When they come for me - Farooq Sulehria - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=36350&Cat=9

When Adolf Hitler was brutalising German society, the intelligentsia stayed mum. This intellectual cowardice bothered Pastor Niemoller who was heroically resisting fascism. After the end of the war, on Jan 6, 1946, Pastor Niemoller delivered a speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. The text has many versions. The most famous one is:

“They came first for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

The capitulation before Mumtaz Qadri after Salmaan Taseer’s murder and the opportunistic whitewashing of Shahbaz Bhatti’s martyrdom may have delayed the inevitable. But appeasement is not going to thwart the unavoidable sequence. After “communists, trade unionists, and the Jews,” to use the phrase in the context of today’s Pakistan, they are going to come “for me”. When they come “for me,” many of us Pakistanis, including some in the media, may present the most pathetic spectacle.

In the Taliban emirate of Mullah Muhammad Omar the airwaves were meant exclusively for his Radio Shariat. But that was Afghanistan until 2001. Even in Karachi, Taliban-like elements have been making bonfires of television sets. To say nothing of Fazlullah’s Swat, with his mullah radio.

Syed Noor of our cultural Ghairat Brigade chastised Veena Malik for not exhibiting an adequate amount of religiosity while starring in the Indian version of Big Brother. Now he has created a stir with his upcoming Aik Aur Ghazi (Yet Another Holy Warrior), with Mumtaz Qadri as the hero. But the tagline of this grim kitsch of a film (Punishment for Blasphemers: Decapitation) simply rules out any notion of forbearance. Aik Aur Ghazi and its pathetic tagline could be an attempt by Pakistan’s dying silver screen to outdo a highly sensationalised, puritanical mini-screen. But isn’t it really the case of Turkeys striving for an early Thanksgiving?

A tolerant society is a must for culture to flourish. What Syed Noor does not understand is that cinema, film, drama, music, theatre and all forms of entertainment are “vulgarity” in the puritan lexicon. What if a self-appointed Amir of Lahore declares punishment for vulgarity: stoning! Of course, people of Syed Noor’s intellectual level are not bothered by such questions. Also, sections of the media and the cultural ‘mujahidin’ constitute a side kick to the role played by short-sighted politicians and their blind politics.

Appeasement of mullahs and capitulation before the Taliban is not merely a desperate attempt by the PPP-ANP duo to stay in power. It reflects their politics. They refuse to mobilise their mass base because they want to restrict their social base only to polling stations. If their mass base were mobilised, PPP and ANP workers would begin to raise embarrassing questions, and start making demands that their leaderships find awkward and politically inexpedient to meet. But that is not all: it is well-known that some of our politicians consider religious extremists “strategic assets”.

If some reports are anything to go by, a scary explanation has been offered to the western diplomats in Islamabad for our top army brass not offering public condolences to the family of Salmaan Taseer - that any public statement (of condolence) could endanger the army’s unity. It is said a scrapbook of photographs of Taseer’s killer was shown to some diplomats in which he was being hailed as a hero by fellow police officers. The fact is that suicide attacks on Gen Musharraf’s convoys were insiders’ jobs. In autumn 2009, the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was itself the site of a hostage-and-rescue drama. The gas station blown up by the Taliban in Faisalabad on March 7 was yet another message to the ISI. Given the increasing gravity of the terror situation, it seems they have already started coming “for me”.

If Pastor Martin Niemoller were alive today and living in Pakistan, he would only need to make a few alterations in his statement about the inactivity of German intellectuals following Hitler’s rise to power, and his words would be perfectly applicable to the Pakistani media, judiciary, politicians, army – even the “civil society”:

“They came first for the Ahmadis, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an Ahmadi. Then they came for the Christians, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Christian. Then they came for the Shias, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Shia. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

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