It is no longer uncommon to ‘hear’ of mobs attacking (and burning and lynching) people for alleged blasphemy. Coincidentally enough, these people are quite disproportionately belonging to ‘minority’ groups and sects. That these incidents are sometimes ‘heard of’ does in no way mean that they are being ‘felt’ in any considerable way. Perhaps at least not in the same way that we heard and felt the unbearable soundbites on our screens telling us that terrorists murdered so many kids of an ‘Army’ Public School. As if on a weekly basis, three suicide attacks were carried out in Shikarpur, Peshawar and Rawalpindi in the last twenty days. All of these ‘happened to be’, as is told, at Imam Bargahs where Shias were praying. It is not just that these events fell on deaf ears, but also that those allegedly deaf ears, instead of accepting facts for what they appear to be, actively seek to claim and insist that these attacks were anything but against ‘Pakistanis’, that those Imam Bargahs must be called ‘prayer areas’, and that this is no moment to play the ‘sectarian card’. As if the “division of the nation” was only a matter of what we say about it. People are being violently attacked because they belong to a particular sect, or religious, ethnic or social group, but the nation falls apart suddenly when those people start speaking against the prejudice and violence against them?
The former JI Amir, Munawar Hasan, said once in an interview that it was better for women to stay at home to reporting cases of rape because it was better that ‘such things’ do not come in the ‘open’. It would be unfair to say that this was an isolated speaker and that people generally do not think this way. The fact is, Munawar Hasan’s Islam is informed more by the contradictions and hypocrisy of our culture than any ‘pure’ (if there is such a thing) understanding of text. The keyword here is the ‘open’; a space where only desirable and civilized (muhazib) things should appear, and where things unworthy of name, the ‘such things’, must be pretended not to exist. We cannot deny that this attitude is deeply embedded in our cultural attitude as a whole. This could be demonstrated in the way victims of rape are characterized as ‘losing honor’. The rapist may bring ‘dishonor’ and ‘shame’ but on his victim—only on his victim! Most cases of rape are factually not reported exactly because these things should never be allowed to come in the open. Is the rape worse than saying ‘openly’ that it happened? In actual practice, the opposite is true. It seems that we are used to hiding garbage under the carpet regardless of whether the garbage does not go anywhere. But more, we burst out against anyone who dare to use the ‘garbage card’.
Emotional and violent outbursts are very prevailing features of the way we establish the norms of society and of politics. We tend to get ‘provoked’ a lot. But what is it that we are usually getting provoked about and who can possibly provoke us? It is exactly this coming into the open that makes us tremble, insecure and, suddenly and uncontrollably, deadly. What is this open space? This open space consists of the stories we keep on telling ourselves about the kind of world that is out there and our place in it. This is probably the cause of our anxiety about the ‘other’. We are afraid that any interference with the tightly drafted story of ours might lead to its absolute collapse, and therefore of the world as we know it and our place in it. This may be the reason why Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, and Shias, are so easily accused of blasphemy. And this may be why mobs can be riled up—and subsequently lynch couples or to burn down whole neighborhoods. This may also be why women are so often subject to abject violence on the accusation of ‘bringing shame’—whether of their own or not is easily overlooked. That this whole picture of unsettling despair and violence is so rashly dismissed and ignored is probably because ‘such things’ must never come in the open.