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Reimagining this country

The tragedy today is that the state is responding to individual crimes rather than the mindset causing mob violence

Reimagining this country

Let the image of Shahzad and Shama stay in your memory — a family portrait with a colourful sheet displayed as a background, representing places they wanted to visit with their current and unborn children. Let their screams be instilled in your head as they were dragged across the dirt, blood flowing relentlessly from their lacerated bodies. Picture it. The blow to the head, the violent pull of the blood soaked hair. Engorged eye-balls begging for mercy. The earth must have turned crimson for a second with blood and then turned indifferent, as it always has, towards the life that it sprouts along with the death and blood that it absorbs. A brick kiln and the charred mutilated bodies of Shahzad and Shama. Picture it.

And then picture an eerie silence.

Anger, disgust, outrage flowed. The same routine of calling for a report, an inquiry committee and speedy justice followed. In the larger scheme of things this is the equivalent of whispering, “terrible” and shaking your head as you move on to the next task.

As much as it disgusts all of us, no one in Pakistan should be surprised that this is happening. I said it when the Joseph Colony tragedy happened that these incidents can and will occur anywhere in Pakistan — and there is little that can be done to stop this in the short term.

A lot of commentators, yet again, have brought the blasphemy law into focus. But no matter what you do with that law, it will do nothing to curb vigilante violence. A law on the books was not telling the local cleric to use his loud-speaker to spread death and incite violence. A particular mindset was. His conviction that no one would stop him was crucial. The mob’s abiding belief that the police would be helpless was equally relevant. And if you needed further evidence that the law has nothing to do with this, you just need to read about the latest incident in Gujrat: a policeman killing an accused with an axe during interrogation for blasphemy.

The local police officials will need to be trained and vested with the responsibility of spreading word in their community that the state has a zero-tolerance approach toward such incitement to violence.

The tragedy is that the state and all of us, are responding to individual crimes rather than the mindset causing this. A law does not fix pervasive hatred. An ad-hoc approach will only result in such instances multiplying. The solution, if there is one, lies in being pro-active rather than reactive. Unless the state is willing to make it a priority to curb such violence, nothing shall change. As a seminal Supreme Court judgment, authored by His Lordship Justice Tassaduq Jilani (former CJP), rightly noted the response of the state needs to be at an institutional level rather than individual.

The state of Pakistan, and its responsible government, must form a national level commission with broad based representation — with people from all faiths in Pakistan as well as the religious right. This body will then need to come up with a comprehensive policy of suggesting short, medium and long term reforms — be they related to security, policing, education, legislation etc. Money needs to be poured into an effective public awareness campaign to combat vigilante violence. This is not going to be easy since, as I have argued before, the state has little incentive to do this. The state, as it defines itself, does not feel threatened if religious minorities or anyone for that matter is killed in the name of blasphemy. But this is where the international community can and must play a big role. Pakistan’s donors, even if more interested in our structural reforms, must put pressure on the state to be more pro-active in combating/preventing such incidents. Link aid to results.

A comprehensive policy and political will is the only answer. It will be messy, terribly messy, but it is worth starting now. There will be false starts but it is worth starting now. We will need to reimagine this country as it exists. The local police officials will need to be trained and vested with the responsibility of spreading word in their community that the state has a zero-tolerance approach towards such incitement to violence. And even this will take years — multiple long years in which many will lose their lives.

Also read: A lynching state of mind

When a blind moralistic zeal dictates mind and body, there can be little hope of rational action. Such a zeal views human beings through a uni-dimensional lens — in which individual actions (rather than an amalgamation of these) define an entire individual’s personhood, life and (when confronted with a mob) even her right to live.

Humans are deeply complex beings. And those in a society not willing to realise this must be threatened with a severe deterrent.

Calls for tweaking a law, arresting a few people, ordering an inquiry — all those constitute the easy stuff, even the glamorous. The hard part is getting together the right people who can put their heads together about how to fix this. It will not be easy and people who are assembled for this purpose will scream at each other throughout the process — but if you put enough reasonably intelligent and driven people in a room then, even as they fight, something worth pursuing emerges.

Right now we are not even willing to imagine such a room, let alone deciding about who gets to be inside it.

There is nothing that I or anybody can say that can ease the haunting existence of the surviving children of the deceased couple. Imagine being a citizen of this state and growing up with the consistent memory that your parents were dragged across the ‘Pak Sarzameen’ (lines from the national anthem) by a mob, as they screamed for mercy. If these children take up arms and bomb the community that did this to their parents, the state will call them criminals — yet our mainstream political parties advocate negotiating with those who turn children into suicide bombers as they show them videos of drone strikes. The state is comfortable in the knowledge that the victims in the case of blasphemy cannot react. So why worry?

This country is far more messed up than one can ever write about. We are all at fault. Picking the easy battle, never the hard one — since the hard one does not really affect our existence. But it will. One day not too far from now, the earth will be just as indifferent to our blood.

The hatred running through the veins of this country is so intense that not even the pleading screams of Shahzad and Shama could ignite compassion in it. The brick kiln which swallowed them and their unborn child is not done eating yet. Soon, we will run out of ‘others’ to throw in it. And then there will be our screams followed by the same eerie silence that hangs in the air at Kot Radha Kishan.

For what it is worth, this article is equally useless.

Waqqas Mir

The writer is a practicing lawyer. He can be reached at [email protected]

One comment

  • Gift of the two nation theory! It will continue to give such results to Pakistan unless and until the nation collectively decides that two nation theory is horrendous. You expect fairness and justice to minorities, while same time saying that Muslims are greater citizen compared to the non Muslims. You cannot have it both ways – this or the other.

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