The shape of things to come

Last Friday was a public holiday in Pakistan – a government-declared ‘Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool’ so that the people of Pakistan could show their love for Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and ‘peacefully’ protest against the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims. Cellular services were suspended in 15 cities for a few hours to somehow ‘protect’ the citizens. YouTube is still blocked in the country so that people don’t get riled up by watching the blasphemous film’s trailer. Despite all these so-called ‘protective measures’, Pakistanis demonstrated their ‘love’ for the Prophet (PBUH) by torching vehicles, damaging private property, looting, burning several cinemas across the country and a church in Mardan.

While at least 23 Pakistanis lost their lives during the violent protests on Friday and hundreds others were injured, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira proudly stated that ours was the only country that protested against the film at the state level. Mr Kaira belongs to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which has always suffered at the hands of the rightwing. This, however, has never stopped the PPP from caving in to the Right. Another federal minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, announced $100,000 as head-money for the filmmaker. Had something like this happened in a civilised country, Bilour would have been sacked immediately from the federal cabinet by now. It remains to be seen whether our government will act in a responsible matter and get rid of a minister calling for murder. For instigating murder, Bilour’s name has now been removed from the Taliban’s hit list. Being rewarded by the Taliban is surely nothing to be proud of, especially if you belong to a party – the Awami National Party (ANP) – that has lost its leaders and workers at the hands of the Taliban.

No doubt the emotions of Muslims all over the world were hurt by the sacrilegious film but instead of protesting peacefully, we fell hook, line and sinker into the trap of the filmmaker who wanted to show the world how intolerant Muslims can be. Pakistan’s government went one step ahead and gave an official stamp of approval to hooliganism. Even if the government wanted peaceful protests, it was a folly to believe they could be contained, given the violent tendency of the rightwing forces in our country. These protests were poignantly explained by Cyril Almeida: “The green flag of Islam was vigorously waved Friday, the government wants us to believe. But to anyone who knows anything about this place, it was really a white flag of surrender in the PPP’s hands” (‘The flag of surrender’, Dawn, September 23, 2012). Whatever spin and/or explanation the PPP government tries to give now cannot undo the damage it has done to its own message of pluralism.

Last week’s protests in Pakistan reminded one of Gabriel García Márquez’s novella, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The Right demonstrated its power and the state showed its inability to deal with mayhem and chaos. It signalled the death of pluralism, the death of tolerance, the death of reason and rationality – the death of peace. Despite all odds, some of us try to remain optimistic but these protests were somehow the death of optimism as well for it all points towards the future of Pakistan – a very dark future.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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