Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The republic of silence

“We were never more free than during the German [Nazi] occupation. We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk. Every day we were insulted to our faces and had to take it in silence. Everywhere, on billboards, in the newspapers, on the screen, we encountered the revolting and insipid picture of ourselves that our oppressors wanted us to accept. And, because of all this, we were free” — Jean Paul Sartre, La République du Silence (The Republic of Silence).
Jean Paul Sartre writing about the Nazi occupation of France said that the occupation and oppression made the French more conscious of the freedom that they possessed than they ever were. Pakistan today faces similar occupation, similar oppression and consequently similar freedom. Like occupied France, venom today has seeped into our society, our thoughts, into our beings; every accurate thought is now a conquest. Tyranny today coerces us to hold our tongues; every word takes on the value of a declaration of principles. As we are and increasingly will be tracked and hunted down, each and every gesture has the weight of a solemn commitment. The circumstances, as atrocious as they are similar to Nazi-occupied France, have finally made it possible for us to live without pretence or false shame. Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom has compelled us to be free.
Hegel writes in The Phenomenology of Mind, that it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; the individual who has not staked his life may, no doubt, be recognised as a person, but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom has obliged us to achieve this self-consciousness, has forced us to be humans.
Unlike Salmaan Taseer, most of us do not possess the courage to willingly sacrifice our lives, but like Salmaan Taseer all of us have Qadris confronting us every day. According to Sartre, the very cruelty of the enemy drove the French to the extremities of this condition by forcing them to ask themselves questions that one never considers in times of peace. For the secret of a man is not his superiority complex or his inferiority complex: it is the limit of his own liberty, his capacity for resisting torture and death. Salmaan Taseer was an exceptional warrior; he pushed the boundaries of these limits. Today, in times of war in Pakistan, we are painfully aware of the limits of our liberty.
Many of us want a compromise; we are afraid of defeat, pain and death. We want to be non-confrontational, to blend in. The choice is no longer ours to make. Qadri sees right through our deceit, he will never accept us as one of his own. Qadri today constrains you and me to be liberated. The choice of being an apologist is not available to us anymore. The battle will continue, whether we choose to actively participate or not is only relevant to the extent of determining if it will be combat or slaughter. After Salmaan Taseer’s martyrdom, Qadri frightens no one; he no longer even has the means to intimidate: he is beginning to horrify, he is just grotesque, and that is all.
The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP’s) stance today puts Brutus and Judas to shame. Many of us have voted for and supported Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s PPP; we will fight Babar Awan’s party. Many of us have nowhere else to go, but we will go nonetheless. The choice of going back is becoming increasingly difficult; if the trajectory does not change, soon the place we are from will not exist anymore. The PPP does not only betray Salmaan Taseer it betrays the legacy of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. BB preferred martyrdom over compromise. The PPP I know of and support is one where BB recites “main baaghi hoon” (I am a rebel) in 1988. The sermons of Babar Awan and the diabolical statements of Rehman Malik are surrealistically insulting to BB’s memory. The ostensible reason for compromise by the PPP is self-preservation, ignoring a countervailing consideration of infinitely superior magnitude; the liaison is vile, it is indecent.
Protect, support and cherish Sherry Rehman. Bending over backwards and kneeling before tyranny will not get you Qadri’s vote; it will certainly lose you mine. I personally would want them on board, but the PPP needs to understand that this fight will go on with or without them. Freedom is no longer optional.

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