Why I am afraid to write this

Sialkot incident has shaken us all to the core
Dec 04, 2021
Screenshot of one of the videos of the incident uploaded on social media.
Screenshot of one of the videos of the incident uploaded on social media.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

are full of passionate intensity.

  • W.B Yeats

I am genuinely afraid to write this piece. I fear for how people will take my words, how despite my best attempts, someone will misconstrue, misinterpret, or misconceive my intentions, my thoughts and my meanings.

I don’t want to be booked under Protection of Pakistan Act of 2014, Articles 295-A,B,C all the way to Z of the Pakistan Penal Code, the 1997 Anti Terrorism Act, or the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. I don’t want to be publicly threatened, doxxed or lynched. I don’t want to be labelled an apostate, a blasphemer, a traitor, an enemy agent.  I just want to live, or at least, be allowed to live.

This isn’t hyperbole. This is a real, live, actual threat.

The Sialkot incident has shaken us all to the core. We all find it horrific, how an innocent man was killed, and his corpse burned to ashes, all while people stood there cheering on the assailants and taking selfies.

But the real horror is what led to it happening. A small argument at a factory over tearing up a paper. That’s all it takes to take someone’s life, and not just do it brutally, but have it done with joy and selfies galore. We are harking back to the days of the Colosseum. Killing not just with impunity, but with pride. We hunger for the blood of the blasphemer and call it righteousness. Not too different from Arbeit Macht Frei.

Yes, this is not Ishq-e-Rasool, those in power argue. This is shameful and should be condemned at all costs, those in charge of protecting us argue. The culprits will be taught a lesson and justice will be served, those who enforce the law tell us.

But the real lesson here? How easy it is to kill and be celebrated for it in this country. And how little does one need to do to lose their lives.

You can be killed for the act of merely asking someone why they missed class.

You can be shot dead for organizing a Valentine’s Day event.

You can be murdered by your own security guard over an argument in your workplace.

You can be stabbed to death over a disagreement with a student.

Worst of all, you can be lynched by a mob, on the basis of rumors alone.

But the real murder, is of our social fabric. It has scared people into submission, afraid that anything they say or do can be misconstrued, misinterpreted, or misconceived. That in turn makes people more afraid to speak out against ills and wrongdoing, more afraid of those around them who could turn into human bombs at any moment, more afraid of expressing their views, and more afraid of challenging those who mob, lynch, pillage and kill.

It makes our society weaker, letting evils remain unchallenged, and ascribing to a strange form of Orwelian thought policing where we can’t say what we really want to say, out of fear that tomorrow we might become a Mashal or a Malala. This self censorship actually destroys the real resistance to extremist thought: the ability to argue back. But when we consider silence as the safe option, it doesn’t take too long before it becomes the only option. Diversity of opinion disappears. Extremism normalizes. And the conviction of resilience becomes nothing more than a buzzword.

I can’t rely on the system to protect me. The focus is not on preventing the problem, but rather about preventing being blamed for the problem. That means spreading the responsibility far and wide, doing the tweets expressing shock, shame and sadness, setting up an inquiry, politicians’ blame games, right-wing vs. left wing hate mongering, demanding reports from IG, suspending local officials, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. By sharing the responsibility, no one is responsible. So nothing really gets done. And I remain vulnerable.

Nor can I rely on tepid narratives to safeguard me. Those who condemn the murder also somehow create room for its exceptionalism. Whenever such incidents occur, they preach the moral superiority of Islam as a religion of peace, who tell us Islam protects minorities, they tell us that lynching is unIslamic, that such acts have nothing to do with religion in the first place. But they don’t really tackle the actual narratives that lead to such violence in the first place. It’s easy to preach against intolerance, harder to actually recognize your own. Our majoritarian concerns are so incredibly sensitive to the systemic problem of Islamophobia, yet so indifferent to religious violence at home.

Nor can I rely on education and awareness to save me. If we truly focused on religious learnings in this country, we would know that the rules of blasphemy apply differently for Muslims than non-Muslims, like in this case of Sialkot, or Asia Bibi. We would also know that the examples given of people executed in the name of ‘blasphemy’ during the Prophet (P.B.U.H)’s time like Ka’ab ibn-al Ashraf, were actually killed for the far graved charge of insurrection against the Islamic state, which the extremists seem to do all the time. If only our ulemas dealt with the problem of wrongful killings in the name of blasphemy with the same passion as the majesty of hoors in heaven, we may not have been in this situation.

What we find instead is complete capitulation at the very best, and active endorsement at the very worst. We let these monsters run free, tell ourselves we have to make peace with them to avoid war, that their hearts are in the right place, that our systems force these people into taking the law into their own hands. Even if their targets and victims are the state and its enforcers. Even if their targets and victims are little kids.

So what do our assailants learn? That no matter what we do, there’s always a way to get out of it with impunity.

And what do our enforcers learn? The same thing we do: There’s no need to resist. Silence keeps you alive.

I’m still afraid to write. For now the fear has not triumphed over my outrage. But for how long, before the monsters turn this way?

And soon, we won’t be running from the monsters anymore.

We will be them, and they will be us.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Sialkot Sri Lankan National

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