Monday, September 24, 2007

As Flies to the Wanton Boys


Maryam Sakeenah

George Orwell was naïve. The extent of the horror, hypocrisy and double standards he lays bare in his political satire is laughably mild. Welcome to Pakistan, 2007. We are living it all. Orwell, my friends, was a mere chicken.

A day before the ‘Operation Silence’ began, Musharraf said while addressing a high-level meeting lasting four hours that a new strategy to curb ‘Talibanisation’ would be formulated. In the meeting he discussed cracking down on pro-Taliban elements ‘not just in the frontier regions but also in the cities’, specifically mentioning the strategy to deal with the ‘pro-Taliban mosque’ in the heart of Islamabad. The same day, paramilitary deployment and patrolling intensified in the vicinity of Lal Masjid, ‘clearly indicating the government’s decisive inclinations to carry out a comprehensive crackdown on Ghazi brothers… Rangers occupied the CDA flats, built bunkers and laid barbed wires… the whole place exactly looks like an army post.’ (The Nation, Tuesday , July 3, 2007).

And so the tragedy unfurled. The servile henchmen standing guard on the Presidency’s secrets quickly cooked up myths ready to be sold to a gullible public: ‘The terrorists in the mosque provoked the action, which had to be responded to.’ Held hostage by the official propaganda, we had no alternate versions to choose from. Fed on myths about the evil-minded terrorist-mullah in cap and beard with perverse mind and wretched, devious plans, we accepted the state-sponsored stereotype and talked about how well-deserved the mullah-bashing spree really was. Our human consciousness didn’t trouble us with asking questions. The series of lies continually churned out to justify the mayhem unleashed within, kept us conveniently dumbed down and acquiescing. The evil-minded mullahs had planned to make this offensive war and were using innocents as human shields… it was, in fact, a ‘hostage-taking crisis’, and the well-intentioned government was the noble savior of innocents. We kept swallowing as the media was carefully kept at a safe distance. Childishly, the ‘liberal, free media’ played along the tune in the mutually agreed-upon plan to ‘not show the dead bodies’, ensuring the smooth conduct of Operation Silence. And so we feasted on drawing-room chat conspiracy theories of the government-mullah nexus and the ‘dramatics’ staged by the Red Mosque administration.

Victims of Doublespeak. Rhetoric went on about the government’s humane restraint and desperate appeals to save the ‘hostages’ within. Big questions like why the media was kept out didn’t bother anyone much. Behind the smokescreen of shameless lies went on the murder of innocents_ unleashed terror and state-sponsored oppression that has perhaps been pushed back into the shroud of Silence_ a mystery of history. An iron curtain hulks, screening away the unspoken terrors, the unheard cries that will continue to echo long in the deathly Silence of the mosque’s debris.

The Doublespeak continued, making idiots of us all. While Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi showed extreme flexibility in renouncing all he could to save the innocents, there was an obvious lack of reciprocation by the government, a rigid unwillingness to budge and let matters resolve. The efforts made by the Ulema delegation to save the day were imperiously rejected as the state showed a blind egotism implying an unrelenting readiness to go ahead and finish it up the bloody way. For, the Doublespeak experts could do the job of duping the public so the blood doesn’t show much. One of the last things Abdul Rasheed Ghazi said: “Their unwillingness to let negotiations work shows their intent to let blood flow. If they wish to let blood flow, so be it: we are ready to embrace martyrdom.”

A greater hidden agenda, the ‘Hidden Hand’ mentioned by Chaudhry Shujaat, which made all settlements break down becomes clear. The storming of the mosque came soon after an increasing trend in the Western media to see Musharraf as 'part of the problem' and not the solution_ a 'half-hearted ally' in the War on Terror. Clearly, it is a drama staged to convince the West that we indeed are 'doing enough' to crush such elements. And the message has been sent, bringing in accolades and pats-on-the-back from Musharraf's Western allies. Because the whole affair was staged to secure an image-boost in the West for this government, the government authorities seemed very keen to go ahead and ferociously crack down on the mosque, regardless of the thousands still inside (with occasional quiet phases to show how 'patient' we are trying to be). It is clear that the government willed the mayhem, as echoed in Musharraf's shockingly brazen announcement: 'Surrender or be killed.'

And this is perhaps the greatest tragedy of this nation. The absolute failure of a democratic culture to take root, the complete subjugation to dictatorial hegemony and the perpetual crippling enslavement to vested interests of the West. The greatest tragedy is how weightless, inconsequential is the ordinary, the citizen of this country, deserving little more than rhetoric to keep him dumbed down, so that the reign of tyranny can perpetuate itself.

And this is what brings tears in the eyes_ the hard, bitter truth that human lives never weighed on anyone’s conscience; that innocent lives were, at best, as cheap as rotten scraps cast aside without feeling your jaw twitch, making way for a dirty agenda serving the Self. The bitter truth is that human beings go on being killed like flies and we go about our business. The shocking truth is that man, at best, is the ‘Lord of the Flies’, and the Lord of the Flies in us rules as the earthly overlord. “As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport,”said Shaekespeare. And to the lone seeker, the questioner, the dreamer, He dictates: “What are you doing here out alone? Aren’t you afraid of me? There isn’t anyone to help you. Only Me. And I am the Beast. I’m the reason it’s no go. Why things are what they are. Come now, get back to the others and we’ll forget the whole thing… Aha! This has gone far enough… do you think you know better than I do? I’m going to get waxy. Do you see? You are not wanted. Understand? We’re going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island! … Or else. We shall do you.” (From ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding)

But the stars continue to blink in the dark night sky…

Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi is beginning to be understood by the generality of our masses as the sinned-against in the episode, the principled idealist victimized by a tyrannical, corrupt system. Maulana Ghazi, they feel, was indeed right_ if general killing of the masjid inmates was what the government thirsted for, it was better to die than to give in to a system so unscrupulous, so drunken with blind egotism. And in doing so he secures a moral victory that will far outlast the machinations of this regime in the hearts of men.

However, there are still many_ the conspiracy-theorists, the mullah-bashers, the secular liberals who are utterly confused as to what to make of it all. The array of weapons unveiled that were never used, the statements by ‘released hostages’ of how they wished martyrdom, the delayed, restricted media tour of the mosque, the disappearance (‘vapourization’) of the dead bodies and so many unanswered questions stare us in the face. The whole scenario seems to challenge and completely shatter the perspective of the secularists. Of course there are still those who go on pretending, but they make themselves look more like patchwork clowns in the process. A ‘Human Rights’ activist from an NGO in Islamabad said, “The women and children who died weren’t all that innocent and so deserve no sympathy… they were extremists.”

The ones more honest than that seem to be confused and are quietly wondering what to make of it all. For, the loathed terrorist Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, in his dying, has made his killers look cruel, oppressive, unscrupulous. And if this is indeed so, his dying becomes noble, almost heroic… But this dare not be said, for it sounds ‘extremist’ (whatever that means). In his dying, the hitherto vile terrorist has reinstated boldly his ideal and his unflinching fidelity to it. He has towered above the despicable pygmies. If this isn’t a hero’s embrace of immortality, if this isn’t martyrdom, what is?

A lot of us cannot understand this, and prefer not to face what shines clear as day. Our complete disassociation with the spirit of Islam, our complete estrangement from its values and idealism explains this inability to call a spade a spade. For, the history of the Kaabah is reddened with suffering and blood, as Iqbal had said. Sacrifice and martyrdom, dying for a cause is the crowning glory of Islam. But we understand not the spirit. “Islam began as a strange thing, and will end as a strange thing. So give glad tidings to the strangers.” (Hadith)

Beelzebub (Iblis) in his Parliament, (In Iqbal’s famous poem), spoke to his subordinates about the strategy to vanquish the faithful thus: “The starving wretched one who is utterly fearless of death, extort the Muhammadan spirit from his self.” It is this Muslim spirit that makes one give life, one’s very life, to make a bold statement that makes a resounding echo in hearts. In our spiritless selves, our secularized sensibility, this ‘outrageous behaviour’ that looks curiously noble in the heart of our hearts, makes no sense. But all the same, it echoes in the heart…

And the stars continue to blink in the dark night sky…

In the far flung village of Rojhan Mazari, a tearful young man stands over a dusty grave draped in flower petals. He remembers, his voice choking with tears: “We feel we’ve been orphaned. This man shone like a full moon in the dark sky…” At the numberless anonymous mass graves in Islamabad stand men in sweat-drenched Shalwar Kameez, sobbing and praying, “These innocents are shaheed, (martyrs)” they say, “but we refuse to call them this… but with Allah, their honour is great!” At the Sports Complex, looking expectantly at the list of names and not finding her beloved only child’s, a widow from a distant village stands distraught and tearful: “He used to say, Amma, I’ll come back a learned man and serve you… I have little hope in anyone that they would help me know where he is,” she sobs. “But in Allah, in Him I have all my trust... He is my Caretaker. Allah waris hai…”

Out of the rhetoric, lies, agendas, blood, fire and debris, it is this spirit that emerges in its exquisite grandeur, ennobled with blood, sweat and tears; immortal, radiant and undying. It is this that cannot, with all the Plans of Beelzebub’s Parliament, be extorted from the hearts of men. “And while they plan, Allah also Plans. And the Best of planners is Allah.” (The Quran)