Friday, June 4, 2010

Channeling our Emotions

Pakistanis are known for getting riled up on a variety of different issues. Burning effigies of everyone from Bob Woolmer to George W. Bush have lit up the night sky. Most recently the masses made it out on to the streets with protests against ‘Draw Muhammad Day’. The cause was undoubtedly spot on, it was a deplorable idea to try and deliberately insult Muslims worldwide. However, the level of intensity of the response is debatable, the country seemed to come to a grinding halt, Youtube and Facebook were banned, and it caused a huge uproar in the media, local and international. So much so that 20 people died in Karachi in yet another mindless attack, but people barely batted an eye-lid on that story. We as a nation have the passion and drive to tackle any issue at hand, we just need to channel our emotions towards better causes.

The Facebook banning is not the only controversy in Pakistan to be centered around depictions of the Holy Prophet. The Danish cartoon fiasco from a couple of years ago also caused a similar raucous in Pakistan. Protestors marched down Mall Road, burning everything from Danish flags to carts left on the side of the road. Shops were trashed, and in one incident witnessed on Geo Television, a young moron had brought a gun to the protest and was firing into the air randomly. The amount of damage done on Mall Road was considerable, and the poor man who relies on his donkey cart for his daily wage was left unemployed. In an already ailing economy, broken windows were the last thing local businesses wanted to deal with.

A similar incident occured this past December during Muharram. At a jalous procession on Ashura a bombing killed about 25 people and injured close to a 100. Instead of fleeing in fear the gathering mob turned violent, torching the city and incurring huge damages. Now again, these people had an axe to grind for a legitimate reason, but they responded in the worst possible manner for themselves and for their country. Not only did they put their own lives at risk by going on the rampage, the mob also severely damaged local shops, damages that might have put people out of business and out of work.

Something must be noted here though. It took great courage for Shi’ias to congregate this past Muharram. The Taliban have been more active than ever and Shi’ias have been a constant target for such fundamentalists over the years. It took a different type of courage to stay out on the streets after the bombings occurred, but it was the overwhelming anger of the mob that became the story. The potential to respond in the right was there, Shi’ias were not deterred from going out on the streets. Therefore already one of the objectives of these fundamentalists has failed. However, the ensuing chaos is exactly what the suicide bombers wanted. In retrospect, if the crowd had stayed out on the streets and continued to honor one of the great sacrifices in Islamic history, that would have been a much better way of nullifying the aims of the Taliban.

There are many more cases of public displays of outrage that started because of a legitimate reason but ended up nasty (Inzy’s house getting shattered after the 2003 World Cup is another good example). These poor choices of judgment overshadow the instances when peaceful public protests are carried out in the right spirit. A great example of this comes from one of the most controversial circumstances in all of Pakistan’s history. The Lal Masjid fiasco is said to have been the root of many of Pakistan’s current problems. Back when the fundos had complete control over the mosque and the army was scratching its head looking for solutions, MQM arranged a rally against the Lal Masjid clerics. The streets of Karachi were filled with thousands of people who had peacefully come out to protest against the Lal Masjid mentality, saying that it was a disgrace. Another good example is the long march that lawyers organized to reinstate a free judiciary finally did work.

When a country is faced with a crippling economic situation coupled with the worst security threat in its history, emotions will run high and tempers will flare. These emotions can be our biggest strength as a nation, they just need to be harnessed in the right way and in the right manner. Peaceful public protests are our right as a democracy, but the issues we protest need to be given more thought. Protesting against ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ as stated before is a just cause, but the time and effort being put into protesting against a company based halfway across the world to get them to shut down one group is pretty high. With the same time and effort, people could be out on the streets protesting against the violation of human rights that the Taliban has been carrying out ever since its occupation in Pakistan. What we need to be doing is making it clear that attacking people in mosques and hospitals is not only unimaginably inhumane, it will not be tolerated. With a little bit of redirection, we could take a huge step forward.


  1. true true my shaz, people are very quick to be influenced by others anger, rather than taking a minute to think of a productive/peaceful way to get their opinions heard rather than the destructive ways mentioned above, its so true the shop keepers and cart owners who are getting their property vandalised probably share the same opinion as the mob but the mob doesnt care they're just out to make noise

  2. I take a lot of issue with your acceptance of the cause of the problem - that is you accept the protests against a mere cartoon. It is only the cartoon and even the editor/cartoonist has confessed no hatred for the religion. It is simply a different way of looking and expressing things. For protests, peaceful or not, to be organized against just a sole drawing in the first place is a completely unwarratanted and over the top reaction.

  3. L, anyone who follows Islam remotely knows that it is forbidden to have any depictions of the Holy Prophet. The cartoonist may not have hatred towards Islam but by deliberately ignoring the Muslim custom of not having any drawings of the Prophet, they are insulting Muslims. I see no other reason to draw this cartoon but to incite the Muslim public and that is exactly what has happened. Now as I mentioned in my article, I think there are other areas we could focus on at this time, but the fact remains that no matter what the circumstances or intentions, it is never acceptable to mock religious beliefs.

    I do appreciate the feedback though. Even though you do not seem to agree with the article, I am glad that at the very least the topic got you engaged in the discussion, that is one of the purposes of our blog!

  4. Excellent article, Shazil. And I wholeheartedly agree: there are more efficient ways of articulating our collective frustrations, and violence is never the answer.

    Also, L, would you expect peaceful demonstrations and protests if high-profile individuals started using the words 'nigger' or 'spic' or 'jap' or started making anti-Semitic remarks? Yes, you would.

    So it's alright to insult Muslims?

    You say that the cartoonist professed no hatred for the religion. Can I say to my African American brothers, "I don't HATE you, I simply want to express myself by calling ya'll 'niggers', and that's just a way of looking at things!" No, I can't.

    Bigotry against Muslims hides behind a veil of liberalism these days, whether it's assertion of one's 'freedom' of speech or condemnation of the hijab through its portrayal as an instrument of oppression. But there's nothing liberal about bigotry, and you need to understand that.

  5. Fahad and Shazil,

    What I'm trying to say is that I don't believe that a cartoon should be interpreted as hate against Muslims. I completely disagree with this notion. In no way, does it justify such protests or the affirmation of this blog post to them.

    I don't hate Islam in any respect - I just disagree with some of its laws and notions just as I would disagree with the laws and notions of many other religions. Just because I disagree with this one law and choose not to comply with it doesn't mean I "hate Islam", and want to "insult all Muslims" and "biogotry exists etc etc." It is very surprising that educated Muslims like yourself take this one action and term it as hate against the entire Muslim populace - a very uneducated thing to do.

    That being said, I do agree with the much more macro argument of this blog - that is the channelling of energies into productive means. It seems many Muslims are just given to protest against outsiders opinions of them instead of focusing on the improvement of their own people.

  6. L,

    Why are you reading into this so much? Why is it so hard to accept that depictions of Muhammad are just not accepted in Islam. You're obviously not a Muslim, so why we have that tradition is completely irrelevant to you, you're not owed an explanation. Consider this: if I brought a ham sandwich to synagogue, is it reasonable of me to expect everyone around me to "get over it, its just a sandwich"? Nope.