Why do we constantly try to project a ‘soft’ image of our country? Why do we urge writers, actors, artists to try and do so, depicting a different picture of reality. The truth is that there is really less and less that is ‘soft’ about us.
We live in a hard, ugly place. A place where a mosque in Islamabad has been named after Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salmaan Taseer and where, in the same city, Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid, now a free man once more, has named the library complex at the Jamia Hafsa after Osama bin Laden, making it quite clear who his heroes are. No one seems to have made any effort to challenge these acts, even though it is hard to see any other country in the world where a government would permit public places to be named after notorious criminals.
There is no Adolf Hitler Strasse in Germany, and no memorial to Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who murdered, and in some cases cannibalised, at least 17 people between 1978 and 1991 in his native Milwaukee.
There are reasons for this; sound reasons. In order to keep order within them, most societies choose to eulogise those who do good and ostracise those who commit evil. The distinction sends out a specific message and helps mould the nature of society, distinguishing between wrong and right. When this vanishes it leaves behind chaos and disorder. It also creates deep confusion within people living together, making it impossible to judge what is right and what wrong. We see this sense of judgement vanishing.
We should also be thinking about why Maulana Aziz, tossing away the veil he used to try and slip away from the Lal Masjid in July 2007, should have chosen to make his move now. Or why the Imam at a Faizabad Mosque, backed by those donating money for it and praying at it, should have selected Qadri’s name as the structure goes up. The lawyer representing Qadri was made a Judge of the Islamabad High Court by none other than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Is there a feeling that with Taliban terrorists freed and attempts on to continue talks with the outfit, there is greater tolerance for zealots who kill? This is a frightening development, and it comes alongside other changes.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, chapters on Pakhtun heroes such as Bacha Khan and Ghani Khan are being removed from textbooks to be replaced by ‘national’ heroes, including, we are told, Mohammad bin Qasim. Leaders of extremist groups have been able to address public rallies, more and more are appearing on television and a recent survey showed teenager Malala Yousafzai was one of the most disliked people in the country. We have clearly lost hold of rationality.
There are other signs of what is happening to us.
On social media, a receipt from a grocery store in the Defence area of Karachi has been doing the rounds. The receipt states that items used for shaving will be sold to customers only if they use them for purposes other than shaving beards – an act described as a ‘huge sin’. It is not possible to say whether the picture of this absurd receipt is some kind of hoax. It could well be. But nevertheless, it to some degree reflects where our society is headed and how it is becoming harder and harder by the day.
Colourful images of children’s literature festivals, of films based around anti extremist themes will not really paint the ‘softer’ image that is sought. So much of this lies embedded in minds, not easily dug out with a few theatrical efforts. In any event, the folks organizing these events are either already dual nationals or have one foot in the outside world, and live in cocoons anyway.
The philosophy that goes behind the naming of the mosque or library complex in Islamabad runs a long way. School children, with quite enormous venom, speak out against other sects. Somewhere, this has been taught to them. Infants, as we all know, are not born with hatred programmed into their brains. Changing the situation is obviously an extremely arduous task.
One wonders at times how it can be achieved. Even if the store selling razors only to kill but not to shave beards, or for whatever other reasons, does not exist there are plenty of people – especially women – who have been advised on what to wear or how to behave. These words may in some cases have been delivered kindly, but they still insult; injure the dignity and take away from people the right to choose.
That right to choose is important. We are living in a society that offers fewer and fewer choices. Those who live next to the Mumtaz Qadri Mosque really can do nothing but to talk or drive quietly past it each day. If they disapprove, they will not say so; that would be too dangerous. The result is a further closing of minds.
We have also seen a vicious campaign launched against the peace initiative campaign with India run by the Geo/Jang Group. The initiative has been a hugely successful one. ‘Aman ki Asha’ has brought together Indians and Pakistanis from across the Subcontinent.
We can only guess as to why it would be opposed or termed a ‘foreign-funded’ initiative. It is odd in some ways that this attack, or the one on the excellent ‘Zara Sochiye’ campaign run by the same group would be led by Imran Khan, a man who has always claimed he stands for peace with India and for open mindedness. Are elements elsewhere now pulling the strings?
Whatever the truth, the fact is that we stand at a very difficult point. While the government continues with its talks with the Taliban, it has not succeeded in bringing about freedom for the sons of Salmaan Taseer or Yusuf Raza Gilani who apparently have been captured by militant groups. How much effort has been made for this we do not know. All we have to go by are the confused, often ludicrous statements by the interior minister who does not himself seem to know which way we should be headed or where we are going.
The whole thing is a bit like the typical Halloween prank where a figure appears with a stump for a neck and a grinning head held in the crook of the elbow. We quite literally have lost our head and the ability to use the brain that lies within it to judge matters.
This is a grave condition. The treatment for it is not easy to find. But we must ask why we even attempt to put forward a better image for Pakistan when one does not really exist. It is hard to conjure up facts that are not there. It would be better to face reality. This reality is that we have gone very wrong indeed.
But there is good within many people in our country. There are those who have undertaken philanthropic work with great zeal, who rush to the scene of any terrorist attack or accident to donate blood or who do what they can to help a nation which staggers to keep standing.
We have to keep in mind that simply existing on the map year after year is not enough. We need to take our nation forward and a means to achieve this has to be found by changing reality and not just image. One cannot be done without the other.