One man’s smile, another man’s scream

Conventional wisdom dictates that any enterprise benefiting the cause of an individual, or that of a group, must secure a margin of support if it is to prosper. The business of suicide attacks is no different. And in today’s Pakistan, it is this malaise that is rapidly clogging the arteries of our already heart-broken society.

The sight of severed limbs, broken hearts and lives brought to a ghoulishly unnatural and abrupt end is now so routine that it has almost become mundane. Those behind these atrocities fall into the categories of the usual suspects. The ‘hired hand’ bereft of the will to live who feels that if he has to end it all, he may as well go out with a bang (pun, as you can imagine, is far too tragic to be intended). Or the benevolent guardian who equates the sacrificing of his life with securing his family’s financial future. Or perhaps a brainwashed religious ‘know-nothing’ harbouring a romanticised notion of heaven who believes that registering dissent can be best done by either blowing himself up in the middle of a public gathering or by specifically targeting a ‘rogue’ institution.

But let us be clear. I describe neither an emerging trend nor a stroke of literally evil genius but, rather, a phenomenon that has existed since time immemorial. Martyrdom, after all, has always attracted those ‘noble of heart’ – whether driven by such unflinching belief in their cause that death seems a small price to pay; or the simple belief that martyrdom itself represents the ultimate enviable end goal.

Yet when a misguided missile of a soul – whose belief system spawns from what I like to call the Convenient Interpretation of Religion Syndrome – stumbles upon the holy grail of explosives that permeates through the country’s very soul – you have a recipe for tragedy, disaster and all things sad.

Those responsible, somehow, always remain untouched in their ideological endeavours, while those charged with the rudiments of nation-building, the ants that work tirelessly, the – for want of a better term – lemmings that show up to offer yet another sacrifice of blood at this altar of insanity, are the ones who always end up enduring suffering’s burden.

But isn’t this just the natural order of things? The way things are supposed to be? Surely we need the glorious politicians, the benevolent judges, the generals. The lemmings have never really mattered, have they? Their role is to simply wear the badges, wave the flags, chant the slogans, conduct the public protests without being encouraged to understand the issues at hand, in other words commit themselves to the rules of the game, no questions asked, right? Think again. Those who truly believe this could not be more horribly wrong.

For nothing demoralises the national psyche quite like the awareness that stepping out of the house without an apparent care in the world may well lead you to finding both feet firmly in your grave. That the smile you see on your child’s face before you set off for work may be the last image to flash through consciousness as a morbid brutality, the likes of which you could never ever have imagined, rips you apart, reducing you from a living, breathing, feeling person to nothing more than bloodstain on the pavement – a faceless trophy claimed by the Grim Reaper, a static statistic.

Those left behind, if they are ‘lucky’ enough, receive an unexpected windfall in the form of a fat cheque from the government, ‘compensating’ them for the loss of loved ones. But what else can the executive be expected to do? Stop this madness? Sure, but you just tell us how. Kill ‘em all before they kill us? No, NO! That constitutes a human rights violation these days. Beseech them to stop in the name of God – in whose sacred name they claim to have started it all? I could go on.

The truth of the matter is that the executive, for the most part, has been rendered helpless because once the bomber’s mind is set, so, too, is the bomb. So, too, is destruction. So is tragedy. Thus identifying and rooting out what brings a certain type of person to the point where he or she actually believes that taking innocent lives represents some sort of morbid salvation is the only way forward. If not, the lines between perpetrator and victim become confusingly blurred. And although it is not perhaps en vogue to put it this way, criticised, indeed, as it will likely be, ripped apart on each little insouciant technicality – the government is the only entity equipped to stem the tide of extremism, the only entity equipped to reverse the triumph of embryo institutions that might one day produce literally dynamite individuals.

It is for this reason that we should, even though it goes against the grain of current fashion, strongly support the military operation in Swat Valley and understand that this is the only viable option left to the government. Non-action incurs chastisement so why not just act so that the country at least does not lose even more lives than it already has. Kill the Queen Bee – that is the order of the day.

To the peaceniks out there, I say that while I hear you, your approach is, though commendably non-violent, too unpredictable in structure and execution. Nevertheless, to show willingness to their cause, I acknowledge the gesture of forming an institution that brings together people of religion – but people of religion who do not begin their day with thoughts of who falls into the infidel category and who must, as such, be slaughtered in the name of Islam.

True people of religion deliver a true message: that of tolerance rather than that of the death and destruction that feeds the never-ending cycle of violence propagation. And only when we have consensus on this true message can we, just maybe, export its essence to those with their fingers firmly on the trigger of man-made explosives and shame them into surrender and retreat. A veritable act of desertion.

But on whose shoulders, then, should the burden of failure to achieve this be placed? The ‘reluctant fundamentalist’? Or the politician who, mindful that tragedy awaits, ever-ready to take centre stage, still implores a million or so people to pour onto the streets to flatter a fragile pre-election ego? Or the general who tried to pick up the pieces from the debris of failure that these exemplary ‘national heroes’ left behind when they took flight rather than face the possibility of prosecution? Or the nation that polices the world and ‘keeps an eagle eye’ on the nukes, even though it is the only country to have ever unleashed these weapons of macabre destruction? Or do we simply blame the devil lurking inside that taunts a rebel with an apparent cause to the point where the craving for notoriety becomes synonymous with the desire to kill?

Where do we go, what do we do? In the immortal words of Pink Floyd: “Boom boom! Bang bang! Lie down, you’re dead…”

The heart, if human enough, weeps.

** A host of thank yous to Ms Miranda Hussein, without whom this would have looked like the regular old shit that comes out of my head.


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