A protest against protests

Shahana Shah

I had initially wanted to title this piece “A good time to be cynical”. And well, isn’t it? Everyone in this nation is mad at something. Apparently we are nothing but a bunch of traitors and blasphemers. Those who aren’t guilty of treason, corruption or violating the sacred are suffering from a little understood but rampant epidemic called holier-than-thou pompousness. Imran Khan is mad at the government because he isn’t it. Religious scholars and their adherents are angry at a TV morning show host. Cable TV operators are offended by Geo. The military sacred cow is pouting “How could you?” to the Jang media group. A nauseatingly substandard pseudo-journalist from one private TV channel is pointing an accusatory finger shaking with rage at another TV channel currently serving as everyone’s whipping boy. And let’s not forget the violation of old Altaf Bhai’s rights that has rendered his party apoplectic. The nation has been quite divided into accusers and the accused. And how are these various accusations, wounded sentiments and declarations of loyalty being expressed? By making senseless noise.


There is no such thing here as peaceful and reasonable objection to things that one considers to be wrong. No, there are instead scuffles at press conferences, sycophantic declarations of loyalty to the army and glorying in the downfall of one’s professional competitors. No one has heard of professional solidarity, meditated reactions to provocations or giving the accused a chance to explain themselves. One thing is clear. Tolerance is a seriously misunderstood word in our country. For clarification, you tolerate the things that you don’t like. In Pakistan we take pride in being tolerant as long as nothing happens to require us to prove that we are. The best reaction to provocations to religious sentiments that anyone with solid faith can give is dignified silence or maybe a condescending “You think so?” But the idea of picking one’s battles is not part of our culture. I am more concerned about the real insults to Islam and its sacred figures in the form of our shameless moral degradation than bad selection of music in a TV show.

The Quran and the Prophet (PBUH) have told us to be honest, forgiving, soft-spoken and dignified. We are none of those things as a nation. Aren’t we guilty of en masse blasphemy? God has promised eternal fire to the one who commits murder, but we are determined to glorify the name of the same God by gunning people down in the hope of paradise. It’s like trying to put out fire by throwing fuel at it. The taboos in this country abound such that it is impossible to speak at all without offending someone or other. What we don’t understand is that it is not the absence of offence that is required but graceful handling of any provocation. Recently an admirable religious scholar said on TV that even mere tolerance was not enough, one had to move ahead and be accepting and welcoming to the other. From the look of things though, we are still quite far from that. Perhaps the reason is that to tolerate anything different from ourselves we first have to be secure in our own convictions. Sadly, we are content to define ourselves by what we stand against rather than what we stand for.

The contributor is a lecturer at the Karakuram International University. She has an M. Phil in International Relations from the National Defense University.

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