WHEN my son left to study overseas this year, the pain of separation was not just emotional — it was a physical wrenching. And, it’s not getting easier. This privileged ache is incomparable to the sufferings of those who have lost a child to death. Losing sight and touch of your child is not just an emotional injury — it’s a somatic, physical blow. The pain only numbs but never leaves; it is a void of non-occupation.
After the 2014 mass murder of the children of APS Peshawar, the pledge to ‘never forget’ is redundant, for not only is the state amnesiac, it has mocked the memory of the victims by appeasing anti-democratic dharna jihadists who stand for religious bigotry and issue death threats. The expiry date for mourning the APS tragedy has passed.
Aggrieved parents who have lost a child through separation, disappearance or in death cannot forget, even if they desperately want to. It is worse for those whose child has disappeared as they pursue the ghost, unable to mourn the corporal form in stillness. How does one forfeit the search, go through catharsis and try to forget when there is no physical evidence of the loss?
Three years after APS, we have learned no lessons.
There is little consolation if a child has been snatched through a fateful accident, or an act of deliberate violence. The singular purpose becomes to fill the void with justice. This means the right to know and understand why, who and how. To say all deaths — accidental, deliberate and collateral — are the same and equally unjust is to deny the purpose and responsibility of such acts. To blur and lump these together is to avoid uncomfortable specifics.
Three years after the APS attack, we have learned few or no lessons. Our political system is committed to collecting the wreckage of such cases, and filing and burying these in the graveyard of bureaucratic archives. Just forget.
Our judicial system leads a moral crusade against the failure or excesses of the political leadership but does not pursue the justice due to APS victims from our military leadership. Judiciously forget.
The military establishment exacts revenge, and continues sowing and nurturing the seeds that sustain militancy. Selectively forget.
Public intellectuals spin contradictory theories, equating faith-based terrorism, which is not obliged to worldly accountability, with a state that asserts its writ with violence. They argue that the state must pre-empt terrorism and ‘peacefully’ dismantle armed jihadist activism, but in the same breath they argue that it is Islamophobic to suspect, survey or crack down on madressahs, religious groups and ‘poor Muslim men’. When contradictions peak, anti-US blame allows for a pointless, but responsibility-cleansed, moral consensus.
A new breed of dharna politics now rules by spouting intolerant, unsourced and fabricated religious interpretations. Theirs is not a socioeconomic agenda but, according to some erudite scholars, Islamists are ‘rational believers’ who represent religious sentiment. Those who pointed out the slippery slope of faith-based politics were condemned as liberal-secular, fascist elites. This lowest religious denominator has made redundant the mainstream religious parties that were supposedly the vanguards of Islamic democracy. This legitimacy now enables them to subvert parliamentary process and hold the state and citizens hostage.
We did, however, learn something about our duplicitous nationalism; we can be united in mourning the fallen victim-children of APS, but are gripped with suspicion and anger at survivor-children like Malala. Those who scolded us to mourn all the ‘other Malalas’ and malnourished Thari children did not include persecuted Ahmedi or Hazara children, or underprivileged Christian children, or those deprived of immunisation against polio. They created a void that excluded some lesser children from the book of equal grievances.
For the defenders of religiously inspired politics, there is one simple piece of advice; any day your child goes to school and dares to think independently, critically, or asks a question that challenges the status quo; or makes a spelling error in her Islamiyat exam; or grows up to draft any progressive legislation; or is considered to be born into the wrong ethnicity or religion; or, worst of all, stands up for the bullied minority or outlier — be worried, very worried — and keep a handy justification for why you ran away to Canada or Denmark.
Post-APS, the hypocrisy that guides our morally confused compass is not just shameful — it exposes the direction of our state pillars, who fear and tolerate unconstitutional demands by non-representative blackmailers but will not afford justice to the APS victims or safeguard tomorrow’s children. The void of injustices is leading to an abyss.
The writer is author of Faith and Feminism in Pakistan (2018).
Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2017