Irfan Ali, a Pakistani activist who was killed on Thursday in a bombing, addressed a rally against sectarian attacks in September in Islamabad. [Photo via Ghalib Khalil]
Writing this has not been easy.
More than a 100 killed in two cities in a single day. Innocent Pakistani civilians, journalists, rescuers and police officers. The victims predominantly belong to the Hazara community and, by extension, the Shia population of Balochistan. One of the most relentlessly attacked targets of Sunni extremists, the Hazara community has suffered for the past 11 years and continues to find very little support from the authorities of Pakistan. Verbal condemnation is issued day in and day out but practically nothing has been done by the State to ensure the protection of the massively assailed minority. For perspective, it is important to remember that the persecution of the Hazara community is not a predicament native to Pakistan only; its complicated and gory history is linked back to Afghanistan. Some argue that the basis of the strife was a product of ethnic rivalry while others maintain that this is only another violent manifestation of Sunni extremism against a non-Sunni sect. The 18th century is noted to be one of the most oppressive periods pertaining to the bloody subjugation of the Hazara community under Amir Abdur Rehman Khan in Afghanistan; His rule resulted in the mass exodus of the Hazara people into present-day Quetta (Pakistan) and Mashad (Iran). Now in 2012, in Pakistan, over 900,000 Hazara live in the country - mostly in the southwestern province of Balochistan where the population is largely Shia. Touted as “heretics” by Pakistani extremist Sunni militants, the Hazara community of Pakistan remains under siege as victims of ethnic and, more obviously, sectarian violence. 375 Pakistani Shia Muslims have died in 2012 — the worst toll since the 1990s, human rights activists claim. With only eleven days into 2013, the future doesn’t seem too different for the Hazara of Pakistan.
But this is only a brief glimpse in the chaos that rattles Balochistan in specific and Pakistan in general. I want to talk about our selective outrage as Pakistanis. And before anyone objects, let it be known that I, too, am a Pakistani Muslim. This is only a plea, a request that we, as Pakistanis, look into ourselves.
I find US drone strikes deplorable; Anyone arguing in favor of missiles to “correct” the situation in Pakistan is dangerously mistaken because the performance of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remains unaffected by these “precise” and “surgical” strikes. If anything, these strikes have helped militants in recruiting more members for revenge. I find Western Imperialism disgusting. It goes without saying that the colonial and imperial powers of the West have destroyed the lives of countless human beings. I find Whiteness despicable; A social construct to silence and trivialize people of color is something no decent human being would concur with. At the same time, I find it extremely important for social growth that I criticize what is native to my country. I see very little of it coming from Pakistanis - living within the land or abroad, it rarely matters. I find the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies’ aggression and abuse of human rights unacceptable. For me, the disproportionate manipulation of religion and power by the State is reprehensible. I view the gross consumption of resources, aid, labor force and more by the Elite of Pakistan horrendous and pathetic. I have learned - with much unease and dismay - that we, as a people, will quickly run to the help of those oppressed outside of our borders. Which is not to say that transnational solidarity is wrong; Raising our voice and searching our pockets to help those under tyranny is something Pakistanis will never think twice before doing. We care, as a people, we truly care. But sometimes - and this is where my disappointment stems from as a citizen - our priorities are misguided. The debate whether this is because we have gradually become numb as a nation is an entirely separate one. Our home is on fire and our gaze is averted.
Let us understand two facts: Firstly, tyranny is Janus-faced. Secondly, the State cannot write these crimes under our names.
Power operates in various forms. USA remains, undoubtedly so, one of the top abusers of human rights and international laws. There is no questioning it. But that does not mean our criticism, as Pakistanis, of our local corrupt and complicit government(s) should soften. Our intelligence agencies assisted extremist factions like LeJ - Lashkar e Jhangvi, the same that attacked our fellow citizens yesterday, now closely allied with the Taliban - and later on the Government of Pakistan “banned” them but never really got to practically ceasing their operations. Sometimes - knowingly or not - we pick sides. Humeira Iqtidar deconstructs this fallacy of ‘picking sides’; Do we form an alliance with Imperialism against homegrown madness or do we support homegrown madness against Imperialism? Iqtidar denounces both and firmly asserts that Pakistanis can reject both forms of megalomania. This refusal to align with both forms of tyranny is essential to our progress and safety as Pakistanis - regardless of our religious, ethnic, social differences. We can reject external cruelty in the same way we can reject state-sanctioned brutality. Our selective outrage only weakens us. In many cases, it is our silence that kills us and our loved ones.
Furthermore, we must not allow our debauched, bribable and treacherous Government pass these atrocities off as incidents ‘normalized’ by us. We do not support the genocide of Shia Pakistanis or Shia Muslims or any minority anywhere. Our silence must not be appropriated by these groups and parallel states. Tomorrow I leave with my friends to protest against the attacks at Liberty Chowk in Lahore at 5PM. Our demand is simple: Arrest the killers, empower the oppressed. My pessimism tells me the State will remain unfazed - like it has all this time. My optimism tells me our unity will grow in numbers and in strength, and one day we will save our home from burning to the ground, our gaze will focus on what weakens our core.
There is hope. I see it in you all.