The Taliban have returned, the debate around Salman Rushdie’s work has returned and Nawaz Sharif is due to return. All that’s left is for punks to return.
Salman Rushdie’s horrific stabbing is not just an act of violence. It speaks volumes of the lack of tolerance and acceptance in an increasingly volatile world. Whether one agrees with his work or disagrees is supposed to be a personal matter – note, the word I use is supposed. Except, there is recognition that impact is created via mass and the idea of global movements or communities exist. And so when the masses are legitimising what one believes in one’s private capacity, a spillover effect is bound to take place. What is worrying is when the bubbles of heated emotions do not just turn into gas but actually cause real damage when the spill over is on a mass scale. It just takes one to take the heat up a notch and you have an act of violence.
In Pakistan, censorship is a consistent problem. Every generation of Pakistanis and almost every media outlet has faced it. Despite the resistance from a very brave and frankly, fed up civil society, it is quite appalling to see critique that says Pakistan has not done or said enough about the Rushdie horror or reactions have been muted. At this point let us see the situation in which an ‘outpour’ of a reaction is expected as observed in The Guardian.
When you have a country in which Rushdie is portrayed in film as the epitome of evil and needs to be annihilated; when you have a country where publishing as a whole industry is shaped by an increasingly conservative society; where polio workers, the bravest people in the country, risk lives to save lives; where authors are creating markets for themselves without any support from the international community because Pakistan does not ‘sell’; where religious and cultural minorities are slaughtered for simply existing; where harassment of all kinds across all spectrums is the definitive experience of life of the average person and is worse if you happen to write – what exactly is expected of us?
In Pakistan, censorship is a consistent problem. Every generation of Pakistanis and almost every media outlet has faced it.
Freedom here comes at a price far greater than realised. It remains a forbidden love, a cherished ideal which is rooted in our tragic folklore. And yet there is resistance, small pockets of progressive activities in which the fight for freedom of expression are conducted in the hope of some relief from the several nooses that hang around our necks.
Every act of resistance against the status quo is a fight for freedom of expression, freedom to live and whatever little space is gathered, it is also a fight for creative expression, literary or otherwise. None of this easy and none of this comes for free. There is a price to pay. So to claim Pakistanis have not said enough or condemned the attack enough – please. We have been saying and condemning for a while. Point is: when did the world ever listen to us?
Where is the same global movement or community engagement when it comes to us? Where is the support when we pick up pieces of a progressive past and try to piece together what we can in the spirit of a freer existence? A group where individuals strive every day for the written word as journalists, activists, authors and publishers – try to stay alive too.
Don’t say we have not condemned the act of violence against Rushdie enough. We fight the same fight he does which is, freedom of expression.
Our fight in itself is the biggest condemnation of what has happened. What more can we say?