By Mehr Tarar
The outrage on social media on any given subject is enough to drown the combined cackles of a clan of spotted hyenas. On any given day. The self-importance of the self-labelled Twitterati is enough to put a preening peacock to shame in a relatively low-key hour of self-admiration. Other than the heads of states, sports, music and film celebrities et al, most of those who tweet to elicit a response, reaction, retweet or invariably, boos and cheers, indulge in the game of outrage, pontification, sanctimonious fault-finding, and cyclical blame-shifting. If only most of us tweeters realised the redundancy of our small words in the big scheme of attitudes, narrative-building, and shaping of ideas.
But then comes the moments when the picture of a dead Aylan jolts the world into rethinking its outlook on Syrian refugees that pour like unheeded prayers into unwelcoming European countries. When a 14-year-old Ahmed’s trauma is hash-tagged globally to become a unified voice against the injustice done to him. Missing children; brutalised masses; jailed activists; victims of war, corruption and legal injustices; forgotten IDPs; forgotten murders; forgotten heroes...social media brings into focus issues mainstream media is too busy, too haughty or too disdainful to pay attention to. There is no denying the inevitability of the power of social media intertwining with the machinations of private and public lives circa 2015, with its positivity far-reaching, its influence unlimited.
And like all things powerful, influential and unlimited, social media comes with its own set of negatives that threaten to constantly derail the system of posting views and ideas online. As you tweet coherent, well-meaning, and relevant — all adjectives your own — 140-characters, rare is the visualisation of the aftermath that is to slither into your virtual life like a python on a slow day in a New Guinea jungle. I mean think. How is anyone, and I mean even the most well-meaning ones, could ever hope to please, appease or get the approval of any and everyone and his aunt?
Once in a while, it all gets way beyond your wildest ideas of how bad virtual lynching can be. Or is. Try saying anything that is ostensibly offensive to anyone’s religious, cultural or national ethos, or favourite Bollywood star, and regret the day you made an entry on Twitter, all starry-eyed to reach millions, and affect ideas. While most of the big names that have been a victim of vicious online trolling feign indifference to the phenomenon of virtual lynching, the myriad emoticons hide the pain of their egos put into a grinder, self-restraint tested to the limit, and self-esteem shredded to smithereens.
It’s one thing to actually say a vicious thing and be targeted for that. It’s totally different, for instance, to comment on a ban put into effect to appease one religious community, and have your person, your family, your long-deceased ancestors, your neighbours, and your dogs abused filthily. Gosh, people, exhale. Think. You wouldn’t start shouting and abusing and hurling things at an acquaintance at a social do, a stranger in a café, a colleague in your office, or a celebrity at a fashion show if they say something you don’t approve of. Do we throw our Louboutins at you when you object to our liberal views, our way of life?
So let’s make a deal. While we stop sniggering at your lack of acceptance of ideas that you are too chicken (Is chicken-eating banned too?) to accept as a result of your regimented outlook on the ever-changing world, you must stop attacking us for pooh-poohing your endorsement of bans. Hug on this treaty? No? That’s also against your idea of proper behaviour? Shake hands on that? Maybe? Okay, then let’s just emoticon the agreement, all proper and PG-rated.
The noise on bans ends up cloaking the real issue: bans merely engender resentment. And resentment induces distancing. And distancing encourages isolating. It’s tedious, and almost invariably counter-productive. You can’t have people practise something, and then ban it to appease one religious or ethnic group or a shrill TV channel. Bans are not merely about curbing an individual or group’s freedom; bans are also simply viewed as a reiteration of a government’s proclivity for acting like the Big Brother: Lo and behold, I am in power, and thereby, I have the power to stop you from doing this and that. Think. Yes, it’s my day of pontificating the virtues of thinking. While trying to appease one group, or prevent its self-inflated sense of persecution, you displease, rather, hurt another group. A no-win situation, my dear leaders. So veggies or meat, pork or cow, let’s just stop forcing people to give up any.
That brings to mind the latest outrage on the statements of Mahesh Sharma, the Indian minister of culture. See, this is the downside of following so many media folks from the good old India, and their penchant for tweeting more vociferously than the loudest Pakistani print and media representatives. Now being a non-adherent to many cultural traditions, I seriously have an issue with the so-called liberals’ disinclination to accept all contradicting and opposing ideas.
Oh yes, in 2015, telling girls to behave in a certain manner is regressive and counter-productive, but so is, my dear fellow liberals — although I don’t attach any label to my potpourri of ideas that wander hither and thither — your refusal to accept the reality. A huge, huge segment of Pakistani and Indian societies is conservative, and very proudly so. Just as I don’t wish to have anyone object to my substituting jeans for Shalwar, my existence as a single woman, a single mother, or my choice to not cover my head, I respect the parameters set by others for their lives.
While I understand the desire to live as per a person’s own judgment, I fail to see how parental control or existing within traditional boundaries is taken as draconian, as curbing of your freedoms.
What the minister said might be unpalatable to our liberated minds, the hard-won freedom to live as per the dictates of our conscience and minds, but it is simplistic escapism to assume that conservatism does not exist. Or it does not matter.
The only way to exist in a pluralist society is to accept and respect the existence of conflicting ideas, contrasting outlooks, contradicting narratives, and a juxtaposition of liberal, religious and traditional outlooks. Live your life. Just don’t expect others to toe your line. Left, right or centre.