The above text is translated as: "I am driving a Ricksha, not a bullet!"

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Peace Not Pieces"

Dear Mirza Abbas Arif,

You were only three years older than me. And you were shot a couple of weeks ago in my area - in the exact same streets that I have grown up in, rode my first bicycle in and that my friends from the elitist areas of Defence have found hard to navigate. This area, North Nazimabad, is often confused with Nazimabad, the area that has long since been notorious for unrest. Our area is safer and much better - I liked to think. But maybe, it is time to let go of our superlative degrees.

Abbas, I don’t know if you ever met Dr. Mirza Abid Baig or not. He belonged to North Nazimabad too. A 56-year-old plump, bearded man of medium height, he was the first person to inject the much-dreaded cortisone in my circulatory system, which, to this day, is the only cure to my debilitating urticaria attacks. His clinic was the go-to-clinic for the residents of our area in times of minor as well as major ailments. Both of you had the same first name Mirza, and neither of you were called by this name. However, I can't say how similar you both really were, considering that bullets pierced his head too, for the one difference you had - that he was a Sunni and you were a Shia.

Even though I belong to the same area as you, I confess, I have been much removed from your anguish. For the past four years, I was at my liberal arts college where ideas and idealism reign supreme over many practical realities, and the importance of creative imagination is extolled more than the value of practical determination. Always driven by a hope for the betterment of a country that I knew needed me, simply because I could never run out of ideas for how I could contribute to it, I wasn’t willing to let anything undermine my firm faith in faith itself. But loss of lives like yours and Dr.Abid's, often push the best of us to question the auspices of our intellects, and of our hearts, and I am no exception.

Abbas, as a Sunni, no matter how deeply apologetic I am to you, as I am sure you were to Dr. Abid, no apologies can make us go back in history, or give us that "one last chance to get Pakistan right,” as Stephen Cohen calls it. These events began long before you and I stepped into adulthoood, you see? Zia ul Haq's islamization policy in the 1980s was only just the beginning. A lack of state level policy measures, Iran’s support of Iranian inspired Shia militancy, Saudi Arabia’s funds to counter Shia activism and America's timely contribution to birthing radical Sunni organizations, have all produced our iron-hot brand of psychological fanaticism. Hence, for once, I will not be apologetic.

For the damage done to you, for the lack of an antidote to the disease of intolerance that has infested us, instead, I assume responsibility. Oftentimes, it is either an expectation of failure or unguided optimism, that doesn't let us own our problems and take steps to solve them. This expectation of failure inevitably contributes to failure itself, when people refuse to be active in the various arms of government, civil society and popular culture where they can reshape the niches that harness any society. We must accept that there are real concerns regarding race, gender, class, religion, ethnicity and sect not only in Pakistan, but also in the one remaining super power of the world. Hence, escape is not a solution. And knowing the consequences of failure, failure is not an option. Therefore, it is high time that we asses our comparative narratives for their objective measures, or lack thereof, that dictate what piece of land, or group of people, are better.

Abbas, these narratives are so deeply entrenched in our sub-conscious minds, that our sense of self is often inextricable from a sense of an “other.” And it has taken years of irresponsible mental training to create these precarious identities. From a very young age, our children are taught books that are biased toward specific interpretations of Islam. They don't hear stories of the countless times the Holy Prophet showed love to his wives and daughters, tolerance to his opponents and respect to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead, during our sessions on religious education, we glorify him through the wars he won. Those who seek to emulate the Prophet, seldom see beyond the military leader. And those who seek to criticize religious fanaticism vis a vis Islam, also often see the military leader only.

Islam, as I am sure you know, is not as narrow as what extremism or secularism allows one to see. The brutality practiced under the banner of religion, is nothing but an insult to Islam. However, this prototype of radicalism hasn't only done damage to those it has killed. It has shaken our society at many levels, including at the basic foundation of family. There are countless people who have been sexually, physically and emotionally tortured under the false banner of religion, who die everyday - albeit differently from you – while suffering from fanaticism fueled domestic abuse. Abbas, I am sure that you aren't naive enough to think that having a life is in itself a permit card to being able to live.

Don’t get me wrong – my words do not seek to undermine the horror of your experience and the tragedy your family has suffered from. Instead, I only seek to tell you, and to the many people who held you dear, and to myself as I embark on a project to promote critical thinking and tolerance amongst children in Pakistan, that this problem is much nuanced than it seems. There are many people whose names might not make headlines or be listed on South Asia Terrorism Portal, but they are, in fact, all victims of the same branch of terrorism, the terror inflicted by the uneducated mind, in the crevices of dogmatism and religious polarization. And they, Sunnis or Shias, stand in solidarity with you in their demand for justice, with wounds penetrating as deep as bullets, if not worse.

Zuha Shaikh

No comments:

Post a Comment