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Welcome to Chowraha - crossroads!

Chowraha is the crossroads of thoughts, events, opinions and feelings...all that have been shaped by individuals living in an increasingly complex world inter-connected through various means of communications.

This blog is about the crossroads in society - whether it is those of a diaspora community, global media complicating the structure of nations and cultures, or individuals finding parallels in spaces unknown to them.

The above picture is courtesy a much-admired photographer (Ali Khurshid) whose work is a source of inspiration and reaffirms the belief in the complex beauty of this world.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

(Re)-considering Pakistan: Salman Taseer, Blasphemy and People

The extremely sad assassination of Salman Taseer has shocked Pakistanis throughout the world and is a shrewd reminder of how Pakistan’s state of affairs have reached a point that not a day goes by without a disturbing news. Living outside of Pakistan, I am trying as quickly as possible to hover all the details, and reactions about the tragic death of a well-renowned governor of the country.

There are articles over the net discussing groups that hold the assassin as a hero and others condemning the vileness that is attached with any murder. The incident is a sombre reminder of where Pakistan is coming from, and the direction in which things are leading. For me, it is an episode of bafflement, a reminder that things in the country are no longer wrong or right, they are chaotic and we have ended up in this in a complicated trail of events because of our own short-sightedness and lack of sensitivity.

There are speculations on whether the murderer acted under the instructions of a bigger “extremist” group (I hyphenate that word in this context for no particular reason but to remind myself how I don’t want to get comfortable using it anywhere assuming that it has the same meaning universally). There is even question of a third party incentive involved. What I am interested in however is the ability of a man to act with such conviction over the forthrightness of his action and the response of others supporting it.

I am in no way condoning the act nor claiming to be a religious scholar or even an expert in legal matters. I do believe that it is for the government to decide in an Islamic state on who is to be punished and who is to be redeemed and if people were to take law in their hands there would be anarchy.

The gap between those for blasphemy law and those against it has only widened and the issue remains as black and white between the two sides as before.

In Pakistan, an Islamic state with a Muslim ruler, they still continually take law in their hands and I have trouble understanding why. Is it because our people are too emotional, too zealous? Or is it that they feel they cannot rely on the authorities to take action? If the literary elite, the journalists, the opinion holders on the net and tv believe the blasphemy law is black law but the great majority of the public rejoices the action of the man who opened fire on Salman Taseer then what does it depict of the Pakistani society.

It is only sensible to feel that 26 or 27 bullets to kill someone is not just an act of murder but a form of statement to all those committing or supporting blasphemy in the country. In reality, perhaps, Salman Taseer's murder has probably won him more sympathy, even support than before. However, to the murderer and those who support his view that does not mean any thing and would not change their act next time. The murderer probably did this in all loyalty to his expression of love for the support of Holy Prophet and his faith.

Ever since the war on terrorism our lives have increasingly been entrenched in a conundrum where as time passes by it becomes more and more unclear where the war began and who is the enemy now? When Pakistan chose to ally with those waging the war on terrorism, it alienated it's own vast majority of people who saw more in common with their own people than the "western forces". Their worst fears maximized when drone attacks killed innocent Pakistanis in their villages. The government becomes as distantly cold to them as its ally forces bombarding their homes.

It could be this anguish that leads the common Pakistani to take law in his hands, to demonstrate vengeance. But to leave it entirely on that is over-simplification too.

Blasphemy law has existed for over two decades and reactions over blasphemy and religious minorities have always been rather strange even incorrect. A twitter user popular amongst the local bloggers on Twitter related how his driver asked if Salman Taseer was Qadiani commenting on this is how they think.

But what have the authorities, even private organizations or us the literary or literate elite done to change it? How many bloggers, columnists even vigil holders joined to demand more tangible steps to bridge the gaps between the "masses" and them? Have we tried to speak their language, to take steps that bridge the communication gaps? Perhaps dialogue is better than critique. Perhaps not assuming superiority over the other, we can try and "speak with" them not "speak to" the public.

An answer would be to support causes that promote education. The Citizens Foundation, Zindagi Trust and many other organizations are doing immense work to bridge the gap of education between the privileged and non-privileged. However, mere financial support of such organizations is not enough. An attitude change is required to break our bubble and those of others so that we can breathe the same air. There is a need to step out of our shoes and into others' to see the world through their eyes. Humbling of our thoughts and our opinions of ourselves is required so we can see whether we are looking down at others while talking to them or whether we are actually communicating. This is where dialogue will begin and this is where we will make everyone feel welcomed. When others will feel they have the whole country, the authorities, the powerful, the elite on their side only then will they have trust built in them, only then will they feel safe in their homes, only then will they not depend entirely on their instincts and feel the need to show others their anger by taking the law in their hands.

It may not bring Salman Taseer back and it may not stop all our problems in the immediate tomorrow either but we can at least be on the road to recovery from this mess we have made of our beautiful home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
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