BEING a bit of a geek growing up I spent a lot of time reading comic books, mostly superhero stuff and the like. Now, most of these heroes were white and almost always American and that did make me sad because as a brownish child living in Pakistan I wanted my own home-grown superhero.
Now older if not wiser, it has dawned on me that we do in fact have our own superhero and he is none other than Commander Own-Goal, accompanied by his trusty sidekick, Captain Hit-Wicket. Like Thor, the good commander carries a magic hammer with two special properties. One: that whoever wields the hammer of Commander Own-Goal sees everything in the world as a nail.
No matter how complex the situation or how nuanced the problem he has only one solution: hammer it down, smash it in the face, and break its skull. Oh and you can’t tell him that this is no way to use a hammer, that it is a specific tool for a specific purpose and cannot be used for everything from brain surgery to quantum computing. You can’t say that because his sidekick takes it as a personal insult. After all, both are on the same page of the same 1980s joke book which stopped being funny a long time ago. You can’t tell them that either as neither commander nor captain appreciate any deviation from the approved doctrine.
But I digress. The hammer’s other power is that when the commander spins it, he can create a crisis out of thin air. Thanks to this, he needs no super villain to fight against as he is fully self-sufficient in this regard, being his own arch nemesis at most times. You can’t tell him that either.
When names are named, one really can’t report it.
Now, you might be wondering why all these euphemisms and complicated analogies are being used and the answer is simple: I don’t particularly want to be woken up at 4 a.m. and politely be asked to take a trip to the northern areas. I don’t think I will have time to pack anything warm to wear and being a Karachiite I am not sure I’ll be able to handle the sudden cold. Also I believe the elevation can make you rather breathless.
Because here’s the thing about naming names: when it is not done the chorus goes ‘what’s with all this aliens and agriculture business? Why can’t you say it out loud?’ Now that’s a legitimate question, but then check this out: when names are named, and that too in a public rally, well, you can’t really report it even though millions heard it.
But then the chorus changes the tune: ‘Why would they name names? They must be traitors.’ Now here’s the thing: you can hold one stance or the other, you simply cannot logically simultaneously hold both.
It is like a boxing match in which one participant has his hands tied behind the back, and is having blow upon blow land on him. Ignoring his bound hands, the mocking crowd keeps screaming: ‘why don’t you punch back?’ And then when one hand comes loose and a glancing blow lands, they go ‘hey that’s cheating’.
But there does come a time when even the crowd catches on. When the big signs reading ‘APPLAUSE’ are no longer heeded, when the joke finally runs its course despite the forced laughter of courtiers. And that’s where we are, my dear captains and commanders. Those left laughing are laughing at you, not with you. And it’s not joyous laughter, it’s a chuckle born of despair, the toothy grin of a skull, a death rattle disguised as levity.
And that’s on you. The fault is yours because this is a puppet show where the puppet master peeks through the curtain every few minutes to assure you that this is all an act, that in reality he’s the one pulling the strings. And if you insist on that, my good sir, then the failure of the show rests quite literally in your hands. Now if this particular analogy sounds familiar it’s because I’ve used it in at least two previous columns, and why not? If the powers that be won’t change their script, why on earth should I?
There’s another problem. Lessons from the top trickle down, impunity trickles down, an utter lack of respect for the rules, laws and procedures trickles down to the lowest levels. And get this, because this is the best part of all: all of this was for an avowed bigot like Capt Safdar. It was Capt Safdar — a man not even to be quoted, let alone defended — that, if not broke, at least sprained the camel’s back. You can laugh at that or you can cry over it and either response is perfectly acceptable because while this is not how a republic should be run, it is certainly how a republic can be ruined.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2020