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Demonstrations of helplessness

On December 16 2014, at least 140 people died in a terrorist attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar. More than 130 were children. On January 14 2015, parents of these child victims demonstrated against Imran Khan’s visit to the Peshawar school, accusing him of ‘politicising’ the deaths.

Exactly one week before this, a satirical magazine in Paris was attacked by terrorists and eleven people were shot dead. On January 11 2015, world leaders flew to Paris to join in a solidarity march against terrorism comprising one million people.

All well and good but there is a slight problem here: will either demonstration solve the issue of terrorism, prevent further terrorist attacks and further loss of innocent lives? These demonstrations are, ultimately, demonstrations of helplessness. The former is by parents who have lost their children; they are asking the political party that represents their province: ‘Why don’t you grieve with us?’ The latter is by those who have one world view towards those who hold another world view, saying: ‘We disagree with you and will continue to disagree with you.’ Neither response addresses the real issue. How can it? The victim, after all, must remain the victim. How can he be painted as an aggressor?

The Army Public School’s students were innocents. The state they live in, which feeds the army that runs the school in which they were killed, is not innocent. That state has not only ensured that its citizens live their lives at subsistence levels, it has also provided its citizens the terrible ideology that makes them willing to both kill and die for dubious causes.

Having created these citizens, the state discovered them to be more harmful than helpful and decided that the best way to deal with them was to kill them. Unfortunately, these citizens are not the kind to lie down and die peacefully at the state’s behest. Having very few resources against the state’s power, these citizens carry out terrorist attacks in response. Demonstrating against one politician is not going to address the problem.

Across the world, we are looking at the fourth largest arms exporter in the world, a former colonial empire which played a huge role in the destruction of Algeria’s aspirations for a free, democratic nation-state. We are looking at a magazine in that state which then taunts Muslims with nasty cartoons about their prophet (pbuh). Did anyone seriously believe that the solidarity march would help prevent further terrorist attacks? The terrorists who carried out the attacks have already been linked to Isis, the current bugbear of the west that is terrorising the Middle East.

And so both Pakistan and France let a show of angry emotional substitute for a real solution. Because neither Pakistan nor France is either willing or able to provide a real solution. A real solution has certain costs.

In Pakistan, it will cost in terms of a long-term engagement with development. That essentially means investment in healthcare, education, population-planning and job creation at a governmental level. It means turning away from foreign aid programmes and the parallel NGO system set up in this country. It means reducing the budget of the armed forces.

The problem is that Pakistan is not just unwilling to pay these costs: it is unable to do so. The problem is not just the strength of the army or the weakness of the politician. The problem is that we, as a people, have not yet evolved beyond tribalism. The principles of truth, justice and equality fall by the wayside.

Any systemic solution to this, any organisational system that might redirect our self-interests into communal interests has long since been dismantled. The three separate and independent institutions of the executive, judiciary and legislature, traditionally assumed to be necessary for good governance, are neither separate nor independent. Martial law, military courts, politicians directly linked with the military, a judicial system that barely operates – no wonder we expect miracles, no wonder we rest our hopes on the appearance of a superman who will take us back to the glory days of Islam.

Blinded by our hopes and our passionate desire for a good life, we forget that all prophets, including our own, demanded a change in both the beliefs and the lifestyles of their followers. This change was a voluntary reorientation of a whole society from the materialism of Mecca – where economic might was right and the weak fell by the wayside – to the brotherhood of Medina where economic might was shared with the weak, raising them to the same level as the strong.

In today’s Pakistan, we have returned to the materialism of Mecca, with its oppression of the economically weak and its worship of the strong. We have returned to tribal values where only our tribe’s interest counts and the others can go by the board. Faced with the obvious consequences of this, in the form of poverty, injustice and violence, we now want a superman to appear with a magic wand and fix everything.

And when our chosen Superman fails us, as he inevitably must, we surround his car and cry, ‘Go, Imran, Go!’, an echo of the slogan raised by superman himself, who shares our delusions when he decides that one politician, one political party, are the only reason for all our ills.

As for France, various commentators are advocating improving the treatment of its Muslim citizens. I have not yet read an article that suggests ceasing interference in the politics of its former colonies or scaling down its arms industry, though my personal suspicion is that these are also actions France might need to invest in. However, not being French, what the French do is not my concern. What is my concern are the events in my own country. Because when my country goes up in flames, I can either burn with it or, assuming I survive the burning, flee to a country like France.

So the two events occurring across the world in two different countries are very tightly connected: we, with the help of our former colonial rulers and their replacement empires, destroy our own countries and flee to theirs. Finding the environment there uncongenial to our sensibilities, we then set about destroying their countries. It is a lose-lose solution. It could be a win-win situation if only we did what the prophets have been trying to tell us to do across the centuries: look after each other by creating and maintaining organisational systems that will ensure fraternity, liberty and equality.

That way, maybe we will, in fact, create a clear difference between victims and aggressors instead of gazing confusedly at the blurred boundary between the two, making it impossible to separate the victim from the aggressor.

The writer has worked as a project monitor in the development sector.

Email: mahvesh1@gmail.com

Mahvesh Khan, "Demonstrations of helplessness," The News. 2015-01-18.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Military courts , Society-Pakistan , Humanity , Judicial system , Armed forces Politicians , Terrorist , Terrorism , Economy , Imran Khan , Peshawar , France , Pakistan