The worst that can happen

April 6, 2014

The worst that can happen

Read these words: "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it." (Justice Learned Hand).

Read them twice and then one more time. And then look around you. If you have ever wondered why the state is buckling under the pressure of violent extremism this might explain it.

What do you feel when you hear of an attack on a person like Raza Rumi? Is there a feeling of outrage followed by a creeping resignation taking over? Such resignation does not creep up on you because you think the state does not have enough guns to fight an enemy -- it creeps in because a discourse convincing you of the power of violence is taking over.

The state is too weak to even viably imagine an alternative. But my reference to the state does not include only the government. The people must exert some influence, right? Yes, we the people. What happens when a people, first in whispers and then with audible conviction, accept that groups who kill those that speak up for other human beings have some legitimacy?

That first moment when you concede legitimacy to terrorism is when the drug (fuelled through discourse) enters your system. Later in life, you might have a hard time remembering how it even began. But eventually the argument builds, and heads nod around you. Yes, you see their point and they see yours: so what if they want Sharia? Isn’t that what Muslims should want? So what if they are tough on women? Aren’t women out of line anyway? The backless attire worn by a skinny female model on the ramp becomes your argument for explaining the state of morality in the country.

It does not stop there. More questions: So what if they are killing Shias or Christians or Hindus? Or those that speak up for them? Don’t thousands of Muslims die? A religion then becomes your benchmark for identifying which dead bodies to mourn over. A dead body covered in blood but lying face down confuses you since you cannot tell the victim’s faith.

So what if they attacked the likes of Raza Rumi? Why does he need to raise issues that annoy militant groups? You start blaming those who end up being killed. You switch tv channels when news of bomb blasts reach your ears -- you treat lost sons, daughters, mothers and fathers as statistics.

"Chup raho, bhai..kya zaroorat hai bolnay ki?" is the approach that you and others around you agree on.

You mock those that speak up on electronic and social media. You are desperate to feel some power. Being nasty to others gives you that power. Life was meant to be better -- not this powerless. You are too scared to speak up so those who do speak remind you of what you could have been. You are angry. You say discourse does not matter -- all the while contributing to it because silence, too, is discourse.

You don’t even realise that you have just gripped the throat of your own child and strangled her independent mind to death. You have watched life evaporate from those eyes. And you choose not to lock eyes with others for the fear of things you might see about yourself.

You slash away at freedom’s jugular with a knife that their discourse has sharpened. And others are agreeing with you. You kill parts of yourself -- for the greater good. This is what one needs to do in order to survive, you tell yourself. It will get better.

And then you think, so what is the worst that can happen? You will not be killed. Eventually it will get better. A few years into it you look back and imagine the worst that could have happened.

Were mosques and churches attacked? Were little children (i.e. children similar to your own) blown to unrecognisable bits while they were out shopping with their parents? Were thousands of young minds trained to blow themselves up? Did thousands of young boys run away from home on the pretext of jihad and their mothers never hear from them again? Did you become deaf to the sobs of those who lost loved ones and to the scared sobs of a child being mentally abused till he gives in to the idea of blowing himself up? What is the worst that can happen? Will that fortress of security, the GHQ, be attacked? Will a courageous former prime minister be killed? Will a minister be maimed? Will we see footage of our soldiers being beheaded? Will there arrive a day when women are flogged in a city square? The days come and pass. And you keep injecting that drug into your veins.

Was a Governor’s murderer celebrated? Were young girls blamed for bullets lodged into their heads?

Were rapes blamed on the way women dress?

Were schools in Lahore closed because of terror threats? Did you lie to your children about how uncertain physical survival really is? Did you lose faith that your kids are safe when they go out.

What is the worst that can happen?

Will Hindu temples be torched? Will girls as young as your daughter or niece be charged with blasphemy? But it is never your daughter or your niece so you live on. Those who get involved in this mess have themselves to blame.

Will Shia pilgrims be pulled off buses in broad daylight, identified by their last names and killed on a highway? Will Hazaras be blown up by the dozens -- once, twice, and thrice or more? What is your threshold of violence? Will the state sit down to talk with such murderers? Will the businessmen flee because of extortion? Will you question the very existence of the constitution?

What, then, is the worst that can happen?

Through words and silence, we have made this day possible. Some heroes stand out -- but they have themselves to blame. For the rest of us, we should feel all powerful because we are on the winning side -- the side of silence and deafening violence.

Meanwhile our enemies have shaped the discourse since each whisper, each word and each sentence of dissent against violence scares them. And they will kill for it.

We are the people and the state. All powerful. And powerless.

Is this the worst that could have happened? Or is the drug good enough for now?

The worst that can happen