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#4362, 1 April 2014

Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti…

And Now, They are Coming for Us
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

The recent attack in Lahore on Raza Rumi, a noted journalist and a moderate voice in Pakistan, highlights the new trend in targeting the media, especially those who do not adhere to the views of the Taliban and its multiple franchisees.

Raza Rumi was fortunate to survive the attack; but not his driver. There have been a series of similar attacks against journalists in Pakistan; and according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, over 50 media-persons have been killed in Pakistan over the last two decades. But Rumi was targeted, not because he is a journalist. He was attacked for his fearless expression of moderate and secular views vis-à-vis radicalism and minorities within the country. Outside Pakistan, he also believes in the shared history of India and Pakistan and has written at length about our Sufi past.

The State thinks these are random attacks by the militants that would dissipate eventually. Despite the targeted and high profile attacks on naval installations, the General Headquarters and others, the State seems to have a myopic belief that the only problem is the US presence in Afghanistan. The military and it’s the Inter-Services Intelligence still think that they can strike deals with the Taliban and its franchisees. The political parties, despite losing leaders, are only keen to initiate negotiations with the Taliban.

The State in Pakistan is certainly not weak; it butchered and brutally targeted the Baloch nationalists in the recent years. Remember what happened to Akbar Bugti, a nationalist leader and former Governor of Balochistan Province?

Unfortunately, the State does not want to take on the Taliban. Perhaps there are other considerations vis-à-vis the Taliban, such as undermining the Pashtun nationalism, or using them as a trump-card against Afghanistan after 2014.

Back to the original question on why Rumi was targeted? Was it only because of his views? Immediately after the attack, he asked the same question. His initial response was: “I am a relatively small fry in the media and opinion industry. I am a recent entrant in the mass (electronic) media, but my views, I am told, are dangerous and invite trouble. So, I wish to ask my well-wishers the following questions: is raising the issue of minority rights unacceptable? Is demanding the inclusion of Jinnah’s August 11 speech in our Constitution and state behaviour unacceptable?”

Were Rumi and the others, from Benazir Bhutto to Salman Taseer targeted because of their moderate views? Perhaps; but the bigger problem that makes “them” stronger and bolder is “our” muted and cowardly response to “their” onslaught.

What did we do after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Ahmed Bilour? We just looked the other way.

What did we do when they targeted the minorities – the Shias, the Christians, the Ahmadiyyas, the Hindus and the Hazaras all over Pakistan? We wrote few commentaries and remained active in the social media for few days and moved on. In reality, we looked the other way.

Raza Rumi’s outburst after the attack sums up the problem in Pakistan today: “A young man, who had been working as my driver for some time, was almost dead. I stood on a busy road asking for help and not a single car stopped. A crowd had gathered and I was seeking their assistance almost like someone in a hysterical sub-continental film. The nearest hospital was a private enterprise, which initially refused to treat all three of us. I had to protest, after begging on the street and then seeking emergency medical aid. Suddenly, all that afflicts Pakistan became clear: the violence, the impunity for murderers, the failing values of a society and privatisation of essential public services.”

The problem is not “them;” it is “us” and our failure to respond and defend what we feel is right. As Edmund Burke said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Not that they are winning. But we are losing, thanks to our criminal silence that speaks louder than their violence. We should not be worried about their guns; instead we should be afraid of our silence.

Remember Martin Niemöller's famous note he penned while in Nazi Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.

They are not just coming for Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. They are coming for us. And New Delhi is not far from Lahore. The Taliban and its franchises have already breached the Indus. And the problem is just not the Taliban. Regardless of whether the roots lie in Kandahar or in Riyadh, we are not too far from their radical beliefs.

Even if “we” don’t want to stand up against “them,” at least, “we” should rally behind people like Raza Rumi, who stand for “us.”

Raza Rumi, we are with you. March on. You are a Hero.

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