Another day of infamy - Shafqat Mahmood - Friday, March 04, 2011

Source :

Shahbaz Bhatti was an obvious target, yet he had no security. His repeated requests for a bullet-proof car and enhanced police protection were turned down, or not attended to.

In the aftermath of his tragic assassination, we are now being subjected to theatrics. The prime minister, we are told, was distraught and threatened to resign but was dissuaded by his cabinet colleagues. How very convenient. Good media copy without any damage.

The interior minister does not take this chance—in case someone actually accepts his resignation—and orders another inquiry. He also promises to beef up security for the ministers. This is theatre of the absurd, bordering on ridiculous. Why did he not give better protection to Bhatti while he was alive?

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but we have a bunch of jokers running the government. They wake up to a problem after the damage has been done. And, even then, their stirrings are confined to inane remarks: inquiry has been ordered, new plans are being prepared, etc., etc. There is no foresight, no solid preparation.

We are on our own, my friends. Our government is run by airheads whose only interest is to hang on to their positions and take whatever advantage they can, as long as it lasts. And, our state structure is breaking down, unable to protect us or hold criminals to account.

It comes as no surprise to me that the late Shahbaz Bhatti was wary of people assigned to protect him, or so we are told. After Salmaan Taseer’s murder by his security guard a Christian federal minister would have all sorts of misgivings.

And the aftermath of Taseer’s murder would hardly have been reassuring. Despite a confessional statement, his killer is yet to be tried. The news from the highest quarters in the government is that they are having difficulty finding a judge or prosecutors willing to take on the challenge.

The follow-up of other such cases of targeted assassinations and terror acts is also depressing. The special courts set up to try the accused are consistently letting them off. The message that this sends to potential terrorists is that, first, it is unlikely that they would be apprehended. And even if they are, there is little chance of conviction. Not much of a disincentive to someone thinking of mass murder.

While the state is rotting from the inside, the society is no better. The aftermath of Taseer’s murder did not see an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy for him or universal condemnation of the murderer. If the unfortunate surveys callously conducted by a section of the media are any guide, many felt that he had asked for it.

And those surveyed were not the faceless poor or the illiterate. These were educated people reading newspapers, having access to the internet and text messaging. They are the fruits of our national labour in the field of education or, what passes for the best and brightest in the land. It only shows that the disease of intolerance and bigotry has seeped into the sinews of our society.

It is frightening how disconnected we are from what is happening in the world. With parts of our educated elite condoning murder or terror on this or that basis, we are being looked at as a danger not only to ourselves but also to the global community.

No one is disregarding the unjust wars launched by the United States and its European partners. Or excusing the West for the state terror of Israel on the Palestinian people. But, within their societies, they are endeavouring to maintain equal treatment under law for all people. They do not always succeed, but it is a stated national goal. No wonder that large communities of Muslims and others from the Third World have found space in their polities.

Even in the underdeveloped countries, the situation is changing. Nations such as Brazil that were once global backwaters are marching forward. Their focus is on not only economics but also building a state and society based on rule of law and human rights. They are also addressing imbalances not only of incomes but also of mindsets through a universal system of education.

We are still stuck in an elite system that creates a dysfunctional state and society. Our educational system is inadequate, with more than half of our population illiterate. What is worse, even those having access to education are studying multiple curriculums that have no connection with each other. It is dividing society into divergent worldviews and mindsets.

Any democratic system is supposed to reflect the collective ethos of the people. We have a strange democracy in which a set of elites, whether feudal, business, or religious, are reaping all its benefits. The possibility for anybody from a poor background making it in this milieu is virtually impossible.

Is this the reason that those who would have different point of view do not take the democratic route of argument and counterargument but pick up a gun to settle the matter? I am not finding excuses for people who resort to violence, but it does make one think why so many people are choosing guns over the democratic process.

Could it be that our democracy is just a superstructure not actually representing the people or giving them enough space to articulate their points of view? There are no easy answers. One thing is clear, though, that our political parties are not helping matters as far as creating a tolerant society is concerned.

It has been correctly surmised by many that people like Fazalur Rehman, and the Jamaat-e-Islami, have actively sought to create a discourse of violence on the issue of blasphemy. Even Rehman Malik and Babar Awan have evoked violent imageries – we will personally kill people who commit blasphemy – to show what committed Muslims they are.

No one can tolerate blasphemy in this country, but to inflame emotions in this manner will naturally lead to violent acts by those who do not understand the debate. People like Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, or the courageous Sherry Rehman, have not been challenging the law; only that its misuse should be prevented. Yet, this distinction, this nuance has deliberately been submerged under opportunistic but dangerous politics.

This terrible deterioration in state, politics and society will have to be arrested, or we are moving towards even greater bloodshed. Wherever human beings reside they will differ on things. Orderly societies find ways to mediate these differences without violence. We are heading towards a situation where it is becoming the preferred solution.

If indeed we have reached or are reaching this stage, there is no shortage of things that divide us. If our democracy fails to create mechanisms for resolving them, we are heading towards anarchy, chaos and bloodshed.

Some would say we are already there. The shell of our state is standing. The substance has long gone.


No comments:

Post a Comment