Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Published December 4, 2021
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

NO one is responsible for lynching a Sri Lankan national in Sialkot on Friday. Absolutely no one. That is the lesson we may as well internalise once we are done being shocked and outraged.

Not that this will take too long. We are a resilient nation, as we are so fond of saying. There have been lynchings before — remember Mashal Khan and the two brothers in Sialkot — and we have survived those with our grace and dignity intact, thank you very much. That said, the official machinery’s experience of dealing with shocking incidents will once again keep it in good stead. The SOP files detailing a response have already been dusted off the shelves and are being followed in letter and spirit.

Prime minister’s tweet of shock. Check. Chief mi­­nister’s expression of sadness and ordering of in­­q­ui­­ry. Check. Inspector general police’s vow to arrest the culprits. Check. DC/DPO’s arrival on the scene re­gistered in a ‘timely’ fashion. Check. Cabinet ministers’ random vows/ outrages/ condolences. Check. Official maulana/ ulema/ cleric reminder this is not what our religion teaches us. Check. Usual suspects’ denial of involvement. Check. And check, check, check…,

This is followed by the unofficial reaction. Celeb­r­­i­­ties’ tweets of sadness/ what-have-we-become lam­e­­nt/ tsk tsk-ing. Check. Random politicians’ statements holding the government/ state/ society responsible for the incident. Check. Usual suspects’ finger-pointing at the establishment for mollycoddling hatemongers. Check. Right-wingers blaming left-wingers, middle-wingers and no-wingers for equating lynching with beliefs and institutions instead of looking inwards. Check. Talk shows, columns (including this one) seminars, webinars, Twitter spaces triggering high-decibel noise amou­nting to nothing more than a catharsis whose time has long passed. Check. And check, check, check…,

Read: 'What have we become?' — Activists, celebrities express horror over Sialkot lynching

We are a resilient nation, as we are so fond of saying.

Finally the post-event file is extracted from the drawer and the SOPs implemented like clockwork. Those arrested to be produced in front of cameras and the courts. Check. PM/ CM/ IGP/ ministers’ statement claiming no one will be spared. Check. PM/ CM/ ministers’ media talk lamenting the state of affairs over decades and how it will take them time to steer things in the right direction. Check. PM/ CM/ ministers’ announcement of compensation for the heirs. Check. Speeches in the National Assembly and Senate on random points of orders leading to a whole lot of nothing. Check. Local administration officials transferred/OSD-ed/ reprimanded. Check. General calls for tolerance/ interfaith harmony/ review of hate literature. Check. Candlelit vigil/ walk/ run/ moment-of-silence. Check. And check, check, check.…

Then, just like that, it’s over. And done. And dus­t­­ed. Because, you see, no one is really responsible. Or everyone is. And when everyone is, no one really is.

Not the prime minister. Because, after all, he can’t be expected to ensure personally that lynchings don’t happen. He’s got bigger things on his plate/ other fish to fry/ important matters to attend to/ take care of the big picture. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Not the chief minister. That’s why he has a police force. And a Pakistan Administrative Service force. And all other forces/ departments/ organisations/personnel/ MNAs/ MPAs/ local grandees who are supposed to keep an eye on the situation on the ground and pre-empt such tragedies from happening. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Not the IGP. Because you know, why else does he have his SSP/ SP/ ASP/ DSP/ SHO/ ASI on the ground? Precisely. Sitting far away in the provincial capital, he can’t really stop crowds from lynching people now, can he? What he can do is to order inquiry/ scold subordinates/ transfer/ reprimand/ demote/ suspend. And he does that as responsibly as he can. So why point the finger at him? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Not the cabinet/ ruling party/ government. Because you see, they have only been in power for three years and therefore really cannot be expected to stop lynchings that are — as per logic — a by-product of hate seeded into the soil over decades. So the cabinet/ ruling party/ government will do what it can do: condemn/ bemoan/ lament/ blame/ politicise/ spin/ move on. After all, they can’t be held responsible for everything that happens in Pakistan because — as we all know — they have only been in power for a measly three years. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Not the establishment. Never. What have they got to do with the lynching? There they are in their barracks, minding their own business far far away from problems that have little to do with their mandate as the guardians of the borders. Previous dictators res­p­­­onsible? Perhaps but that was a long time ago. Nur­turing extremist groups and their ideologies? That was in the past and the past is, as they say, another country. So they have no skin in the game. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Usual suspects/ extremist ideology peddlers/ madras­­sahs. Wrong again. Because they teach tolerance/ love/ peace/ righteousness. Their job is to educate society why such lynchings are against all teachings. They will be the loudest to condemn and shall remind everyone again and again and again that they are, and have always been, part of the solution and not part of the problem. And what choice do we have? Of course, to believe them. Not to blame them. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Read: Acts of faith — Why people get killed over blasphemy in Pakistan

And so we come a full circle. A little bit of theoretical/ rhetorical/ oratorical blame for everyone so that there is real blame for none. We are who we are and someone else at some other time for some different reason in some distinctive situation in some particular context will try find an answer to the riddle of lynchings/ intolerance/ hate/ bigotry. A time will come for this to happen, but that time is not now and that place is not this one.

For this place, there are set ways of doing things. Those things are included in checklists and shall indeed — never fear — will be done tomorrow/ day after/ next week/ next month. And while they are being done, state/ government/ ruling party/ other parties/ religious organisations/ civil society/ all of us will pretend we have learnt our lessons after having our sensibilities ravaged once again, and that this was indeed the last incident of lynching/ mob murder/ shocking violence/ barbarism. This will make us feel slightly less bad/ slightly more good/ marginally less guilty.

And so shall end the story that begins with us asking ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all. We lie. The mirror does not.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Twitter: @fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2021

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