By Ayaz Amir
August 27, 2013
Indignation, where art thou? The boiling passion of youth when we thought that things could not just be set right but built anew…a temple raised to God knows what kind of dream. A protest march, any protest march, was an irresistible magnet, the mere word ‘barricades’ conjuring up images of the Bastille, the storming of the Winter Palace.
John Reed’s ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’ would send shivers down my spine. (Actually, still does, so powerful is his evocation of those heady days.) Neruda I read…came upon him quite late in life, which was scarcely strange because when I should have been in some college I found myself in that temple of orthodoxy, PMA Kakul (in whose shadow the imam of our sorrows, Osama bin Laden, spent his twilight years).
Last night, as I was doing this and that – music and a book – it suddenly occurred to me, whatever’s happened to Aasia Bibi, the unfortunate Christian woman accused of blasphemy, her high court appeal still not coming up for hearing? It’s really strange how with our entire military and even atomic prowess we are afraid of spectres and ghosts, even of our walking shadows.
Afraid of YouTube – if the ban is lifted, what will happen? If you ask me, nothing will happen. But how do you convince people for whom playing it safe has become a way of life?
Same thing with Aasia Bibi, the majesty of the Lahore High Court, all its pomp and mighty circumstance, unwilling to court the risk of hearing her blasphemy appeal. Why? Because clerical passions might be inflamed. Lawyers will get worked up, the worthy knights of the legal profession always ready to get worked up these days. Nameless fears getting the better of not just compassion but good sense.
It is a testimony to our small minds that the contrast escapes us altogether: the poverty of Aasia on one side, the greatness of the Prophet on the other. Kithay Aasia Bibi of some God-forsaken locality of Sheikhupura, kithay teri sana. Have a heart, holy fathers. Blemish not the stature of the Apostle by waving your arms and shouting vociferously about issues that should never have become issues in the first place.
Then I thought, what’s the use? What will come of banging away at a hollow drum? The puissant Lahore High Court may take up on its own – suo motu – any number of things but not this particular appeal before its time. And when it does, holy passions will be aroused once more and there will be worthies of the legal profession punching the air with their angry fists.
Was it the Aasia Bibi case or the Rimsha Masih case when banners had gone up all over Lahore saying “Punishment for blasphemy, Sar Tan Se Juda” – heads severed from bodies? No one was defending, much less espousing, blasphemy. You would have to be out of your mind to do it. Nothing was in danger but trade organisations all over Lahore had raised these banners, I think in their hundreds. Fine. No ambiguity, all very clear-cut.
It is not a little surprising then to see so much ambiguity about dealing with the Taliban. Imran Khan looking as opaque as ever, the PML-N government going around in circles, appearing all things to all men – yes to talks, yes to arms. In other words, on a hypothetical issue, rock-like clarity; on a real issue posing, arguably, a mortal danger to the Republic, double-speak, making virtually a religion of ambiguity.
I was reading this morning Hasan Nisar’s column in Jang and he was speaking of a TV report detailing the making of cooking oil in some part of Lahore from the intestines and other parts of dead animals. Some time back there was a story in this very paper (Sunday edition) of chicken feed being prepared from the tails and flesh of dead dogs. (Poultry farm chicken I never used to eat. Since I read that report I find it difficult to look at poultry farm eggs.)
These things we take in our stride. Not much indignation on display there and certainly no calls for severing heads from bodies. Although to my untrained mind, the unclean society, the unjust society, one where there is a premium on hypocrisy and self-righteousness, is blasphemy.
An open sewer is blasphemy, poverty is blasphemy, too great a gap between rich and poor goes against every grain of what we understand by Islam, and cooking oil from the intestines of dead animals is certainly blasphemy. But give a prize to our double standards: on abstruse things so passionate, foam round our lips; on real things with practical import, which affect the running of society, bishops of discretion.
Again this morning there was this ad in most Urdu papers in Lahore showing a sick buffalo on the ground and above it the warning caption: “…in the name of meat, buy not disease”. And the further explanation that in parts of Lahore butchers were selling disease. This from the august city government, the irony of course escaping it that its job is a bit more than just taking out an ad. Where will any action come from? If this is happening in Lahore, the showcase of the ruling party, the Paris of Pakistan, where flyeth that magic bird called governance?
And the ad gives a telephone number where it says information about any illegal slaughter houses can be conveyed. The city government having done its duty it is now up to the Awaam to do the good work. Which is a bit like Nawaz Sharif in his recent TV speech looking hard into the cameras and saying to the Awaam, ‘now I want you to give me practical suggestions’. Elected to office is the prime minister but practical suggestions must come from the Awaam. (How such suggestions were to be conveyed was left unstated. The city government at least has given a toll-free number.)
I tell you bootleggers are more honest these days. Not in small towns where adulteration and the bottling of fake stuff is on the rise and indeed has reached limits unimaginable in more sinful times. But at least the spiritual sources from where I get my help there is no fear of cooking oil being extracted from the entrails of dead animals. At factory chicken and factory eggs, as I have pointed out, I look suspiciously but, most of the time, I don’t have to smell beforehand the solace on offer from my more spiritually-inclined patrons. The last honest tribe? At least the honour of Bacchus is being upheld.
And let My Lords observe that there is no law, no ordinance, to uphold this purity. Merely the law of supply and demand. But the same law of supply and demand also applies to cooking oil from dead animals. Why doesn’t it work there? The only explanation that comes to mind is that imbibers of the stuff hailed by the gods are more discerning than mindless meat-eaters or consumers of cooking oil who can afford nothing better, and the purveyors of that stuff slightly more honest than butchers, real estate dealers and, I daresay, other pillars of society.
Apropos of spiritualism, at the time of the All Parties Conference in London in 2007, the Khadim-e-Aala invited me to lunch at a smart restaurant on a picturesque river. Smart people too, except me, the memory of the shirt I wore on that occasion still bringing a blush to my cheeks. I wasn’t in the mood for anything but the opportunity to play dumb was too good to miss. So I ordered a glass of wine. Mine host looked everywhere but at the offending glass. I took my time and just when he thought I had finished ordered another. No words were spoken but the discomfort on the other side was acute. The Khadim-e-Aala of course is into other things but that’s another story.