“And then there was no one left to speak for me”

Originally published in Pakistan Today. March 27, 2016.


Giving in to fear, hatred and violence

Social media is abuzz with a video breaking the internet. Again. It has to do with mob violence. Again. It’s brazenly emblematic of the lows our society has hit in hypocrisy and bigotry. Again. It has divided the internet. Again. But the voices will die down as soon as they’ve appeared springing into the air. Again. And this is the part that demands the most immediate attention from us. We have to devise a cumulative voice and paint our cities with it: we’ve had enough!

Junaid Jamshed. Singer. Musician. Preacher. Evangelist. Fashion outlet owner. TV host. But sadly overshadowed by the most recent identity enamoured to him: a potential blasphemer. And this newfound facade landed him into trouble at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, where he was manhandled and abused by a group of self-righteous lunatics. The reason? Jamshed committed what is spuriously, undefinably known as blasphemy. Like Aasia Bibi. Like Salmaan Taseer. Like the Christian couple burned alive in a brick-kiln. Or not? Jamshed was at least allowed a national apology and the liberty to seek refuge in the ‘secular’ (something he has never taken kindly to) London. We thought he had been saved. Surely the bloodthirsty hounds would have laxer terms for a bearded preacher than they do for sleazy liberals and hell-bound Christians? We were wrong!

I’ve never been a fan of Junaid Jamshed. I don’t have much of an opinion about him, and as long as middle class consumerism has an appetite for splurging on his over-priced apparel, it’s not my business. What happened to him was deplorable, more so by the fact that no airport security jumped in to Jamshed’s rescue. It was unfortunate, and most certainly scary. But unfortunate events offer a great window to introspection. I’m not thrusting undue responsibility on to Jamshed’s shoulders, but one wonders if things could have been a little different had Jamshed, who enjoys enormous popularity and followers, lent two sentences for those who came under fire before him. While he agreed to be an emphatic authority on telling us how a chips selling company was halaal contrary to propaganda, he could have done better, for himself if not for us, to also shed some kind light to the cause of those caught in the frenzied blasphemy web. Maybe that’s insanely unjust to expect so much. But in all fairness, he should have known better than to associate himself with Aamir Liaquat Hussain on television, who never bats an eye, not for a nanosecond, while denouncing and soliciting violence for some communities in broad daylight.

But those are bygones. It’s fruitless and in bad taste to dwell upon those. Pakistan today is a dangerous country for Junaid Jamshed, much along the same lines it is dangerous for us. And that’s my whole point of contention with the man — he could have contributed to keeping it safer, even though meekly, but his choice! The people who harassed him in the lobby practised their choice. But as a nation, it seems we cannot afford choices anymore. Not really.

The truth is facing us from the wall. The fire of hatred and violence has gone way beyond the ring of turpentine. It has taken on a scaffold, and is no more partial towards beards and shalwar kameez. If it has caught on with somebody who’s been a religious preacher for most of the last seventeen years, it’s only natural it will torch others under the shadow of the crescent moon too. Some on social media are rejoicing this episode. It’s retribution for Junaid or something to the same effect is what they’re celebratory about. Except that, it’s not. It’s plainly another reminder of the all-consuming violence around us. A desperate call for us to reclaim our voices, readjust our dented passions and reject any idea remotely associated with self-righteousness and violence. If allowed to progress, there’s no doubt that those who claim to be on a higher pedestal will find a way to violently contend with things as innocuous as an uncovered female head or a shaved male face. It was Rimsha Masih yesterday. It is Junaid Jamshed today. It can by anyone among us tomorrow.

Our over-hyped National Action Plan seems to be indulged in a luxurious siesta for quite some time now. But in case it wakes up, let us take it upon ourselves to remind it that it has some arrests to make, of those attackers who evidently home a lot more hatred for humanity than they have, if any, love for our Prophet (PBUH). Their identities are out, and the expectation’s fitting for a state that we think is out to make amends. In the meanwhile, we ought to stop pandering to twisted religious provocation. While lines are already drawn between the strata of the community, let’s remind ourselves it isn’t a liberals versus conservatives issue. It’s a humanity issue. Instead of finding enemies on the other side, we would do well to see the enemy clearly: bigots, no matter which side they belong to. We need to inculcate a national narrative that’s far more forgiving and far less gory. Aasia Bibi asked for forgiveness. Junaid Jamshed asked for forgiveness. That is where these episodes should’ve ended for good. We know we’ve had enough bloody climaxes already to last us till the end of days.


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