IT’S not what you do, it’s what’s done to you. Better yet, you may not even have to be human. It would have been hard to imagine that the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud, he of murderous fame and the fifty-million-rupee Pakistani bounty on his head, would trigger a re-imagination of the meaning of martyrdom, but then much of what has been happening in Pakistan recently may have been hard to imagine once upon a time. Predictably, the Jamaat-i-Islami got the ball rolling on the Hakeemullah-the-martyr debate: yes, of course he is, was the JI’s response. It was, in the JI’s reckoning, such a self-evident truth that it needed no explanation. No matter, the media went looking for answers and elaborations elsewhere. Across the religious right, luminaries have been asked, perhaps mischievously, possibly seriously: is Hakeemullah Mehsud a martyr? Some demurred, claiming to have no earthly religious qualifications for such an assessment. Some with the right religious credentials also demurred, suggesting it was best left to God to decide.
But then it was the loquacious and jolly Fazlur Rehman’s turn to be asked. To the glee of many, and perhaps consternation of some, the maulana spoke his mind: being killed by the US made anyone a martyr, even if that someone happened to be a dog. Cue a storm in a teacup and this memorable clarification by the JUI-F: “Maulana Fazlur Rehman uses ‘dog as martyr’ in the rhetorical sense,” the party’s spokesperson said in a quickly issued press release yesterday afternoon. But as with all things Fazlur Rehman, was it just a slip of the tongue or a clever way of puncturing the increasingly alarming rhetoric on martyrdom? Either way, hopefully it marks a surreal end to a surreal debate.