Pakistan’s Psychosis

Pakistan psychosis

In a moving reflection on the tragedy presently unfolding in Islamabad, Farrukh Khan Pitafi noted that, “The first casualty in all this is reason”. Sadly, Pitafi sahib may be eulogising something lost well before Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri mobilised their goondas supporters. Last week, a new extensive survey of Pakistani attitudes was released that includes some startling revelations about how we perceive reality, and just how disconnected we have become from the same.

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Slouching Towards Mosul

Pakistani Shia Muslims shout slogans to protest against the bombing which killed 90 people, in Quetta on February 18, 2013

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

–William Butler Yeats

Chief Justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has ordered that ‘those responsible for religious hate speech on social media must be brought to justice and children who face harassment at their schools because of their religious beliefs should also be protected’. The Chief Justice further recommended the creation of a a national council to overlook the protection of minorities. It is welcome news, but there’s a long way to travel between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’, and one worries that the esteemed Justice’s orders may be a case of ‘too little, too late…’

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When my mother heard the news of Farzana’s brutal killing, she didn’t shake her head or cluck her tongue (two of her usual ways of reacting to sensational news). She took on a stoney silence and went about her work without making eye contact or speaking to anyone for the rest of the day. My father tried to distract her with his bad jokes, but when he couldn’t even get her glance, he began to look worried and left the house on some invented errand. I endured her silence alone, feeling more alone than ever in a house that is always vibrating with energy, even at all hours.

I could overhear their muffled voices late that night from the kitchen, my mothers sanctuary. I crept to see what was happening and I saw my mother standing by the window with her head down, muttering softly. She was making du’a, her soft voice carrying a list of names: Farzana Iqbal, Dr. Mehdi Ali QamarKhalil AhmadSalmaan Taseer, and countless other names I couldn’t recognise.My father sitting on a chair with his eyes closed, tears streaming down his face in silence.

I haven’t been able to sleep since that night. My father has always been a giant to me, a man whose strength could not be tested. Yet what I saw in that kitchen was a man who appeared on the verge of defeat, my mother praying off in the distance as if making du’a for her own husband’s funeral. More than that. For her entire family. But it was even more than that. My mother was not praying for her husband, or her family, she was praying for her country.

It was shocking. My parents have always been patriots of the highest degree. Growing up, my father loved to quote Iqbal any time he had a lesson to impart. My parents defended their country, right or wrong, and always believed that even during the darkness of Zia, that light was breaking through the cracks. They watched their friends leave for the UK or America, and they shook their heads and said, “just wait, they will come running home soon enough.”

Since that night, though, our house has lacked that sense of hope. My parents are quiet and slow, they seem to have aged decades over just a few short days. My father’s face is worried and stern, my mother appears in mourning. Each morning I look through the news papers for some story that I can use to reignite my parent’s natural optimism, but each day I am greeted instead with new horrors. Police chopping up bodies. Sectarian killers opening fire on innocents. And almost every day another bomb.

And yet life goes on. We close our eyes and ears. We hold onto hope, even if it is a hope that only exists in our imaginations. Like a man ignoring the cancer that is eating away at his body, we tell ourselves that we’re fine, we’re not dead yet. But unless we are willing to face the reality and take the harsh treatment needed to remove the cancer, our fate will be unavoidable. And my mother will continue to make du’a for her dying country.

Blasphemy Charges Against Lawyers: The Bigger Threat

The outrageous charges of blasphemy filed against 68 lawyers for protesting against police brutality is only the latest example of extremists defaming Pakistan in the world. International headlines have highlighted the misuse of blasphemy law, but there is an other element to the story that is receiving less attention but has much deeper consequences for the fate of the nation.

It would be bad enough if blasphemy laws were being misused in a revenge case by the police. What is more concerning, however, is that the victims of this case are mostly Shia lawyers, and the police used ASWJ – an extremist anti-Shia sectarian group – as their agent of revenge.

Among the lawyers framed in the FIR there are also a good number of lawyers from the Shia sect so that they would be easily made targets of the religious bigots and extremists.

The interesting point here is that the police enlisted the aid of a prominent religious group, the ASWJ, to file the blasphemy case in favour of the police. The ASWJ happily complied with the request by the police and offered its services as if it was looking for an opportunity to file a case of blasphemy.

Misuse of blasphemy laws is a serious issue. If police are believed to be working hand in hand with sectarian extremist groups, however, the consequences could be even more severe.

Defending the National Ideology

Pakistani protestors holding posters of Osama bin Laden

The national ideology is a topic that has been discussed from before independence. Actually, it may be even be discussed more today than it was in the time of Iqbal and Jinnah. Certainly their words continue to be discussed and debated as much if not more today. Most of the discussions of national ideology center on defending the the boundaries of the national ideology of two nation theory, keeping Pakistan from being undermined by Indian hegemony. But while a vigilant watch has been kept on one boundary, another was left unguarded.

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