In the wake of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination, I felt guilty: guilty of being desensitized to the violence of Pakistan’s state and society to its many marginal and disfranchised; guilty of not seeing what was in front of me and around me but was part of business as usual; guilty of not trying to feel or imagine what life must be like for someone whose targeting is sanctioned by the state and (tacitly or explicitly) condoned by society, and by extension (if I were to give myself some leeway), me.
But then there is that middle class family man excuse for inaction that I can always hide behind: What can I do? I am just a regular guy with a family to support. I don’t want any trouble. My first and foremost commitment and responsibility is towards my family. But who wants to feel impotent?! Hence, better not to have anything to take action on, especially when that action can have repercussions. To think of violent reprisals as the reason for inaction, is to make a victim-hero out of oneself and hence justifiably take refuge in the all too human instinct of self-preservation. The repercussions I have in mind are more mundane. It is the questioning of one’s part in the violence, the complicity of one’s neighbors, friends, family in the violence through their legitimating violence by way of social prejudices, by a sense of righteousness of one’s community, a community that can do no wrong.
What genocide in Bangladesh? It was India’s instrumentalization of Bangalis that led to a war between a “moth-eaten” Pakistan and a belligerent hegemon, India. The reports of mass rapes are, well, Indian propaganda. Those more committed to taking justice as the measure by which they make their judgments, all too often fall prey to a sense of balance, where both sides commit violence and both need to be condemned in the same breath. Context, larger inequities and proportionality be damned. Bangalis were killing Biharis. Good old Pakistan went in with good intentions, and in the fog of war a lot of violence occurred on *all* sides. The soldiers were basically good people, doing their job and following orders. Blame the higher ups – the other version of the “bad apples” theory. End of story.
What repression in Baluchistan? Baluchis want to dismember Pakistan. Their leaders are opportunistic tribal warlords, who only want to increase their own wealth and power. There is no such thing as the Center’s belligerence, or siphoning off Baluchistan’s resources to the metropole a la colonialism. This is no Kashmir, no Palestine, no Algeria. Baluchistan is an integral part of Pakistan. Those resources are Pakistan’s resources. That land is Pakistan’s. That land is Pakistan. We stand for unity (by that we really mean uniformity, or rather conformity — in “our” image).
The siege that the marginalized are put under, catches up with the rest. But let the “foreign hand” theories reign! He was killed by CIA 1) to take the spotlight away from Ray of sunshine. 2) To tarnish Pakistan’s image in the service of the War on Terror. Or may be India did it, because, well it’s India! etc. etc. That, however, applies to those who don’t explicitly sanction murder and are, even for a fleeting moment, a bit sheepish about it. Anything to avoid looking oneself in the mirror, I suppose. We are all decent people after all.
As inhumanity becomes normalized, repression becomes the way of life. One stops noticing the ill-treatment meted out to the disenfranchised segments of society. Their structural marginalization enshrined in laws and embodied in social attitudes (Don’t touch them etc.), becomes a kind of background that one takes for granted as business as usual and “forgets” that it is even there. That’s where the “average, decent guy” or “the silent majority” is complicit in the spectacular murderous manifestations of the social reality that catch national or international attention, and are brushed aside as a case of “few bad apples.”
Typologies come in handy for such brushing under the rug: moderates, extremists, fundamentalists, secular etc. – words that generally stand for good and bad, in the public discourse. Then there are the debates about whether the majority of a people or a group is badists or goodists. Bigots with their own axes to grind, and the reform-minded with the self-image of lone-heroes, contend that the majority are badists. The counter-argument runs that the majority are goodists and that there is only a tiny sliver of radical badists. That is the “few bad apples” explanation one heard when Abu Gharaib came to light. Good and decent people can’t turn to violence, justify it, legitimize it, collaborate and participate in inhumane treatment of the marginalized. Nope, just a few bad apples do those things. People like me, the average decent guys, don’t.
I am reminded of a quote from Amitava Kumar:
I do not really know why someone who is a fundamentalist at any point stops being one. Nor can I explain the opposite process. Those questions cannot really be answered satisfactorily. It seems to me more accurate and important to contend that one is never wholly or only a fundamentalist. And vice versa.
But even that statement points to a typology through which one may continue the self-deception, though it gets me closer to seeing my own reflection in the executioner.