In the face of the massacre of the innocents in Pakistan, there is an emerging defiance in society, of courage under fire. This resistance is being offered by ordinary citizens, politicians and professionals in civil society. It is also manifested more visibly by firefighters, ambulance personnel, hospital staff, policemen and soldiers within the state. In the ongoing national struggle against the militant extremists, many brave women and men have sacrificed to redeem our humanity as a people and to persist in the process of building democracy. In so doing they have laid the basis of national reconstruction. Let us discuss these sacrifices and their implications for culture and politics.
Even though extremists cloak their pursuit of power in a religious narrative, they have really nothing to do with religion. This is because religion is a ligament with God, and essential to this ligament is love, compassion, a sense of beauty and truth. Where there is love there is freedom not coercion. These aspects of human experience are at the heart of our humanity as also of human culture. The extremists through their politics of hate, intolerance and ugly brutality have divorced themselves from their humanity. Thus the struggle against militant extremism is essentially a conflict between humanity and inhumanity.
The citizens’ movement led by the lawyers, to restore the judiciary can be seen as vital to the struggle against militant extremism. This is because in seeking to establish an independent judiciary it sought to build the scaffolding of a democratic state that could ensure freedom and justice for Pakistan’s citizens. Civility would confront barbarism. Many of us were on the streets, young and old, women and men facing state coercion as much as the threat of extremist violence. There were pitched battles in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar; many died, scores were injured, a number of lawyers were burnt to death. The people rose to the call of the lawyers, the new heroes, such as Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd, Munir Malik, Hamid Khan. The people demonstrated that henceforth they themselves would defend, preserve and uphold the Constitution with their love, sacrifice and resolve. Thus now for the first time in Pakistan’s history the formal rules of the Constitution are rooted in the culture and consciousness of the people.
Then came Benazir Bhutto to lead the struggle for democracy against both dictatorship and extremism. She was threatened by the militant extremists but defied them even as they bombed the vehicle she stood in, leading a procession from Karachi airport. She had a clear choice: give up the struggle or risk death. She continued her struggle till she was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack after a political rally in Rawalpindi. She chose to sacrifice her life so that the people could have a democratic future. In the form of her death she redeemed herself of all the ills she was accused of by her detractors. Like her father before her, Benazir Bhutto entered folk myth as a faqir. Her sacrifice would resonate in the dance rhythms of Dama Dam Mast Qalander and shape the political choices of those who came after her.
Many more heroes emerged as the struggle to defend society and state intensified: Governor Salman Taseer, who stood up for the rights of the “minorities”, and was assassinated for his noble and humane stand. There is Malala who spoke out for girls’ education in Swat and insisted on going to school in defiance of the Taliban. She got shot in the head, miraculously survived and joined the pantheon of Pakistan’s heroes. Then there were the martyrs from the Pakhtunkhwa party such as Bashir Ahmed Bilour who defied the onslaught of the Taliban.
Pakistan’s heroes of democracy have entered the realm of myth which through what C.G. Jung called the collective unconscious, sustains human culture and the quest for a civilized society. Like Ranjha, a hero of yesteryear, Pakistan’s contemporary heroes are also driven by love, the desire for freedom and the passion to build a more humane society. Their sacrifices will form the well springs of resistance against the dark forces of bigotry, brutality and hatred that afflict Pakistan today.