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Smokers’ Corner: Radical fluff

May 06, 2012

How many times have you heard some angry soul lamenting on a TV screen or in your drawing room that Pakistanis are a dud nation because they do not come out on the streets to protest against the many political and economic ills that have besieged this country?

On numerous occasions, I’m sure. And yet no newspaper or TV channel’s reporting is complete unless it gives a detailed account of one protest rally or the other that takes place in any number of the country’s main cities on a daily basis.

It seems nurses, doctors, shopkeepers, teachers, clerks, school kids, religious parties, ethnic groups, all and sundry are almost always on the streets burning old tires and shouting angry slogans.

This may be taken as a sign of a politically robust population or an exhibition of daily bursts of collective frustration due to the notoriously sloppy reputation of the country’s state and government institutions. But in no way does it make the nation seem ‘bey-hiss’ (apathetic, or rather, pathetically apathetic). Quite the contrary.

So why the constant hue and cry by so many Pakistanis about the nation not protesting against all that is going so horribly wrong in the country?

There is every likelihood that a majority of the people who are fond of lamenting the supposed nonchalant attitude of the Pakistani nation, have not taken an active part in a protest rally themselves, nor have they ever bothered to go out and vote.

An acquaintance of mine who detests President Zardari and once even called a popular TV talk show to ask why the people of Pakistan do not pour out onto the streets against the government, was equally disdainful of a protest rally in which his car got stuck. It was a rally of some Pakistan Railway workers who had been sacked by the government. They had blocked a road just outside Karachi’s City Station.

When I heard the acquaintance curse them, I mockingly asked why, in spite of the fact that he had never voted in his life but wanted the nation to come out on the streets against an elected regime, he still couldn’t bear the inconvenience caused to his fragile urban middle-class sensibilities by a small protest rally? How revolutionary is that!

First of all being a sympathiser of democracy and a regular voter, I really don’t have an issue with protest rallies, as long as they remain peaceful. In fact I actually see the whole protest rally culture of Pakistan to be a rather vibrant aspect of our flawed but comparatively young and hopefully evolving democracy.

However, it does bother me when someone advocates the pouring out of angry souls to protest against certain issues but remains numb about some other issues that may be equally disconcerting ( if not more).

Everyone is always eager to instantly declare his or her desire to see a revolutionary uprising on the streets against corruption, bad governance, energy and water crises, drone attacks, etc.

But somehow no such voices can be heard when a suicide bomber explodes himself in a mosque, a market or a shrine, mutilating and murdering scores of innocent people; or when a woman is mercilessly raped and humiliated as an act of chauvinistic revenge; or when some pious men decide to counter ‘western cultural imperialism’ and ‘invasion of vulgarity’ by actually making young kids dress like ancient Arab warriors with toy guns in their hands and hateful slogans on their lips.

It’s not that all Pakistanis remain quiet. Pockets of civil society and some political groups do manage to publicly condemn such barbarous acts but not without being threatened by extremist outfits. Or sometimes even by perfectly ‘decent’ members of the urban middle-classes to whom it seems protesting against load-shedding is more ‘revolutionary’ an act than raising one’s disgust against extremist violence and humiliation of women!

Many of these decent fellows sometimes apologetically turn around and tell you that raising one’s voice against religious extremism is a dangerous pursuit in this country. I agree. But my point is, if one is afraid to condemn a particular folly then he or she has no right to wave an angry fist about some other (less reactive) issue either.

It’s only fair that such people be asked to simply remain quiet; or better still, next time either actually take part in a protest rally or use their vote to throw out a regime they think is incompetent.

During a session on political satire in Pakistan at this year’s Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) that I moderated, it was refreshing to notice that the majority of the audience in the hall agreed that those satirists and parodists who’ve made a name for themselves on TV by mocking politicians and showbiz celebrities, should retire simply because they did not have the courage to touch some sacred cows and extremes of society in the same vein.

What’s so brave and brilliant about mocking and parodying elements one knows would not bite back? Thus, at least I’ll have more respect for these brilliant minds if they give up writing satire and political parody and instead do more justice to their loopholed, one-sided and ‘safe’ sense of morality by scripting apolitical tearjerkers like ‘Humsafer.’

If one can’t cut his parodying or rallying talents and wishes across the board, then he should simply get off the board and plant himself back on his comfy sofa.