A response to the outrage over ‘Aitzaz Hasan and the Bomber.’
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y tribute to Aitzaz Hasan has been vastly, and in many cases deliberately, misunderstood. If it were just about the venom the detractors have spread against me and whose intensity is inversely proportional only to their level of comprehending anything that is above the primer, I would not have bothered with this write-up. I am not in the business of explaining my writings. I never have, and I don’t intend to change that rule.
But my thoughts were, and are, about a boy whose sacrifice that morning of Jan. 6 in Hangu should help change the way we think not just about the existential threat to our individual and collective lives and our value system, but also about ourselves as a people. And thinking about ourselves presupposes just that, the ability to think and connect dots where none exist for common minds. The record must, therefore, be corrected.
I have never been in any doubt about this threat. Equally, I have no doubt that the threat resides within. We are threatened by us. My various writings and what I have said on several television programs, including my own on Capital TV, is a testimony to that. But such is the national I.Q. emergency that a piece which I wrote from the heart has led people, many among them who have never read a word of what I have written or read words and sentences out of context, to send me abusive tweets and call me names—all in the name of “respecting” a boy who embraced death, literally, in order for this society to free itself of its own coercion. It is a strange society that tries to offer its respects to him by doing exactly what he died for to prevent.
But let me come to the ‘offending’ article. On that score, allow me to first thank many readers who grasped its context and spirit. This guide is not meant for them. They give me hope. Now to the many, who, lemming-like, have decided to go off the cliff in a ritual that would be laughable if there weren’t so many of them. It will be an obvious waste for me to point them to some scholarly writings on how to read a text and, therefore, I will rely on my own meager resources.
Some of them want to know why I had to identify the boy as Shia. Wasn’t he one? Is it not a shameful fact that we have been trying to purify this country in the name of Islam, and after taking good care of the Ahmadi community as well as our non-Muslim citizens, have decided to purge this land of the Shia? My opening paragraph referred to this satirically: “Actually, we don’t know if his surname was Hasan or Hussain. There is confusion about this basic fact. I will settle for Hasan. In any case, either of these surnames can get you killed for the greater glory of Islam.”
The reason the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sent a suicide bomber to attack Hasan’s school was precisely this. To ignore this fact would be to disregard another fact, something I wrote about in The Express Tribune on Feb. 26, 2013, “If a Shia, You Are on Your Own.” This also links up with another fact: while Jhangvi pursues its sectarian agenda, it is also affiliated, ideologically and operationally, with the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. This means that political parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf that try to create a distinction between the two entities fail to realize that this is a hydra-headed monster with the same body. There are consequences of this lack of understanding for counterterrorism efforts.
There is yet another bunch of critics who are frothing at the mouth because I called Hasan fat and unkempt; some have run away with my reference to his not being able to score with the girls. I can understand those not familiar with the idiom to have misunderstood the passage, but there are others who should have known better.
First, this write-up was not an article nor was it an analysis. There was nothing cut-and-dried about it. It was a story; the story of a moment; the life of Hasan before and after that moment. How many of those sitting in their living rooms and expressing outrage would have noticed this boy if he hadn’t done what he did? What was he before that moment, for himself as well as for others? A nobody. Take a hard look at him. Before that moment he would be dismissed as unkempt, fat, and unassuming. But the reference was not just to his banal existence before that moment, it was also a satire on our urban, upscale existence. This is what I wrote:
“Not fat-fat, as in obese, but one whose genetic makeup would be a matter of existential concern for him if he lived in the upscale neighborhoods of Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi. He doesn’t look like a boy who could have scored with the girls, and he certainly needed to go to a stylist instead of getting a shabby 30-rupee haircut from a barber.
“Except, in Hangu, he probably had other concerns. The basic ones, like how to survive from day to day, not in the sense of where the next meal would come from—his father labored in the U.A.E. so we can be sure things weren’t too bad on that front—but when a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/Pakistani Taliban zealot would come to claim him as his ticket to Paradise.”
If critics had chosen to read these sentences in a context—see italics—instead of reading them as standalone—an incredible exercise if you ask me—they would have got the meaning without much trouble. But then that would not have fulfilled the burning desire of some to attack me. As a matter of fact, I repeat the theme in the closing paragraph: “let’s not forget that he died so we can lead ordinary lives, go to our hairstylists, worry about weight gain and several of the other banalities of life that constitute modern existence.”
The mention of Hasan’s weight, hairstyle, and scoring with girls was not about him; it was about us. These were not his issues. These are the existential issues for the urban youth, boys and girls, whose lives for the most part revolve around “problems” that, to a common man, would come across as incredible even as they use the social media for commentary that makes them acceptable with reference to whatever niche they live in.
The entire episode, the moment in Hasan’s life that morning, is about life’s ironies and paradoxes: an ordinary boy one second; an extraordinary human being the next. But to what end did he do what he did? He did it in the service of the ordinary so we can live and worry about weight gain and hairstyles and scoring with girls. That’s the paradox. That is also the irony. It would take some hard work—in some cases malicious intent—for anyone to miss that point.
There are others who have accused me of creating equivalence between Hasan and the bomber. Are you guys for real? Equivalence? Unless your brains are situated where they could only be located with a proctoscope, it would be impossible to make that leap of imagination. One of my central points was that there is a dialectical relation between Hasan and the bomber. That is reflective of what we have become. Do civilized societies need the kind of sacrifice Hasan had to make? They don’t. When I say we don’t need “a million Hasans,” I am referring not to him but to the bomber. And the bomber signifies our troubled state. A 15-year-old is not supposed to die. He should live, even if it means going through an ordinary life. To be unable, in such large numbers, to miss a point so obvious and elementary means we are now in danger of being destroyed as much by our inability to think as by the suicide bombers in our midst looking for a place in Paradise.
Finally, here’s my question to the passionate twitter warriors: you respect Hasan, as you must. How many of you would have done the extraordinary if you were in his place? How many of you, after sending abusive tweets in order to respect Hasan’s memory, resolved that you will emulate him? As I wrote, “As we both mourn and celebrate Hasan’s sacrifice [it is] an act that almost none of us can, to the last man and woman, emulate.”
So spare me your faux passion, socially-acceptable pieties, and twitter baloney and go and learn to read a text before you decide to comment on something that would be obvious to you if you went through life with even an average head on your shoulders.