The Sanity Deficit


Nadeem Paracha

This article by Nadeem Paracha appeared in Dawn on 10 October 2010.

She is being called the “daughter of the nation” who needs to be rescued from the fanged jaws of the Americans. TV channels buzz with the talk of this gallant woman who was found guilty by an American court for attempted murder, and on whose defence the government has already spent a whopping two million dollars.

I remember, on February 5, 2010, when Karachi became the horrid scene of two bomb attacks that killed dozens of men, women and children, leaders of various mainstream religious parties were marching up and down the streets of Lahore condemning Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s (then ongoing) trial, insisting that she was innocent, and demanding that she be released and returned to Pakistan. Not surprisingly, the Taliban followed suit.

A few days before that, when TV channels were airing shameful scenes of groups of lawyers outside the Lahore High Court cursing and abusing media men and relatives of a 12-year-old Shazia, who was said to have died at the hands of a lawyer, the same religious parties were behaving as if the young maid’s torturous death meant absolutely nothing compared to Aafia’s plight in the US. Not a single rally or a word of condemnation in this respect slipped out from the many defenders of the Aafia cause. Clearly, her champions are not bothered by the plight of those women who face humiliation every day and then languish in a depressing wilderness. Why, are these wronged girls and women not daughters of this nation?

Never have the highly vocal keepers of our women’s sanctity even superficially censured the aggravating antics of monsters like the Taliban and Al Qaeda at whose hands thousands of innocent Pakistanis have lost their lives. None of the many women, children and men who were mercilessly slaughtered by the extremists, it seems, were good enough to also be celebrated as brothers, sisters and children of this nation. Remember Zarina Marri and Dr Shazia Khalid? Zarina went missing during the Musharraf regime after being accused of harbouring Baloch nationalists. She was said to have been abducted by intelligence agencies in 2005 and kept isolated in a cell in Karachi.

Likewise, you may also ask why didn’t this very godly brigade take up the case of Dr Shazia Khalid, the doctor and employee of Pakistan Petroleum, who was beaten and raped allegedly by a captain at a Sui hospital in 2005? She was moved to a psychiatric facility in Karachi. Later, she was put under house arrest and prevented from contacting lawyers, doctors and human rights activists. She barely managed to leave Pakistan after facing death threats.

For every single Aafia, there is a Zarina, Shazia and, of course, a Mukhtaran Mai — victims of violent feudal traditions, unaccountable arrogance or sheer social hypocrisy and apathy. In the context of the highly subjective media attention that Aafia is getting (along with her understandably distressed family members), one can also ask why Shazia Khalid’s or Zarina Marri’s families were never interviewed by TV channels. Why have we not seen mass scale demonstrations in Pakistan for justice for these two women, or for Mukhtaran Mai? Does a distressed Pakistani woman need to be mistreated only by Americans to garner any sympathy?

The truth is that religious parties and right-wing flashes-in-the-pans that have sprung up in electronic media and the political spectrum, are mostly ideologically bankrupt, operating in a vacuum created by constant failure of militant jihad to impose its own versions of faith and politics. The worldview being popularised by such outfits and personalities has dangerously mutated Pakistan’s social evolution.

Instead of society and the polity taking a natural evolutionary course by developing a democratic mindset that respects ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity within and helps foster a progressive relationship with other nations, this populist worldview bursting out of Pakistan’s media just looks for demons without. This is precisely the mindset from which many are screening the Aafia case while they remain blind to the fate of the many other Pakistani women who have suffered at the hands of bigots, feudal lords and dictators at home.

So what is the truth in the Aafia case? It is something that can only be rationally debated and investigated. However, this most likely is not an option for our electronic media and their studio guests.