Sunday, October 21, 2007

False messiah

Matters have reached a stage when we cannot even attempt to indulge in clichéd phrases. I do not think I can get away any longer with stringing words along lines that Thursday evening witnessed the port city of Karachi – our mini-Pakistan – reeling under the throes of a bizarre case of déjà vu, as another round of senseless violence struck the city. For when has violence made any sense? And pray would assigning meaning make it any less futile! Is there any meaning to lives lost? Déjà vu – at times read as ‘remembering the future’. So did in the blazing afternoon sun of May 12 the spectre of the night of Thursday rise? Our destinies continue to spiral out of our control, the ghoul of evils to come hold sway, as we stumble to devise meaning, to point fingers, to appoint guilt. Tragedy visits us, no matter where we live, what we are doing, trying to find some comfort and succour as we mourn the dead.

They have announced that there will be three days of mourning. Three days for now and endless weeks later, as the city will remain paralysed with residents held hostage within their homes. Shutters across the city forced to be pulled down. And then to count the moments go by, bated breath every time the Princess Royale, the King’s Party, or our President-in-Fatigues choose to visit the city? With an education system that remains paralysed by all the scheduled holidays, compensatory holidays for every year the Ruet-e-Hilal committee gets it wrong, strikes and protest days as those in power play their cat and mouse games, this is all the city’s young need to have enforced gaiety that the Prodigal Daughter returneth and now this mourning.

Can the city and this country accommodate all these centres of power? I am still trying to comprehend these shifts in power – who calls the shots in the different neighbourhoods of Pakistan now? Like mini fiefdoms, Rawalpindi ends where GHQ begins, Islamabad ends where Aabpara et Lal Masjid begin. Karachi begins where Masroor and Faisal end. I have seen it happening before in the aftermath of the cartoon controversy when a fatwa was issued by offices in Peshawar (I refer here to the million dollars or so bounty for the death of the Danish cartoonist). And when Lahore wanted to decide how the ‘investigation’ into Copenhagen is conducted and the appropriate punishment to the offenders be meted out. How can one explain why what is decided in Lahore tries to counter the power and judicial structures in Copenhagen? How groups in Karachi threaten decisions taken in the corridors of Islamabad? Ghassan Hage, an academic at the Sydney University, reminded me of the parallels when he explained the paradigms operating for the migrant Muslims. Being Muslim is now a ‘transnational idea’, the British Pakistani on the streets of London in the late 80s would have announced that he would follow what the Ayatollah in Iran is saying rather than the laws of Britain regarding the freedoms of a certain writer. ‘I am a nation of the exiles from Dubai and Saudi Arabia and not the Pakistani state’ is what I believe is being uttered in the streets of Karachi right now.

So in Karachi the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) turns on the men in black, turn on the men in khaki, embrace red, green, black, turn on men in beards. A while ago the MQM asked of President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to ban the Jamaat-e-Islami and remove the NWFP government for supporting political and religious unrest in Sindh. (In the aftermath of the bomb blasts on the Sunni Tehreek, the MQM legislator Kunwar Khalid Younas had declared that Qazi Hussain Ahmad should be held responsible for “protecting terrorists and suicide attackers”. For him the NWFP government had to be accused of totally failing in maintaining peace, of protecting the life and property of the people of NWFP, and beyond, and that it does not deserve to continue to rule NWFP.)And now?

With all the sureties of fool-proof security, whose head should roll?Meanwhile, from the pulpits of Karachi and recesses of NWFP we have voices clamouring for Benazir to be declared an enemy of Islam, considering her vows to continue with Washington’s project. This for them is their definition of doing political Islam in today’s times. I have written elsewhere how in other Muslim societies, political Islam and even the term ‘jihad’ could rather have been translated as doing away with inequities. The term ‘corruption’, instead of being translated as ‘moral corruption’, could have been read as economic violence. To ‘fight against all evils’ would be the sins outlined in Islam and not just physical violence against those who believe in causes other than yours.

And what can one say about the Prodigal Daughter? I admit her smile and tears still move the public, she plays to them walking down the steps weighed down with Imam Zaman. Hopeless romantics, they queue up for a glimpse of her face. What kind of self-destructive love is this that draws them still? She has let down this love before, but they still hope. And now as the camera moves slowly on the mangled twisted wrecks, the fires still smouldering on trampled confetti of rose buds, identity papers charred red black green, now stained the crimson of blood.

Do you remember the Shia Muslim sect Qarmatians whose particular worldview was one that every phenomenon has and will repeat itself in cycles, so that each incident is replayed over and over again? I can interpret it in my own pessimistic way that ‘no matter how much things change, they seem to remain the same’. So how soon will it be that Ms Bhutto reneges on her Faustian bargain and utters her earlier words: “Noting the most devastating and traumatic experiences that our nation experienced under military dictatorships that played havoc with the nation’s destiny and created conditions disallowing the progress of our people and the flowering of democracy. Even after removal from office, they undermined the people’s mandate and the sovereign will of the people; drawing history’s lesson that the military dictatorship and the nation cannot co-exist – as military involvement adversely affects the economy and the democratic institutions as well as the defence capabilities, and the integrity of the country – the nation needs a new direction different from a militaristic and regimental approach of the Bonapartist regimes, as the current one.” And now how does she view them?

But for how long can I chant this litany of my distress. Can we revisit Ghalib? “Dard-e-dil likhoo kab tak jaoon unko dikhlaoo. Ungliyan figar apnee khama-khoon-chuka apna” (Ghalib). Translated as, and very loosely translated as, by me: “When do I stop writing of the pain that wrenches my heart? Should I show my Beloved these bruised fingers of mine – the writing-reed that drips of my blood?” So I ask of you how much blood has to flow in this long night of ours, for how long do the blood-shot eyes of Karachi beseech of the heavens for dawn to come for them?

But we trudge along. False heroes and heroines, demigods visit us promising us that they are our messiah. Decades ago, Faiz had told us that:“We are told,Your new dawn is already here;Your tired feet need journey no more...But there is yet no relief in the darkness of the Night;No liberation yet of our souls and our minds,So let us keep marching, my friends,We have yet to find our Elusive Dawn.”So dear readers, it is going to be a long night yet. Can we still hope that there is light at the end of it?

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