The dark fanatical forces - Mahir Ali - Wednesday, March 09, 2011

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You’re a brave man they tell me./I’m not.
Courage has never been my quality./Only I thought it disproportionate
So to degrade myself as others did…/And now they press to tell me that I’m brave.
How sharply our children will be ashamed/Taking at last their vengeance for these horrors
Remembering how in so strange a time/Common integrity could look like courage.

I CAN’T remember when I last cited these verses from the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in the context of contemporaneous events in Pakistan.
It may have been during the seemingly unrelenting gloom of Gen Ziaul Haq’s malevolent misrule. Anyhow, the poem once again sprang to mind in the wake of Shahbaz Bhatti’s cold-blooded assassination.
A spot of reflection, however, raises nagging doubts. The widespread angst of the Zia era was invariably tempered with the conviction that eventually the pall would lift. That the forces of darkness guiding his regime would ultimately be defeated, or at least sidelined. That something, or someone, would let the sunshine in.
It did not, at the time, seem extravagant to hope that future generations would look back in horror at the misdeeds that once blighted their homeland. These days, however, it seems somewhat incongruous to speak of Pakistan and posterity in the same breath.
It’s not just the loss of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer that deserves to be mourned, but also the loss of hope.
The lionisation of the lunatic who slew Taseer has been among the most obnoxious phenomena ever witnessed in a land that is no stranger to bizarre absurdities. That a comparable hysteria hasn’t followed Bhatti’s equally brutal murder provides little cause for solace: were his killers to be identified, it’s hardly inconceivable that these criminals too would be garlanded and applauded as defenders of the faith.
It does not require a great deal of imagination to perceive them as quite the reverse. Back in 1989, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s infamous fatwa against the author of The Satanic Verses unleashed — mainly in the subcontinent — hordes baying for Salman Rushdie’s blood, one couldn’t help wondering whether their fury, indubitably based on ignorance, was compounded by too little, rather than too much, faith. Else how could they possibly have doubted that the supposed offender would receive a comeuppance in the hereafter?
If anything, it made even less sense to target Taseer more than two decades later for taking up cudgels on behalf of Aasia Bibi, a Christian peasant woman sentenced to death on the basis of hearsay, and for decrying the existing blasphemy legislation as a black law. His outspoken criticism was restricted to a law instituted by the British Raj and amended under Zia to incorporate the death penalty. It has thereafter demonstrably been repeatedly abused.
Two days after the assassination of Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, presumably on the basis of his principled opposition to the same law, masked gunmen shot dead Mohammed Imran — who had been arrested in 2009 on a blasphemy charge but exonerated by the courts — in a village outside Rawalpindi.
His fate wasn’t unusual. It is far from uncommon for people arraigned on blasphemy charges and found not guilty to subsequently be murdered, sometimes in the vicinity of the very court that cleared them. The killers frequently get away scot free.
The deplorable death sentence against Aasia Bibi reflects not the seriousness of the charges against her but the increasingly suffocating atmosphere in the country. The ultimate consequences of suffocation hardly require elaboration. And the effects of this trend are reflected in the fact that following Taseer’s elimination, various government stalwarts went out of their way to issue the ‘assurance’ that no one would meddle with the blasphemy law.
In the wake of Bhatti’s demise, solemn promises have been made that his killers will be brought to justice. But the moral cowardice vis-à-vis the ridiculous legislation he died opposing remains intact.
There are almost daily demonstrations, meanwhile, demanding the execution of American CIA agent Raymond Davis, who evidently shot dead two young men on a crowded street in Lahore. Neither the prevaricating authorities in Islamabad nor their immunity-seeking counterparts in Washington have acquitted themselves well in this sordid episode. But even more incredible than their shenanigans, and not least the intelligence’s profoundly worrying role in the whole affair, is the contemptuous implication that unnamed shadowy powers arranged Bhatti’s assassination as a distraction.
Pakistan’s relationship with the United States has always been a murky affair, and if it has plumbed new depths in the past decade, the blame deserves to equitably be shared. However, the primary cause for concern at the moment is the nation’s untenably fraught relationship with itself. In this context it may be worth quoting a few more verses. The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet composed The Dark Fanatical Forces 90 years ago, while he was still a teenager. It somehow rings true for us today:
For centuries instead of heaven’s light/The gloom of dark fanatical forces
Has pervaded the purest, cleanest hearts/Of this land.

For centuries this dark power,/A wound that bleeds in our souls,
Has growled like a parched wolf/Whenever the country ran towards radiant light.

While the swart hands of this dark force/Encircle our throats,
We, in our hearts, still give this thief/The most sacred place.

But ungrateful are all the Faithful/If they don’t kneel and give thanks to God
When those hands that steal youth’s sacred light/Are cut off like the hands of a thief.

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