BY the time
the weekend ended, it was the deadliest the United States had ever seen. Around
10am on Saturday morning, as parents took excited children to Wal-Mart ready to
buy school supplies (the official school year in the US begins in late August
or early September), a gunman opened fire, first in the parking lot and then
inside Wal-Mart itself. As his manifesto, uploaded before the attack, revealed,
he knew how to strike a ‘soft target’ (Wal-Mart stores are cavernous, large and
without any real security or police presence) and he was rebelling against the
Hispanic ‘invasion’ of the US.
that enough during America’s weekend of terror. Across the country in Dayton,
Ohio, hundreds of people milled around a bar in a district known for its
nightlife. After one in the morning, a white man in his early 20s, armed with
hundreds of rounds of explosives, opened fire on people on the street before
trying to get into the bar itself. In about 30 dreadful seconds, he shot nine
people and injured 15. After 30 seconds, police in the area responded and shot
him. One of the dead was his own sister, a fact that has particularly baffled
those who have been investigating the matter.
It is odd
to see Americans go through what Pakistanis have already endured. The memory of
the dark winter day when the Army Public School was attacked, leaving young
bodies and exercise books littered all over the place, is one that continues to
haunt the country. Then there were the losses of so many valiant leaders, from
Benazir Bhutto and Salmaan Taseer to many more who had to contend with the same
sort of extremism, albeit presented in a religious garb. Many weekends of
mourning and of certainty, of blocked mobile phone signals and banned YouTube,
postponed wedding celebrations, cancelled exams and so much more, came with the
fight against the Pakistani Taliban.
less discussed consequence also accompanied Pakistan’s ‘war on terror’.
‘Pakhtun’ became conflated with ‘terrorist’, freedom of speech began to be
considered pointless, and religion was elevated as not simply the central but
the only aspect of meaning in life. In fighting the Taliban, Pakistanis — as if
to reclaim their beliefs from the Taliban’s barbarism — became more ‘pious’,
began to enact stricter judgements on neighbours and family members who did not
pray or did not fast, or did not in their view make sufficient shows of piety.
Even as the Taliban began to be relegated to the peripheries.
Taliban objected to men and women studying together at university, vigilante
student groups operating on Pakistani campuses today carry forward their
legacy. If they wanted women to be completely covered in public places, it has
become the rule in most of the country, save the tony areas of Karachi and
point of drawing these comparisons is simply to illustrate that in fighting
militancy, some terror, some of its language, some of its techniques, its
penchant for dogma, for a lack of tolerance, for the flagrant showing off of
piety, has all stuck with Pakistan. This shadow of terror is harder to fight,
to isolate and to condemn.
like Pakistan, post-colonial countries, are continually (and incorrectly) often
seen as inhabiting the Western past. This is of course a colonial frame, where
the West is always ahead and the rest are always gasping to catch up. In this
case, however, Pakistan has something useful to say to the Americans. In the
American fight against white supremacy, the language of race and the tribalism
of cliques based on skin colour are both going to make their home within a
generation’s imagination. The inanity of mass violence, the sheer inhumanity of
it, will seep into their bones and harden then in ways that only those stricken
with grief — the large inchoate sadness of a collective rather than individual
sadness — can understand.
It is clear
that the US is on the cusp of a race war. The ‘war on terror’ that it imposed
on others, that it used to justify the killing of hundreds of thousands of
people, has now turned inwards and is greedily claiming American lives. So deep
is the division that the two sides have become calcified in their positions;
the white supremacists see everyone who is not white and even those whites who
are not white supremacists, as a threat, as unpatriotic and (at least for a
murderous few) worthy of being killed. Those committed to tolerance and racial
harmony watch aghast, unable to react in time, unable to accept that people
they have known can transform so suddenly, so unexpectedly, into racist
young men attracted to extremist religious ideology in Pakistan, America’s
terrorists are young white men who seem unsure of their direction in life, left
out of the artificial intelligence and automation-led economy in which
immigrants and others seem to thrive. They have support from the top: President
Donald Trump has been lauded by white supremacists that celebrate his every
racist remark, and feel that he is entirely in step with their project of
making America a white country.
their inability to feel any compassion for their victims, their failure to see
through their own ragged logic, are reminiscent of the characteristics of the
extremist mindset that Pakistanis know well. The Trump administration’s
inability to act, its shadow support for those known to have racist and white
supremacist views, are like Pakistani administrations past that seemed not
quite sure, or were wilfully blind to the danger posed by extremists.
Zakaria is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan