Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Smokers’ Corner: Radical fluff


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

How many times have you heard some angry soul lamenting on a TV screen or in your drawing room that Pakistanis are a dud nation because they do not come out on the streets to protest against the many political and economic ills that have besieged this country?

On numerous occasions, I’m sure. And yet no newspaper or TV channel’s reporting is complete unless it gives a detailed account of one protest rally or the other that takes place in any number of the country’s main cities on a daily basis.

It seems nurses, doctors, shopkeepers, teachers, clerks, school kids, religious parties, ethnic groups, all and sundry are almost always on the streets burning old tires and shouting angry slogans.

This may be taken as a sign of a politically robust population or an exhibition of daily bursts of collective frustration due to the notoriously sloppy reputation of the country’s state and government institutions. But in no way does it make the nation seem ‘bey-hiss’ (apathetic, or rather, pathetically apathetic). Quite the contrary.

So why the constant hue and cry by so many Pakistanis about the nation not protesting against all that is going so horribly wrong in the country?

There is every likelihood that a majority of the people who are fond of lamenting the supposed nonchalant attitude of the Pakistani nation, have not taken an active part in a protest rally themselves, nor have they ever bothered to go out and vote.

An acquaintance of mine who detests President Zardari and once even called a popular TV talk show to ask why the people of Pakistan do not pour out onto the streets against the government, was equally disdainful of a protest rally in which his car got stuck. It was a rally of some Pakistan Railway workers who had been sacked by the government. They had blocked a road just outside Karachi’s City Station.

When I heard the acquaintance curse them, I mockingly asked why, in spite of the fact that he had never voted in his life but wanted the nation to come out on the streets against an elected regime, he still couldn’t bear the inconvenience caused to his fragile urban middle-class sensibilities by a small protest rally? How revolutionary is that!

First of all being a sympathiser of democracy and a regular voter, I really don’t have an issue with protest rallies, as long as they remain peaceful. In fact I actually see the whole protest rally culture of Pakistan to be a rather vibrant aspect of our flawed but comparatively young and hopefully evolving democracy.

However, it does bother me when someone advocates the pouring out of angry souls to protest against certain issues but remains numb about some other issues that may be equally disconcerting ( if not more).

Everyone is always eager to instantly declare his or her desire to see a revolutionary uprising on the streets against corruption, bad governance, energy and water crises, drone attacks, etc.

But somehow no such voices can be heard when a suicide bomber explodes himself in a mosque, a market or a shrine, mutilating and murdering scores of innocent people; or when a woman is mercilessly raped and humiliated as an act of chauvinistic revenge; or when some pious men decide to counter ‘western cultural imperialism’ and ‘invasion of vulgarity’ by actually making young kids dress like ancient Arab warriors with toy guns in their hands and hateful slogans on their lips.

It’s not that all Pakistanis remain quiet. Pockets of civil society and some political groups do manage to publicly condemn such barbarous acts but not without being threatened by extremist outfits. Or sometimes even by perfectly ‘decent’ members of the urban middle-classes to whom it seems protesting against load-shedding is more ‘revolutionary’ an act than raising one’s disgust against extremist violence and humiliation of women!

Many of these decent fellows sometimes apologetically turn around and tell you that raising one’s voice against religious extremism is a dangerous pursuit in this country. I agree. But my point is, if one is afraid to condemn a particular folly then he or she has no right to wave an angry fist about some other (less reactive) issue either.

It’s only fair that such people be asked to simply remain quiet; or better still, next time either actually take part in a protest rally or use their vote to throw out a regime they think is incompetent.

During a session on political satire in Pakistan at this year’s Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) that I moderated, it was refreshing to notice that the majority of the audience in the hall agreed that those satirists and parodists who’ve made a name for themselves on TV by mocking politicians and showbiz celebrities, should retire simply because they did not have the courage to touch some sacred cows and extremes of society in the same vein.

What’s so brave and brilliant about mocking and parodying elements one knows would not bite back? Thus, at least I’ll have more respect for these brilliant minds if they give up writing satire and political parody and instead do more justice to their loopholed, one-sided and ‘safe’ sense of morality by scripting apolitical tearjerkers like ‘Humsafer.’

If one can’t cut his parodying or rallying talents and wishes across the board, then he should simply get off the board and plant himself back on his comfy sofa.

DAWN_VIDEO - /1029551/DAWN-RM-1x1

Author Image

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

Cyrus Howell May 06, 2012 04:45pm
"No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session." -- Mark Twain
Mirza Sohail Baig May 07, 2012 06:34am
same applies to NFP,i havent noticed him criticising the govt for its corruption and bad governanace,he is also suffering from the disease of favourtism.his only job is to mock PTI,s supporters on twitter,what about this Mr.NFP?
Democrat May 06, 2012 04:51pm
i dont know where do you live or you ever voted in any election..but i must tell you something...about drones... at least you can google it if you dont not have the courage to visit FATA and you will know the misery of these one of your tweets or articles you wrote that people would protest a drone strike on an empty girls school but not a suicde attack...can you please cite a single example where a drone have hit a target without civilian casualties? it is understandable that being the voice of the status quo you are afraid of the change but nobody can stop it... and come out and start a protest movement against suicide attacks, i can assure you at least i would support you and will stand beside you... but no you can only are happy with the status quo because you have enough to ridicule and get your wages for writing something but what about those who lost there whole families in drones? i request you to please do not comment on anything related to the FATA/KPK unless you go there and spend at least a few months to understand the issue...merely watching CNN and pentagon briefings does not make you an expert...please stick to your non-serious satire.... best of luck...
Ghauri A. N May 06, 2012 07:48am
Even though I largely agree with NFP's ongoing criticism of those who make a lot of noise about a drone attack but reamin quiet about terrorist attacks, does he really think those who do this will actually find the courage to do that? Take for example Mr. Imran Khan's interview with Karan Thaper in which Khan simply refused to take Hafiz Saeed's name and then went on to say that he can't take on the extremists directly because the environment of fear in Pakistan is not conducive. I was shocked. Yes, I agree with Paracha that such people whom he calls apologists are being unfair by attacking only those they know won't violently retaliate, but they can't just keep quiet about everything. I personally know that such articles, especially by NFP, cause huge anxiety among young people who know he's right about the contradictions that they display, but apart from simply exposing these contradictions of the apologists, I think NFP should also try to suggest a middle path that these young people can take. My 2 cents.
Haji Ashfaq May 06, 2012 07:28am
In my sixty plus life, only once I dared to go to a polling station in Karachi at almost closing time to avoid 'dhakkampel', I was told after checking the lists "Uncle your vote has already been casted". Such "elected" this government is - NP ?
S.B May 06, 2012 09:49am
food for thought!
g.a. May 06, 2012 07:24pm
Protest is OK but why burn old tires. There is enough air pollution already in the streets of Pakistan.
Seema May 06, 2012 11:49am
This is a wonderful article, Bravo NFP
Farhan May 06, 2012 03:32am
Good one
sri1ram May 06, 2012 03:35am
Most cannot be as courageous as Murtaza Razvi or even yourself and pay for the consequences. Yes, there is nothing macho or brave in protesting against those who cannot bite back. I prefer to subscribe to the optimistic view that people who protest and vent out against some injustice however minor are venting out against the overall unfairness of everything. Also aren't the many relatives of victims of suicide attacks, disappearances by Intelligence agencies etc. grouping and protesting ? Wasn't there some muted protest response to Salman Taseer's assassination?
Usman Shahid May 06, 2012 08:41am
usual bad piece by Nadeem, nothing new.
Sam Ahsan May 06, 2012 04:00am
simply brilliant.
Shazad_M May 06, 2012 06:35am
Thought provking
Asim May 06, 2012 07:08am
The last few posts by NFP should be appreciated even more as these present a rather clear-cut view that what should be done, i.e. a clear solution or atleast the requried change in attitude that may lead us towards a solution. Thanks NFP.
Usman Shahid May 06, 2012 12:07pm
Nothing new
tanweer May 06, 2012 12:01pm
While I agree that it is hypocritical to protest against one issue and keep numb on an equally discerning issue, I must add that if you protest againt eaach and every discerning issue you are most likely to be protesting every single day of the year. So everyone has to priortize and protest against what seems more important. So in a way it make sense to hold protest rallies against some issues and give only statements against others. I must also add that it is a common diversion tactic that whenever someone protests against you, you just point to something else and keep doing the same when that second issue is being raised. Worked very well so far for the present political set up.
Rubina Luqman May 06, 2012 05:51am
Top article again, NFP. And thanks for referring to so-called political comedians on TV. I totally agree that they are limited to their one-sided and safe ways. So easy to make fun of Nawaz, Zardari or Meera, but never have I seen shows like 'Hum Sab Umeed Sey Hein,' or BNN touch any, as you mention, sacred cows. These shows have become repetitive and boring. You are right, they should stop doing political satire and write apolitical soap operas. :)
Baig May 08, 2012 05:36pm
This is one classy piece of writing which encapsulates the hypocrisy which persists in our society, especially the middle class.
Abdullah K May 08, 2012 01:04pm
NFP - Would you like to join the march against corrupt, incompetent government of Zardari ? Perhaps you prefer to be an arm-chair critic of others.
Pushtoon May 08, 2012 08:48am
As usual very good article, Keep the good work up and one day we might see a change in attitudes.
owais May 23, 2012 08:44pm
YEah brilliant but when would DAWN gets the courage to publish the reader's comments. DAWN itself does not do what it preaches, when it comes to publishing harsh comments. Scared of what DAWN people? Razvi's end? IF you keep getting scared of terrorists, they will reach you evetually. So come out openly if you want to save pakistan's Future....