Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let the Taliban take over

I just returned from a protest outside the Lahore Press Club against the assassination of Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. He was killed today in Islamabad by what are believed to be members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan. There have been reports that pamphlets were strewn around his body defending the blasphemy law, a colonial era law often misused in Pakistan, but defended vociferously by most of its population.

I reached the protest at exactly 3 O'Clock so there weren't a whole lot of protesters there then. Just about 50 odd. At first glance most protesters seemed to belong to the Christian minority, an understandable fact, since the slain minister was not only a defender of minority rights in Pakistan, he was a Christian himself. Many carried long red crosses above their heads and a few women in white uniform stood at the front, probably students from some missionary institution in Lahore.

Just standing in the middle of a busy road holding aloft crosses seems a fairly bold thing to do these days. But not too long ago in this country very middle class, conservative parents sent their children to Christian missionary schools without pondering too much over its 'effects', more concerned with the upward social mobility that these schools provided at a low cost than with fear of Christian indoctrination. The polarization between religions was, at least apparently, not as visible or divisive as it is today. I cannot recall a single girl in my whole school with the Arabic-looking headscarf that is in vogue these days, if you covered your head, a plain dupatta was considered sufficient. Anti India sentiment was rampant but it had yet not manifested itself in a fixation with the Arabization of everything. 'Allah Hafiz' 'Jazaak Allah' and other such phrases had still not been forced into everyday langauge to make the speaker sound pious and holy. Although, even back then, deep seated ideas about class and superiority made the Muslim kids silently condescend to the Christian ones for having darker complexions and less flashy possessions. But despite it being a so-called Christian school, its Muslim majority environment had the Christian kids firmly placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy. But the silent discourse of exclusion at that time was less about religion and more about 'class'. Other kids like me with unbranded surnames and hardworking professors as parents were, if not equally, then at least nearly, as much part of the struggle for acceptance.

Today we have separate 'Islamic' schools where the head scarf is a part of the uniform and my 5 year-old cousin's daughter says 'Alhamdulillah' each time she skips down a step. There may seem nothing wrong in that to cultural relativists who may accuse me of being ashamed of my own religious heritage, but as far as I know that is not my heritage to begin with. My naani who was certainly a Muslim, that too from a small Punjabi village, usually just wore a chiffon dupatta on her head and did not feel the need to make any greater show of her piety. But my born again Muslim cousin lets out a deep guttural sigh each time she talks of her grandmother, and prays for her 'maghfirat' (forgiveness of her souls) with fervent smugness.

At the recent TEDx Kinnaird a Christian girl, Elaine Alam, spoke about the trials and tribulations of being a Pakistani Christian. The immediate reaction of a typically defensive Muslim Pakistani friend behind me was 'What is she talking about? She is from my school, The Convent of Jesus and Mary. What discrimination could she face at a Christian school?' Apart from the fact that Elaine never once mentioned her school and talked mainly about her neighbourhood, this complete blindness to what kind of discrimination a Christian faces in a missionary school is emblematic of the apathy that the 'silent majority' is part of. I am sure this girl considers herself a 'moderate', but is completely oblivious to the role she is playing in perpetuating oppression, by refusing to even acknowledge its existence. Despite the silence in the hall i turned around and chided her, trying to explain with gestures and loud whispers that what she was saying was utterly wrong and tantamount to condoning bigotry and oppression. Needless to say, it wasn't really possible to get one's point across in those circumstances.

This girl's reaction was not unique, my students also routinely react this way when I first broach the subject of minorities in Pakistan. Many of them give examples of how well Christians are 'treated' in the country, the usage itself automatically placing them above the minority, creating a discourse of a kind master and a grateful servant

I severely doubt Shahbaz Bhatti's death will have any profound impact on people who choose to delude themselves in this manner. They will continue saying that Christians and other minorities in Pakistan are 'treated well', or else that they should not be so bold as to assert themselves and 'blaspheme'. They will continue feeling that a Christian man had no right to be made the head of a committee comprised to discuss the Blasphemy Law. They will continue radicalizing the country till such time as this becomes worse than Afghanistan. And for the long term interests of this region, I say let that happen. Until and unless we don't actually get to live under the tyranny of such men our romantic notions about this 'Muslim' state will never die. Once people are whipped for 50 years and taken back to the stone age is when a real revolution will take place around here. For any true change to come these religious forces will have to take over and break the idealism of both middle class conservatives and elite apologists. Only then can this nation rise from its ashes and build something anew.


  1. It's a good summary otherwise - obviously withering and bound to ruffle some feathers.

  2. The bit about heritage reminded me of this by Naipaul:

    "The conquest of Sind was the event that was being commemorated by articles in the newspapers when I was in Pakistan in 1979. There was an article by a military man about the successful Arab general. The article tried to be fair, in a military way, to the armies of both sides. It drew a rebuke from the chairman of the National Commission of Historical and Cultural Research.

    This was what the chairman said: “Employment of appropriate phraseology is necessary when one is projecting the image of a hero. Expressions such as ’invader’ and ’defenders’ and ’the Indian army’ fighting bravely but not being quick enough to ’fall upon the withdrawing enemy’ loom large in the article. It is further marred by some imbalanced statements such as follows: ’Had Raja Dahar defended the Indus heroically, and stopped Qasim from crossing it, the history of this subcontinent would have been quite different.’ One fails to understand”—this is the chairman of the Commission of Historical and Cultural Research—”whether the writer is applauding the defeat of the hero or lamenting the defeat of his rival.” After 1,200 years, the holy war is still being fought. The hero is the Arab invader, bringer of the faith. The rival whose defeat is to be applauded—and I was reading this in Sind—is the man of Sind.

    To possess the faith was to possess the only truth; and possession of this truth set many things on its head. To believe that the time before the coming of the faith was a time of error distorted more than an idea of history. What lay within the faith was to be judged in one way; what lay outside it was to be judged in another. The faith altered values, ideas of good behavior, human judgments. So I not only began to understand what people in Pakistan meant when they told me that Islam was a complete way of life, affecting everything."

  3. Good post. And lol @ the religious cousin bit. I agree with you about the religious schools especially and the thing that bothers me the most is how you're not supposed to say anything negative about such places. I, personally, would like my kids to have a good, liberal education and be as happy at school as I was, not think constantly about how the creative writing they're doing for English isn't "Islamic" enough. Trust me, I used to know such people (still do, actually) and the whole time, every single time I spoke to them I had to defend my books. Even "Anne of Green Gables" was considered a "burri" or, even worse, "bekaar kitab".

    Ok now I'm signing out. Sorry to hog so much comment space for my rant *blush*

  4. What I don't get is why do we need to shove down our beliefs down other ppl's throat. If God wanted everyone to be a Muslim it was far easier for Him then these Mullahs n I agree with u. These half ass insecure deluded Muslims should get what they want. Talibanization it is!

  5. No No NO! it cant be Talibanization. All your points are hundred percent true Sabahat but concluding this from your thinking is like giving in to suicide . Things Are bad enough for rebellion and change to come. Yes there are people who glorify the Taliban Islam rule but one answer is enough to set them right. The Taliban Islam is not the real Islam. Human life is valued in all relegions and especially in Islam. And when these Fundo s talk of Jihad, actually by all Islamic terms and interpretations Jihad should be fought against these bearded and unbearded Extremists who continue to kill kill and kill physically and metaphorically. You know in reality it Is not about religion, it is about Power. And Yes relegion becomes the perfect tool to empower and oppress nations where the protectors and leaders are not strong enough to punish. And nations can still be recognized as Muslims states while being secular. Like Turkey, Malasyia or India.
    Concluding "let the Taliban take over" is suggesting something like let your parents and all your loved ones and family die, only then you learn how to live.. If you know what i mean. It may sound like a v idiotic anaology, but it feels the same.
    Needless to say, your post is so beautifully and powerfully written and it has that undertones of dark tragic shades to it which makes it such an eye opener first hand account. I love the way how you authenticate everything with your own personal experiences and then connect them to the basic main objective. Keep blogging.

  6. Excellent post. I have come to a similar conclusion that unless Americans are completely banished from the area and the mullahcracy takes over in some way shape or form the utterly confused 'mashallah','alhamdulillah' middle class will continue to commit slow suicide. What depresses me is that even after that calamity they may still continue to insist that catastrophe has struck because that form of religious rule will not have been "true Islam".

  7. Nice Blog. But as I read it, I can't help thinking again and again- Are you guys moving forward or sliding back? Where is this going to end?

    To some extent I think this is inevitably a result of the premise on which Pakistan was created- a slide into religion, a rejection of any shared history or culture is inevitable to create and sustain the idea of Pakistan.

    It seems our countries are going in opposite directions.Pakistan will only be weaker and its leaders and people more prone to making huge mistakes the more they create these elaborate mythologies and the more they believes in them. For when such mythologies do not square with your present status in the world, they leave you feeling hopeless and frustrated (or even worse when you yourself have doubts over the veracity of such stories you take actions and posture in a way as to try and prove them to yourself). This is the only way in which I can explain Pakistan's consistent hostility towards India, the desire and the talk to have Radio Pakistan play from Delhi etc. and the extremely inhuman actions of sending gunmen into the crowds of tired officegoers going home through VT, or relaxed happy crowds at Colaba.

    Anyways, I can only talk of my country and I hope we keep going in the opposite direction. Only a truly united and secular India will be a strong India and despite all imperfections in practice we have an ideal that we are taught in school and which i hope we will continue striving for.

    Anyways, I started off initially wanting to comment when I read that girls driving bikes in Pakistan is a no-no. That sucks....Indian cities are full of these manic scootie driving women and let me tell you they seem to jump more red lights than the men.

    Doesnt seem to be much point in that rant though. But thats what the net is all about.