What Pakistan Can Learn from French Solidarity.

This post originally appeared in The Nation in 2015.

How do you hide your guilt?

Your sense of shame?

You divert attention.

You pull the focus on something else.

Guilt and shame are unavoidable emotions. They nag at you. They pull at your conscience. They make you uneasy. You can’t deal with them directly, not unless you have massive moral courage.

So what do we usually do? We divert attention.

Almost two million people walked on the streets of Paris to march in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and the seventeen deaths that occurred as a result of an ‘act of terror’. The entire world, the media, leaderships, columnists, cartoonists all rallied together in whichever way they could to show that they condemned the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

The phrase Je Suis Charlie became the hashtag of the day and once again the debate on terrorism, free speech, Islam, Muslims, ISIS, foreign policies became the flashpoint for all of us.

As a result of the massive public, political and media spotlight on Charlie Hebdo, there were some who looked inwards and felt the guilt marching through. They asked why Pakistanis couldn’t show a similar stance on solidarity when a hundred plus children were brutally murdered by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan on December 16, 2014.

Why couldn’t our society come out in hordes and in millions on the streets holding out slogans and why couldn’t our leaders, policy makers and armed forces step up their game on fighting a war that has cost thousands upon thousands of Pakistani lives in the past ten years and counting?

Why, at this point in time, are we still receiving conflicting reports on parties differentiating between good Taliban and bad Taliban? When would the entire nation of Pakistan come to unequivocally condemn all Taliban as bad Taliban? When would the policy makers of this country understand the gravitas of December 16, the effect of producing militants as strategy and seeing that no good comes out of protecting men with psychopathic, violent predispositions? When would we realise that the attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, was a long time coming – we were only too foolish to look away.

These were burning questions.

There were some though, who came up with unique responses to this event. Someone asked why wouldn’t the Western leadership/citizens march in favor of Gaza. Some asked why the cartoons were published in the first place. Some asked why they wouldn’t march in favor of Syria.Someone called them hypocritical because of French policies. Some asked why they wouldn’t talk about the thousands of Nigerian deaths at the hands of Boko Haram.

It seemed eerily similar to the kind of blame avoidance that emerged when Malala was shot. Zealots blamed her to be an Indian/CIA/Mossad agent. They came up with moronically concocted theories about her not being shot at all and just faking the whole thing to defame Pakistan . It is strange and sad that it took the blood of one hundred and thirty nine more children for Pakistan to stop saying things like that.

After the Peshawar attack, there are still parties, social groups which defend a violent mindset regarding religion. They are often spouting theories where violence against the state, the people and unarmed people is justified because they interpret their ideology that way. Sure, there were many who identified the TTP as terrorists and finally there was a clear cut message by some leaders about not defending these groups anymore – but there are still groups amongst us who would like nothing more than point-scoring on the back of these extremists.

The classic whataboutery in the logics are also a prime example of us trying to assuage our guilt with mindless logics. Why not Nigeria;why not Palestine;why not Syria; why not Libya ad infinitum.

The French are doing what they need to do. They are defending the French . They are defending the law and the system of the country that they live in and the system they believe in – rule of law and their principles of secularism and democracy.

What we have been doing is representing the fracture that exists in our minds and in our ideologies. We have forgotten that it was Jinnah who addressed Pakistan’s first constituent assembly in 1947, stating that we are free to go to our places of worship and that it has nothing to do with the business of the state. We have forgotten that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Or maybe we are trying to deal with our collective guilt as a nation. As a people, we are quick to point fingers at the entire world for not speaking out or not going into outraging at this act of terrorism or that act of repulsion – but have conveniently forgotten that our own nation is struggling with a clear divide that needs to be addressed. The lack of tolerance, the lynching, the abused laws, the horrendous cases of weapons being illegally hoarded in religious seminaries, none of these issues seem to be helping us see inward.

Perhaps our own image in the mirror has been blackened far too much for us to see the reality, the face we see is distorted by years of extremist propaganda, the years of dictatorship, the years of manipulated ideologies. Therefore now – all we decide to put through the microscope is everyone except us. All we do is show disdain for anyone who is doing anything to take a stand for justice. All we do is run and hide from our guilt – for not being able to do the same.

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