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The protest must be personal

July 23, 2010

Note: Originally posted,edited, at the Express Tribune, written in the days after the attack on Data Darbar in Lahore, prompted by the ensuing protests.


The cycle continues. It is one of tragic proportions, one soaked in tears and blood, pierced by the wails of the bereaved, but it is a cycle nonetheless. Wake up, hear about the latest attack, find out the gory details, and return to your work after the initial shock wears off. Go home, switch on the TV, and watch, mutely, as the media dissects every possible detail of the atrocity. Sob, perhaps, when the images of the fallen are flashed. Many might even yell out in frustration when a minister appears onscreen, passing what is surely now a well-rehearsed condemnation of terrorism. Reactions might vary – some may decide that they have had enough and take to the streets in protest. Some are too emotionally worn out to do anything but lament the current situation. Most have long since rationalized the irrational and have sturdy mechanisms in place to insulate themselves from pain.

The cycle continues.

Days after one of the worst suicide bombings yet to hit Pakistan, the people are still taking to the streets in mass condemnation of terrorism. They plead the government to take action, to ‘root out the menace’, to better protect the nation. (Surely the calls for the government to ‘take notice’ are nonsensical – you’d think the police would have noticed the persistent targeted attacks on their training academy and checkpoints.) These protests are a heartening sight for those who have been begging the masses to rise to action, and the strongest proof yet that the people of Pakistan are united against extremism – that far from opposing, they actually support the war on terror. The sheer amount of devastation inflicted upon the country by the militants could only lead the loss of their previously relatively widespread support. Just like invading forces in Afghanistan have bred hatred, so have the reactionary militants themselves given birth to their enemies in Pakistan.

Even now, as I write, the calls for vengeance echo across the streets. A mother comforts her children now bereaved of a father; two sisters hold each other, trying to quell the shivering sobs after the death of their sibling. One man hasn’t spoken properly since he saw the mutilated corpse of his son. No one foresaw this frightening use of shock and awe.

How long will this continue? A seemingly straightforward question, with devilishly complicated answers. Some say it’s all part of a conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan; some say it’s the result of a military dictator hell-bent on imposing a single brand of Islam on the nation (one that is both diverse and emotional, to further complicate matters). Many blame the government for not providing enough security; a few blame the victims themselves for diverging from ‘the true Islam’ and ‘asking for trouble’.

This cycle will never end, however, if we remain depressed, frustrated, and angry. Crying achieves little – all the tears over the years have failed to move the attackers. This isn’t necessarily cause for dismay, though – it simply points towards the need for an alternative methods to try and remove extremism.

And there is light at the end of the tunnel – we as a nation can bring an end to terrorism sooner than we think if we make the battle personal. The contribution of the civil society, so far, has been a rather belated condemnation of intolerance. As mentioned above, the attacks on Data Darbar took the public’s response to the next level – rallies and strikes on the streets. Public opinion is already changing – but not private opinion. So this conversation needs to enter homes now, for it to have any impact. It must be part of our dialogue with our friends, families, colleagues, acquaintances – specifically, those who sympathize with the extremists and share even a hint of their intolerant views. We must denounce those who refuse to accept nontraditional views, even if they are our own parents. We must argue loudly with anyone who propagates any hate against rival sects, even if it’s our boss. We must boycott those who demean and look down upon minorities, even if it means cutting off friendships. Only then will we be able to truly rid our society of the hatred that fuels inhumanity.

Okay, so that’s a little dramatic. People are not realistically going to challenge their parents, employers, and peers. We can, however, engage in conversations and argue for tolerance. We can always register protest against demonizing the non-mainstream. The pen is mightier than the sword, it has been said, and in our context, that translates to speaking up against hate speech. If a friend makes an anti-Shia or anti-Sunni joke, for example – condemn him. If your grandparents blame specific ethnic groups (such as Pathans or Punjabis) for everyone’s troubles, speak up, say you disagree and explain why. That, for me, is the way to a united Pakistan, a stronger Pakistan.

This is not easy to do. Just like strangling someone is much harder than being part of a lynch mob, making the protest personal instead of public requires significant commitment. So it comes down to the will of the individual to make a difference – and if we are all truly upset by savage attacks on Pakistan, will shouldn’t be hard to find. If we use the memory of the fallen to strengthen our resolve, if we transform our pain into a catalyst for reform, we can collectively make a difference. If we continue shifting responsibility, the cycle will continue. It’s that simple.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Faria permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:28 pm

    A great piece. Thank you so much for sharing it with Tribune readers

    • July 28, 2010 8:25 pm

      Thank you Faria. I am glad to have a better platform than my own blog.

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