Unbearable pain

March 16, 2019


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

WHAT do you do when your deadline is fast approaching, if it hasn’t come and gone already, and you continue to struggle to write because a number of mind-numbing events have completely overwhelmed your thought processes?

Anybody who has written for a living — and even an amateur writer — knows well what a writer’s block is. But what is being referred to here is not that. It is something else. It is when the sense of loss and pain is so acute, so severe, that it seems to impair your faculties.

Like all columnists who have to deliver on a regular weekly (or whatever the periodicity) deadline, one tends to spend the preceding week following the news and events and by the eve of your writing day, you have decided your topic and also gathered your thoughts about what to say.

My mind was all made up to share my thoughts on the Aurat March held across Pakistan to mark International Women’s Day which came in for a fair bit of stick — and not just from the usual suspects ie those who make a virtue of being misogynists. Social media in particular and possibly (because I don’t watch much TV so I can’t be sure) news TV channels too focused on a handful of posters carried by a few young women that some commentators who can’t be classified as misogynists found ‘objectionable’.

The grounds of their objections ranged from ‘these violated our traditions and cultural norms’ to ‘such thoughts were against our faith’. Of course, the usual suspects went miles ahead of them particularly on social media.

It is when the sense of loss and pain is so acute, so severe, that it seems to impair your faculties.

And one particular TV host, a former civil servant, whose values and beliefs seem so fragile that the sight of an independent young woman shatters them, went berserk and used all manner of nasty expressions on live national TV. None of them chose to address even perfunctorily the issues those young women were raising. Had they done so and robustly shared their thoughts then perhaps their objections to how the few posters articulated some real issues could have been entertained.

Neither did these towers of morality and virtue notice, for example, a number of posters that women survivors of acid attacks were carrying or those in the hands of working women who go from home to home washing, cleaning and cooking and face ‘gentleman’ at their best almost daily.

I saw people lashing out on social media at a poster three women were photographed with. It said something like it is ‘OK to get a divorce’. They were accused by so many on social media as promoting ‘Western culture’ in harsh words. I am aware what at least two among them went through in their traumatic marriages.

In any case, a few posters that raise issues of import to women and society cannot be summarily dismissed because someone’s sensibilities find their language too direct to swallow. It would not be an exaggeration to say on occasion the outrage expressed seem to surpass anything I have noticed in the wake of a terrorist atrocity.

Such reactions tell me two things. First, how uphill the battle of women for equality will be, though looking at the determination on the faces of the participants of the march, I can also say how sure I am that they will triumph. They have to.

Second, the reaction of many also made me realise how badly needed events like Aurat March are in our society as they bring to the fore issues for debate that have long been swept under the carpet. This is important if these long-held taboos are to be exorcised.

More power to women and their struggle.

There was more that needed to be said on attitudes towards women but then Friday morning I woke up to the mind-numbing terrorist attack on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Someone so filled with hate that they massacre dozens of innocent people is always incomprehensible. One can’t even begin to imagine what their families must be going through. May they find solace.

You can call me naïve for using the word ‘incomprehensible’. But what else are these terrorists? Whatever their denomination, terrorists justify their acts of horror against humanity in the name of one cause or faith or ideology. The Christchurch terrorist was a white supremacist opposed to immigration. How could he believe he could justify mass murder of innocent Muslims for any cause?

However, tragically, what was not incomprehensible at all was that the manifesto of the mass-murdering terrorist said he admired Donald Trump because Trump is “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.

The constant drip-feed of hatred based on race and faith that ultra-right leaders such as Trump are responsible for is radicalising their own societies and will pose a grave peril as it is threatening to tear them apart from the inside more than any ‘outside’ ideology that they often blame.

If the Christchurch tragedy was not devastating by itself, Friday also brought heartbreaking news of the passing of a good friend in tragic circumstances.

Brig Asad Munir was a true soldier and an accomplished former intelligence officer. His stellar role in the initial part of the fight against Al Qaeda has been acknowledged in and out of Pakistan. After his retirement, he served in the National Accountability Bureau and then from 2006 to 2010 in the Capital Development Authority. Asad Munir and I disagreed on innumerable occasions over the role of our military and its overreach in civilian affairs.

He was always civil but unyielding in the defence of his former institution, ever since I first made his acquaintance in 2012. Several weeks ago, he wrote to me saying he was being harassed by NAB on spurious charges. Even his detractors vouch for the man’s integrity. As one said, “he lived within his means”, and one easily can tell so many others don’t. Asad was found dead on Friday morning. Perhaps, the coming days will shed more light on the tragedy. Thoughts and prayers with his family.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019