By Yaqoob Khan Bangash
September 23, 2013
Whenever there is a terrorist attack in Pakistan, there are the usual rounds of condemnation from various quarters. Then, people go about their business as usual, till another such attack happens and then the film is repeated again. It seems that everything happens but nothing happens. People condemn the act, yet still, terrorists are repeatedly found in our midst. People feel sorry for the dead and injured, but then they are soon forgotten. People feel depressed when they hear of the attack, but the next round of biryani makes us forget it all.
When the ‘specialists’ are quizzed about the prevalence of terrorism and its deadly ideology in Pakistan, they often say, “But the majority, the ‘silent majority’ rejects them”. But the real news is that this ‘silent majority’ is dead. For a long time, the term ‘silent majority’ referred to the dead rather than the living. It was only during the 1970’s with Nixon’s Watergate scandal that he referred to the ‘silent majority’ which supported him — obviously they were dead too. Dead, too, is our population which opposes terrorism and its ideology. Our collective apathy speaks louder than our words and actions. This menace has killed scores of our military men and civilians in recent months, let alone the last decade or so, and we still want to negotiate. We must be dead to think this.
One of the reasons why this menace is getting stronger and is perhaps, not going to leave us is because we have yet to take this menace seriously. Just imagine, a few weeks ago, the firings on the Line of Control created war hysteria against India, mainly at the behest of the media, but no such hype has ever been created against the Taliban. Since 1947, India has killed a fraction of the people the Taliban have killed in Pakistan, but we still consider India as our main enemy and react to them strongly. The Taliban have practically held the whole country hostage for over a decade and are the biggest threat to our lives, but we still have most of our military focused on the Indian border. So, if the Taliban were really accepted as the real enemy, we would treat them like one and show our commitment to wiping them out.
Among the reasons why we are lukewarm about the Taliban is because our country is becoming increasingly bigoted and intolerant. As a matter of fact, a large majority of our country is deeply prejudiced and fanatical. This change is not new. Religious fanaticism has been seen throughout the centuries — from the blood baths due to religion in early modern Europe, to the ‘communal riots’ in British India, nations have had to deal with fanaticism.
That is why one of the hallmarks of becoming modern was that people learnt not to kill just because of religion. The West took hundreds of years to internalise this and has hopefully achieved it to a large extent. South Asia, obviously, has yet to achieve this milestone. In fact, in Pakistan, we are fast going in the opposite direction. There are so many examples of our bigotry and intolerance that I simply do not know where to begin; we only tolerate intolerance is all I can say!
Several years ago, I was walking through old Peshawar and stumbled upon a beautiful white mosque which had Persian inscriptions on the outside. On closer examination I saw it was not a mosque, but a church, in the style of a mosque. The builders also chose to adorn it with Pashto and Persian verses on the outside, giving it a more localised exterior. I went round the church and marvelled at the construction since it so beautifully and skilfully linked Christianity to the area, and took away the foreign feeling we often have in churches in South Asia. It was poignant that terrorists attacked this church on Bloody Sunday. This church represented the welcome of the Pashtun culture to the Christian religion and the acceptance of local culture by the incoming mission — the terrorists clearly wanted to break this link.
In 1883, this church was dedicated to ‘All Saints’; now on this Bloody Sunday, this white-washed church has indeed been washed by the blood of these newly martyred saints.
Yaqoob Khan Bangash is the Chairperson of the Department of History, Forman Christian College