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Caught up in the bizarre

As a nation we have lost our ability to think clearly and rationally; perhaps even the ability to think at all. Quite when this process began is hard to define. Many believe the roots lie in the Zia years, when the nation first showed signs of veering away from the course of logic, and belief rooted in proof, and took off on a strange tangent.

In 1980, a senior director at the prestigious Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission suggested that since jinns were fiery creatures, their energy be harnessed. In the years that followed, papers presented at scientific conferences suggested mountains ‘pegged down’ the Earth and without them rotation would create havoc. Jinns, evidently a popular topic of scientific study, were equated with westerners and an extraordinary scale presented to measure ‘munafiqat’ or hypocrisy in society.

It does not seem we have recovered from the damage inflicted on our thinking abilities through these years. In July last year an ‘inventor’ from Sindh was able to persuade television hosts that he had designed a car that could run on water. This ‘discovery’ was widely publicised despite rebuttals from scientists. This loss of touch with reality has had a significant impact on our society. It seems to have left us open to all kinds of conspiracy theories: we believe them because we have been stripped of that vital human capacity to reason, to think things through and arrive at sensible conclusions.

The loss also leaves us susceptible to lies and half-truths. Perhaps this goes to explain why the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud has been treated virtually as a national tragedy, rather than an event that rids us of a man responsible for the death of thousands and known for his vengeance and his cruelty. His death also weakens an evil force, with analysts noting that the Taliban are now in greater disarray than they have been for a long time.

Yet, judging by statements from senior members of the government as well as the opposition, we have at points seemed to be on the verge of lowering the national flag and declaring three days of national mourning. Yes, the drone attacks have been blamed.

But perhaps we also need to ask ourselves why we simply do not own these drone attacks, accept that eliminating the Taliban is our job as the nation worst affected by terrorism and be more willing to tell the truth about these flights and our links to them. Pretending there is none is simply absurd.

Still more astonishing is the ambiguity we see over the killing of Mehsud. The confusion we have been able to create in people’s minds is just extraordinary. The media with its right-wing and obscurantist view of the world has played a role in this. There are almost no counterviews to challenge it, and when a few among us put forward contrary opinions, they are shouted down, with smirking hosts who lack the professionalism to maintain any sense of balance or decorum and depict the depths to which we have fallen.

Most who hold views that run contrary to the mainstream stay silent; good sense suggests there are few alternatives left open to this small category of people in an increasingly intolerant society within which that vital human capacity to think has virtually vanished.

Few other nations would back talks with a criminal force on the basis of conditions that are unclear. It is hard to even imagine what we would concede to the Taliban, whose stated objective is to subvert the constitution and replace it with their own version of Shariah law. The situation that has arisen is absurd.

Even more frightening is the manner in which we have demonised and vilified a 16-year-old girl. There are many different angles taken on Malala Yousafzai. The Taliban – and possibly others – seek to kill her. That of course would end the whole saga. Others insist she should not have ‘defamed’ her country, forgetting that, if anything, the force most guilty of that is the one that pumped a bullet into the brain of a defenceless schoolgirl.

We also tend to be unwilling to face the truth, which is what Malala has described vividly in her book: the violent efforts to prevent girls from receiving an education and her struggle against this. She was shot because of this. But the majority continues to insist she gained fame only because of the Taliban bullet. The notions that Malala is a ‘western agent’ or that her father Ziauddin Yousafzai is some kind of monster who may even have wanted his daughter dead in order to bring dollars into his account have been widely spread. They simply do not match with reality.

Of course, the reality we should be focusing on is the fact that we need to make efforts to combat those elements that hold back education for girls, the Taliban who have repeatedly targeted girls going to school and to be generous in our appreciation of men such as Ziauddin who worked tirelessly to promote learning for girls in Swat and is well known in the area for his philanthropy. He may have his faults; he may not turn down money coming the family’s way. But this surely is a lesser crime than the ones committed by the violent forces who have terrorised people in various parts of our country.

There are attempts to add to the list of females villains; an especially malicious video placed on social media describes Maria Toor Pakay from South Waziristan as a character just as bad as Malala who has apparently also tried, along with her father, to show her country in a negative light. Maria’s only fault is that she had spoken of the restrictions placed on the playing of sports or engagement in other activities on girls in her society and of her brave effort to break free of them. She now vies among the world’s best in squash, training in Canada and mentored and coached by squash legend Jonathan Power.

What is sad is that these two women will probably never be able to live in Pakistan again. While Malala and Maria are heroes in the eyes of the world, they are targets for death in their own country. Instead we have allowed ourselves to convert figures like the late Hakeemullah Mehsud, now safely buried, into heroes of some kind; statements suggest he is a martyr.

Surely, this shows a terrible distortion of thinking, a dangerous rewiring of minds carried out in some kind of effort to turn us into a nation of people who are simply incapable of reason and therefore not well equipped to turn around a country which struggles today for dignity and survival, instead playing a part in allowing to plunge deeper and deeper into the dark depths of ignorance.

The fact that we have achieved this and continue to promote a particularly bizarre view of the world amongst our people is truly a dangerous act which almost everyone seems to have become caught up in.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "Caught up in the bizarre," The News. 2013-11-07.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Society-Pakistan , Social needs , Atomic energy-Pakistan , Drone attacks , Shariah law , Taliban , Crimes , Hakeemullah Mehsud , Malala Yousafzai , Ziauddin Yousafzai , Pakistan