Thursday, November 14, 2013

Choosing Opinionlessness: On the 'Killed' versus 'Martyred' Debate in Pakistan


Maryam Sakeenah

We gloat over carrion; we gather like vultures to pick up the pieces. We discriminate between dead bodies under labels of ‘halak’ (merely killed) and ‘shaheed’ (martyred). As we do so, we don God’s hat, partaking of what is exclusively His right with a self-righteous audacity. Our opinions on the dead may not be worth a shred but they signify the sides we take in this melee over rotting corpses. And it all reeks of the deep sickness that gnaws into our body politic, the gulley-wide split that gapes like an open-mouthed hydra threatening to swallow us piecemeal- the tectonic gash that runs across us splintering us into opposed camps, eyeball to eyeball.

Pakistan today is a dangerously divided society with intense polarization around ideological affiliation. Reconciliation grows impossible with the unchecked and unabashed media stoking the flames of hate by bringing the sides on head-on collision course with malevolent deliberation. The commercial news media feeds itself on sensationalism, as is clear from the manner in which the Jamat e Islami leadership has been thrown the bait and drawn into the centre-stage of the melee. The result has been an angry storm of ‘with us or against’ us rhetoric. Either one endorses the official version of the narrative or he is with the Taliban- with this rabid logic, JI and PTI’s political opponents have grabbed the opportunity to accuse the two parties of being cohorts and allies of the Taliban. Strictly speaking, these claims are inaccurate, far-fetched and malicious, as both groups explicitly renounce the use of violence for religious and political purposes and while calling for dialogue, have consistently rejected the wayward ways of the TTP. The fecklessness with which Munawar Hasan faced the situation and the recklessness of his impertinent statements have discredited the JI’s decades-long largely non violent political struggle.

The fact that the drone strike killing Hakimullah Mehsud came at the time when the conversation on counter terrorism was being steered away from the blood and iron that had eluded peace exposes the U.S’s unilateralist pursuit of narrow national interest in the strategic region. This makes the targets of the brutal attack look more of underdogs and victims evoking sympathy, the sinner being viewed as sinned-against.

The ‘most allied ally’ only gets a few crumbs thrown its way from the bloody deal that has proven so costly for Pakistan. The enemy laughs at our wounds with sadistic glee; laughs our desperate overtures for peacemaking to scorn. The raw anger this generates drowns all sanity so that sentimental, reckless statements like ‘even a dog killed by the U.S is a martyr’ are made, making Islamic jurisprudence look puerile and inane.

Yet we choose to fight over juristic complexities about life in the unseen world from our entrenched positions. The media directs all attention towards this needlessly long drawn argument even though the conversation should be about strategies to effectively check the Global Bully on the loose. The conversation should be about the utter illegality and unacceptability of US drone strikes in Pakistan. To articulate such a response the nation needs to stand together in solidarity and speak out with a single emphatic, resounding voice. Yet at this critical juncture we seek to intensify divides in order to pep up the news bulletin on commercial television- all at a terrible cost.

The ideological polarization in our society reflected in the media has created an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion bringing social groups into confrontation and clash. The conversation about ‘halakat’ (killing) versus ‘shahadat’ (martyrdom) is not only in vain but calculated to provoke, divide and aggravate. It is not only unwise but ill-intentioned, seeking to disunite and pit some against others on vital national issues at a time when we need standing together. And as we take sides in this battlefield strewn with dead bodies, we forget that sometimes it is all right to be opinionless. Sometimes our opinion is just not the point, at all. Sometimes it is more important to just understand.

We need to understand that the dead we fight over and then forget as the next newsworthy story turns up, are not forgotten by their heirs. And the persistent victim becomes the blinded, insensate perpetrator. That ideas and ideologies are not fought with guns, but understood in order to be deconstructed, exposed and jettisoned. We need to understand that evil begets evil; that hurt transforms into hate and festers, and breaks down all boundaries of reason and logic. We need to understand that dividing ourselves into embattled camps around fixed ideological associations pertaining to faith or the lack thereof is disastrous. We need to understand that our weakness lends strength to the ones who will trample us underfoot in their relentless pursuit of global hegemony. It is in cultivating the ability to understand rather than shouting out our worthless featherweight opinions at each other that we can begin a healing.