By Shemrez Nauman Afzal
The media frenzy and political gimmickry after Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, and now Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal murder, fails to answer questions, and instead, posits more queries and conundrums which are completely uncalled for
On the morning of March 02, 2011, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was gunned down near his house in I/8-3 sector of Islamabad. He did not have his security protocol with him. The assassins sprayed his car with bullets, and after confirming the death of their target, littered the murder site with pamphlets that proclaimed the incident as having been commissioned by the hitherto-unknown Punjabi Taliban.
As soon as news of the assassination broke out, civil society demonstrators and protesters held rallies throughout major Pakistani cities, while the Pakistani Christian community was divided on whether to take to the streets over the murder of their biggest politician in broad daylight, or to stay silent and remain within the shelter of their homes.
We only think about what to do, what to say, and (thanks to the media) what to feel AFTER something tragic and unthinkable has happened.
Yet, the tragic and unthinkable happens so often, that one would imagine we would be prepared for it by now, even if we are not desensitized to it.
Express Tribune, a mainstream newspaper, reflected the views of the protesters as follows: nobody is safe, not even the protesters.
Tomorrow if I say something that someone doesn’t agree with, I will also be killed. When people can kill with so much impunity in the capital, no one is safe.
Anyone who speaks the truth is unsafe.
This is another attempt by the extremists to silence the truth and those who dare to work for the rights of minorities, claimed the protesters.
And then we have the religious parties, drawing overstretched links between Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination and the excessive intolerance prevalent in our society, to the Raymond Davis case, the existence of clandestine CIA-contractor networks in Pakistan, and their links to terrorist organizations that are out to destabilize Pakistan (most notably the TTP and other regional and local groups affiliated with Al Qaeda).
The political and religio-political parties also failed to outrightly condemn the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti – some said that the murder of a minister is worthy of condemnation, others (like Khawaja Asif of the PML-N and Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi of Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat) said that the blasphemy issue makes all Muslims emotional and people should think a thousand times before commenting on it, and yet others drew links between foreign hands trying to destabilize Pakistan, and local elements who wish to draw attention away from Raymond Davis and onto ‘Pakistan as the hub of terrorism and extremism’.
What is the way out?
The progressive, liberal offensive to rescue Pakistan from this quicksand of hatred, from these existential threats, must now multiply.
The liberal, progressive, forward-looking, tolerant and modernity-oriented citizens of Pakistan – regardless of caste, class, creed, background, religion, faith, sect, endowment – must multiply the fronts over which they are currently fighting the Battle for Pakistan.
The scourge of intolerance, of extremism and bigotry, of hatred and hypocrisy, must be countered, checked and questioned. This must take place by retaking the mosques and the madrassas, by re-educating our youth, by interacting with them and mainstreaming them, and by attacking the mullah’s monopoly on so-called “religious discourse” that has very little to do with Islam, but a lot to do with the political goals and motives of the mullah’s.
At the same time, it must be remembered that any and every enemy of Pakistan will try to make the most of our divisions, of issues that can divide us, and over incidents that can diminish our resolve to solve problems just because we are unable to properly investigate and pinpoint the source of contention.
Pakistan wants to coexist peacefully with its neighbours and with the rest of the world.
But before that happens, Pakistanis need to learn to coexist peacefully with each other.
If a Federal Minister and a Governor can be gunned down in the Federal Capital in broad daylight, then it is a sign that all rational, progressive people in Pakistan are a minority.
That is exactly what the religious extremists want you and the world to think.
The offensive against hatred, intolerance, bigotry, hypocrisy and extremism must multiply. There is no better time to do it than now. Otherwise the current pace and quantum of right-wing extremism in Pakistan might lead to an equally deadly and destabilizing phenomenon of left-wing extremism, founded over an anti-mullah and anti-fundamentalist (if not anti-Islam) conceptualization.
Yet, we never prepare in advance, we never dedicate ourselves to these honorable pursuits; we wait for another brave Pakistani on the frontline to be martyred, and we wait for it to ignite our conscience and our passions for another short period of time, until we fall eerily silent once more.
This Pakistani characteristic of post-mortem realizations is really going too far. Tolerance implies coming to peace with things, with people, with words. Yet, we as Pakistanis – as individuals and as a society – fail to come to peace with anything, because of varied, diverse and differentiated opinions, facts, hypotheses, rhetoric and statements flying all over the place.
Everybody is a politician and a pundit, a commentator and a columnist, an officer and an opinionmaker, a newscaster with a ‘new’ way of looking at things. Why do we need all this? Can’t we think for ourselves?
Has the media become the modern, technologically advanced counterpart of the religious right and their militant extremist proxy cohorts? Both are brainwashing the Pakistani people and using massive doses of psychological warfare and propaganda warfare against Pakistanis, Pakistan, the state, and Pakistan’s interests everywhere (locally and abroad). Is this a healthy sign? Is a free yet irresponsible media really an asset to the people, or a pillar of the state?
I am just glad they did not show video clips of Shahbaz Bhatti’s body – if only the righteous and benevolent media had the heart (and the regulatory oversight) to not show Salmaan Taseer’s corpse in the hospital morgue. Yet, trust and sympathy – once lost – is quite difficult to regain.
Pakistanis must agree on a new social and political compact with each other. Pakistanis must ask themselves whether this Constitution and these laws actually and truly reflect the general will of the people of Pakistan, or not.
We as Pakistanis need to realize that while we are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Ahmadis; while we are Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch, Pakhtun, Kashmiri and Gilgit-Baltistani; we are ALSO Pakistani.
And if we are good Pakistanis, if we are proud and conscientious Pakistanis, if we are progressive Pakistanis, then we embody Pakistan and its greatness. If we manage our overlapping identities properly, we are good human beings and an asset to our country.
We must remember that despite our differences, despite our divisive associations and divergent beliefs, we are all Pakistanis.
We are Pakistani Muslims. We must respect Pakistani Christians, Pakistani Hindus, and other Pakistanis of different faiths. Pakistan was created as a Muslim majority nation that was to be home for all the minorities of India, especially those who had suffered from the hands of India’s Hindu majority. Today, all Pakistanis – Muslim AND Non-Muslim – suffer from the hands of self-proclaimed warriors of Islam.
We are Pakistanis. We share an unbreakable bond with our brethren from different provinces and localities; this bond is deeper than any ocean and higher than any mountain. Neither man nor idea can overcome this bond, and no amount of blood spilled can damage this link between one Pakistani and another.
Farewell, Shahbaz Bhatti, Shaheed. Rest in Peace.
You are, and always have been, a great son of the soil. You are one of the bravest Pakistanis I have known.
I don’t know if the green-and-white flag of Pakistan deserves to be placed on the graves of heroes like you or Salmaan Taseer.
I don’t know if we, the rest of Pakistan, ever deserved great Pakistanis like you.
My heart weeps crimson tears of blood as I say goodbye to another brave Pakistani.