Free hugs here

November 12, 2018


The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

DURING the slow-motion surrender of the last two weeks, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari hit the mark by tweeting:

“...appeasement historically never works as Chamberlain’s Munich appeasement to­­wards Nazis showed. Appeasement to avoid ‘bloodshed’ in a war-weary Europe led to massive bloodshed & destruction in the form of WWII.”

Neville Chamberlain was the British prime minister at a time when Hitler was rapidly gobbling up territory and had recently annexed Austria. With Hitler eyeing the Sudetenland region of Czecho­slovakia, Chamberlain and others rushed to avoid a war by granting him the Sudetenland in exchange for a pledge to not make more demands. Chamberlain returned home to great acclaim, waving the Munich document and declaring that he had won “peace for our time”. Churchill disagreed, warning that “you had a choice between dishonour and war. You chose dishonour and you shall have war”. A year later, he was proven right.

But while Munich is history, our farce continues with the latest performer being Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi.

We ask simply for the law to be applied to those who held us hostage.

Speaking in the Senate, he justified the release of those arrested during the lockdown by claiming that the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) had been shown videos of the rioters and had “distanced themselves” from them. Warming to his theme, he then claimed the rioters were workers of the very political parties who were present in the Senate that day.

Proudly declaring that the government had avoided violence, he added, “The government will not use bullets against its own citizens. We will embrace our citizens and hold dialogues with them.” And then, he bizarrely concluded by saying, “The people who challenge the writ of the state and take the law into their own hands will not be given any concessions.”

Now it’s hard to apply logic to such inanity, but let’s try: absolving the TLP of guilt by saying that they had disowned the rioters is a piece of spin that even the TLP wouldn’t have thought of; and accusing opposition party workers of causing the mayhem would simply be a lie.

Not using violence against rioters is laudable, but one wonders if he would feel the same way if his house had been robbed and the police decided not to challenge the dacoits because they are, well, citizens. Or perhaps he would be okay with the loot-laden thieves simply distancing themselves from the crime and being sent on their way with a hug or two, and an offer of dialogue. After all, thieves, rapists and murderers are all citizens. Why should they not merit the same treatment?

Why harp on this, the apologists ask? Did you want a massacre? Another Lal Masjid? Is peace for our time not laudable?

No one is asking for a massacre. We ask simply — as citizens — for the law to be applied to those who held us hostage for days. We ask for the tear gas and water cannons that are otherwise readily used to be used on our behalf to clear the streets that belong to us.

We ask that TLP leaders who have called for the murder of judges and for mutiny in the army to be tried under the readily available laws governing sedition, treason, mutiny and — at the very least — contempt of court. If a vague apology can wipe all that away, then we ask for the same privilege. Instead, we see rioters released and cases withdrawn.

All this would be okay if it brought our little Hitlers to heel, but that’s not happening. Instead, they are predictably growing bolder and the latest video in this horror show shows us speakers at a ‘Hang Aasia conference’ calling for a similar fate for the prime minister if he fails to hang Aasia Bibi.

Ah, what a Chur­chillian moment that was when the prime minister gave a speech no one had expected: hopes were raised and political differences faded as we heard a man who would finally stand up to those who had thus far only seen appeasement. Too bad it lasted only eight minutes. Worse yet, ordinary citizens have shown more courage than the state by filing cases against TLP leaders, knowing full well what the consequences could be, even as cases against TLP leaders are withdrawn ‘in the public interest’.

The ‘Brown Shirts’ aren’t backing down, and new recruits are being found daily as evidenced by videos of little children hanging Aasia Bibi in effigy and schoolchildren calling for her death in what seems like an official assembly in the schoolyard. Nothing succeeds like success after all.

Meanwhile, the farce continues. On Iqbal Day, Shehryar Afridi tweeted a couplet of Iqbal regarding fitna and hailed it as a visionary statement against “evil doers” who used religion “to detrack a peaceful society”. If this wasn’t surreal enough coming a day after his Senate speech, it turns out that Iqbal never said anything of the sort. Truly, we live in interesting — and insane — times.

The writer is a journalist.

Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2018