Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Amplitude of Silence


Maryam Sakeenah

The painting-up in white of the indelibly Red Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) is a powerful symbol. An attempt to whitewash the redness of the act, to erase the disturbing memory of blood, gore and decapitated dead bodies; to placate, to impose an Oblivion. Just like the naming of the ‘Operation Silence.’ An imposition of silence, an imposition of amnesia. Per force.

The Silence is audible, the absence almost palpable. The vacuum eternally gaping. Not to be talked about: the Unmentionable. Come July 12, the disturbing images were taken off screens, restive hearts fed again with all the usual rounds of jazz and glitz. The message: All’s well. The tragedy became the Unmentionable and the Forbidden as the media docilely complied with the orders. I only understand now that our heroic media men believe in freedom only conditionally. Images and memories vapourized like the many tiny corpses that were whisked away, vanishing into thin air. The right to know the truth and the right to mourn was withheld.

The silence becomes criminal. For, as Brecht said, ‘it implies silence about so many horrors.’ ‘Operation Silence’: I admire the honesty of the guy who came up with that name. But why the silence? My mother taught me it was bad manners to talk about gory details to people, to bring up a sombre topic or to talk death at the dining table. We are being made to revise our lessons at table manners. A reality too shocking, too overwhelmingly cruel to be faced squarely. Hence, the Unmentionable. The reality of our ugly national character, the reality of the vile bestiality we are capable of, our unholy fanaticism for the goddess they call ‘Enlightened Moderation.’ The goddess with fair tresses and cleavage who comes flashing on TV all the time. Like the picture of Dorian Gray mirroring the ugliness, obscured from view to keep the visage attractive and pleasing: Enlightened and Moderate. A visage beneath which hulks a terror_ that if the picture mirroring the reality is brought out, the thin covering will wear off and give way. The Picture of Dorian Gray, locked up carefully, grows uglier by the day, its rotting teeth gaping horribly, the eye sockets darkly caving in, the sickly skin wearing off. Yet still it wears that wicked smile that speaks of is triumph. Eventually. Mirroring our ugliness all the time, growing more horrible_ doling out to us days to make merry living up to the ‘progressive image.’

The greatest support this regime claims it enjoys is of that magical, mythical, fantastical entity: the Silent Majority. Then what to make of my neighbour next door, my colleague at work, the bystander there, the patient in the doctor’s waiting room and the client at the barber’s_both cleanshaven and bearded_ who, that fateful day, confided in me the pain, the disapproval, the outrage over the incident. What to make of the numerous nameless callers on private TV channels whose voices choked with tears as they spoke? What about the numerous messages I, and so many of my friends received soaked in blood and tears? I think: The ‘silent majority’ is the repressed and gagged silenced majority in the grip of the empowered, favoured and heavily petted elitist U.S-educated minority.

How about that majority all the way back in 1947 that chanted on the streets that battle cry ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La ilaha ill allah’. How about the majority that was gathered that day in February 1948, intently listening to the sound of their Great Leader who declared, “ It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, the Prophet (S) of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of truly Islamic ideals and principles.”

And again, at Karachi the same year, he said to the tens of thousands before him: “I do not understand a section of the people who deliberately want to make propaganda that the constitution of Pakistan would not be made on the basis of the Shariah (Islamic Law). Islamic principles are as applicable today as they were 1300 years ago… Islam has taught equality, justice and fairplay to everybody… Let us make it (the Shariah) the future constitution of Pakistan. We shall make it and we shall show it to the world.”

That same leader, while addressing a gathering at Waziristan outlining the Frontier policy had said on April 17, 1948: “Pakistan has no desire to unduly interfere with your freedom. On the contrary, Pakistan wants to help you and make you, as far as it lies in our power, self-reliant and self-sufficient and help in your educational, social and economic uplift… We Musalmans believe in One God, one Book and one Prophet (S). So we must stand united as one nation. In unity lies strength; united we stand, divided we fall.”

It becomes poignant here. Fast forward to 2007. The idealism, the aspirations,, the dreams, the promises, the Cause lived and died for all dashed to the ground in one fell sweep. The Original Sin of the cannon-fodder at the Lal Masjid was the demand that the country live up to its original ethos. After a long wait in vain of over sixty years. So is the Original Sin of the militants at Swat held at point-blank range by the armed patriots. The vision betrayed, the dream gone sour_ who then are the patriots and who the traitors? Answers, anyone?

The voices of resentment at the great betrayal find no representation, no comforting echo in the corridors of power. They are leaderless, alientated, ostracized, disowned and even demonized. They are curtly told they do not belong. Just as the president had explained to us that the girls at the Jamia Hafsa shouldn’t get our sympathies as they didn’t belong to Islamabad, but had come from the ‘frontier.’ (Is the ‘frontier’ to be acknowledges as a part of the state? Does it still belong then?)

I remember the cartoon I saw in a history book dating back to Mussolini’s fascist Italy of the 1930s. It showed Mussolini with his hand held tight over the crater of a smouldering volcano, at the bottom of which could be read, “this is going to hurt you much more than it hurts me now.”

Every time I see the newsflash with headlines of suicide attacks and killer bombs going off in the northern areas, I remember the volcano. The volcano spewing out and unleashing its hurt, fire, tears and blood. I feel sorry for the victims and the lives lost. And I feel sorry about our inability to learn the rules of thumb: when you do not let the other be, when you do not let him live his way in his own home but impose an alien agenda with blind brute-force, you forget that it is going to hurt you too. You forget the grind of God’s mills.

I feel sorry also for those who discriminate dead bodies into definitive labels of the denigrating ‘killed’ and the respectful ‘martyred’_ definitions coined abroad. I laugh at the folly of him who raises himself on the pedestal of the judge, issuing the moral verdict of who to ennoble with ‘martyrdom’ and who to demean and sneer at with ‘killed’_ the pygmy looking ridiculous in his clumsy giant’s robe, forgetting that death does not discriminate but levels all; Forgetting the Ultimate Judgement that laughs to scorn the cleverly manipulated Machiavellian definitions; Forgetting that the universal criterion lives on still, deep inside men’s hearts_ cornered, muffled… yet resisting, surviving and unsettling.

The echoes of the bloodbath in Lal Masjid resound audibly in the Silence as our ears are deafened by the noise of bombs, gunfire and bullets like hail. What with all of the State’s intelligent designs to wipe out the memories, to obliterate the past in the way Orwell had predicted, the national tragedy resonates. Quietly, yet hugely it hulks in the background. Like the ethereal fragrance emanating from the much-frequented grave in Rojhan Mazari_ gently, quietly, subtly suffusing into the soul, touching a deep-buried cord somewhere in the recesses of the heart. In our desperate attempts to make light of the crime committed, to demonize and caricaturize the Immortalized by churning out State-approved versions of the tale, we forget that History’s Judgement is stringent and unrelenting. History refuses to paint up and whitewash. It refuses to leave the pages blank. And it is History’s Verdict that will outlast us all.