on hearsay alone. The Governor’s brave stand cost him his life, and Aasia Bibi languishes in prison, along with many others in the same situation. The images of people celebrating the cold-blooded killing of a good man will always haunt those of us with a conscience. The videos of lawyers garlanding an admitted assassin will enraged those of who abide by the principle of justice. Just today, on Eid, the country saw the killing of Shias as they prayed; this, in a country founded by a Shia.
A few brave reporters (Saba Imtiaz and Shaheryar Mirza come to mind) seek to do right by their craft and report honest, piercing stories. But they are too few and far between. We have too much of the Meher Bokharis, and they outnumber the good.
Mr. Zaidi wrote “The Unthinking Pakistani.” Perhaps the correct title is “Unfeeling Pakistani.” If there was a national attitude of compassion and fraternity, we would be (as we ought) thoroughly outraged the vile leader of Al Qaeda saw fit to plan and fund murder from our soil. We would stand with the young men of our army (as we ought), aghast at terrorists’ ability to gain access to a protected base, destroy valuable craft, and kill our soldiers. We would demand justice (as we ought) for soft-spoken, father of three, who died to tell us a dark truth.
Each shattering tragedy seems to be followed by a second, noiseless one. There is a silence, a vacuum, where the right questions should be.
Critical statements and questions are routinely shut down with some version of “It is unIslamic to ask this, you are a traitor if you ask such things.” With all due respect, this is nothing but a smoke-screen. Debates about religion have existed for 1400 years, and are never-ending. I am not a religious scholar or an authority on Islam, nor do I wish to delve into matters of faith to solve the problems faced by the diverse people of Pakistan.
But since it IS an argument so effectively used to shut down dialogue, I will venture this far: Islam respects the individual, his/her right to live, worship as they see fit. Life is sacred, and compassion is a duty. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a country full of bright, talented people. It is time we valued each of them and honored their right to life and success. Compassion cures many more evils than condemnation ever will.