Days of rage - Chris Cork - Monday, March 14, 2011

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Some weeks are more blood-boltered than others and blood-free weeks are a thing of distant memory. The graffiti of intolerance is scrawled across walls in the blood and flesh of the bomber. A pile of shoes appears to be all that is left of what was a group of people saying prayers at a funeral. The rev-counter of the violence in Karachi is calibrated in corpses. Torture of women is routinely reported in the print media, less often on the electronic and the casual butchery carried out in the name of honour barely gets a mention so commonplace is it. Acid eats into the faces of girls whose pictures circulate on the internet, one good eye staring out from the pustulent wreckage.

It would be enough to make anybody angry, just looking at the carnage that now washes around us. Yet there is a curious serenity, a calm that allows the blood and tears to somehow become invisible to all but a few. There is no bubbling of unrest beyond the choreographed processions and rallies organised by the political parties of all types and stripes. Letters of protest addressed to the president and prime minister get signed and the list of signatories is probably duly noted by ‘sensitive agencies’ for future reference. Footage of women marching shoulder-to-shoulder across the width of the street gets aired to an audience indifferent to much of what goes on outside the family discussion of shaadi and the machinations of the Aunty Mafia.

A contradiction it may be but this does not feel like an angry place, more a place shot through with benign content and satisfied that whatever befalls is preordained and beyond the wit or will of men and women to change. Whatever anger or protest there is has the sense of being manufactured, temporary constructs put up and taken down at need and mobile, lacking a rooted foundation. You cannot put your hands out towards the crowd and feel the heat they generate, the heat that comes from deep within and is born of a genuine rage and a burning hunger for change.

No tented camps at iconic intersections for us. No external media interest beyond Washington commentators blathering on about the vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and how vulnerable it is and just how worried we should all be if the mullahs got their hands on the firing keys. No teams from CNN or Al-Jazeera interviewing articulate men and women as they press the government for reform, for the fulfilment of their constitutional right to free education for their children or for clean drinking water and at least two square meals a day.

None of that, and instead the sound of one hand clapping. The silence that is between the stick and the drumskin before it strikes. The nothing you hear from a photograph.

The truly awful thing is that I increasingly realise how little I feel. It was as I watched the tsunami overwhelm the coastal town of Sendai last Friday, lives being snuffed out in an instant, that I felt my heart reach out and a wetness of the eyes. Compassion, a sense of sorrow and helplessness accentuated by distance. Senses that had been pounded to a tissue-paper thinness by the daily horror of life in a country where life is so cheap, came alive at the deaths of people I feel no connection to.

Perhaps that explains the absence of rage in a place where anger should be the engine of change. Try as I might the anger button no longer seems to work. This is Pakistan.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. com

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