Faizabad ‘dharna’ is not over

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By Usman Ahmad

The idea the dharna in Faizabad is over is a dangerous lie; and if we Pakistanis are to survive, this is something we will have to recognise. To do otherwise would to be to dance in the gallows with our executioner. Perhaps the purpose of this entire charade has been to force us to question whether we deserve to endure. Because if we have reached such a desperate nadir that reconciliation with forces which openly challenge the writ of the state, bring anarchy to our social order and call for the murder of entire communities is presented as a happy denouement, then we do not deserve to survive and will likely not.
Instead, like the countless other tragedies that have afflicted Pakistan since its creation, Faizabad will never end. Some unhealed part of it will remain, haunting our darker impulses like a savage in the shadows.
This is how the lie takes hold – this is how it sets in. The scope of the latest deceit is matched only by the collective judgment that the outcome of it is somehow in the interest of Pakistan. In this analysis, the naked resentments which inspired the ringleaders of the Faizabad dharna can be easily ignored, embraced even, as long as it suits the myriad agendas competing for the soul of the country. For the time being it suits them all. No introspection is required and nor can it be undertaken when the knee of the nation is happily bent at the alter of a group of self-appointed clerics, whose strength rests on the abuse of their power.

A scene at the end of ‘dharna’ shows pity situation but who can say this protest is definitely over.

What such a way of thinking overlooks is that totalitarians always arrive as your friends and promise to restore your glory. By feeding off the popular frustrations which gave them a platform, they are able to recast the old values. This process of distortion is characterised by a zealous dismantling of history that does away with complexity and fixes itself around a single sinister truth which, through a process of gradual acceptance, welcomes in bigotry, fanaticism and zealotry as norms of everyday life.
By adhering to this template, the Faizabad sit-in expressed a betrayal of Pakistan rather than its assertion. The worship of power in its most abhorrent form, the reduction of Pakistani identity to a paranoid hatred of others, the restless sense of religious grievance and the unbounded vulgarity that coursed through the chaos all scorned at the idea of what the country was originally meant to be.
That our lawmakers, military establishment and vast swathes of the general population have chosen to give into this reality is a crushing blow to the spirit. The hateful world of the fanatics is also now our own. The other great deception committed by those of an authoritarian mindset is the manner in which they convince their victims to become complicit in the crimes committed against them. In Pakistan, the complicity has been extracted with a sweeping totality, altering the very psychological state of the nation. Under the guise of serving the cause of Islam, we have allowed the extremists to overtake our sense of self-understanding. The dominant image we see of ourselves today is forever viewed through the prism of their narrow fundamentalism. How else can one explain the deal negotiated by the state and the Faizabad protesters which reads more like a wilful surrender than a mutually agreed accord.
Some will say this account is a gross overreaction to what is happening in the country and that we have overcome similar crises before and will do so again. Is Faizabad any worse than anything experienced in the past? Have we not been here countless times before? But this form of denial is just another facet of the greater lie we tell ourselves. We have not overcome anything. The declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims, the hardening of the blasphemy laws, alliances with militants were all once considered grievous departures from the central pillars of our society. Now they are so permanently entrenched that most people have ceased to register them. Normalisation of the repulsive has become a Pakistani way of life.
The long and ugly history of intertwining fanaticism with the mainstream means next time the extremists play their hand the consequences will be worse, the capitulation greater and the surrender more abject than the one we have just witnessed. This is nothing less than a tragedy for Pakistan. Eventually, there will be no more ground left to concede. The only way to combat this is to escape the falsehoods and self-deceptions that engulf us and see that at the heart of our society there is fear and hatred; fixed, immutable and uncompromising. It is the very form and substance on which the entire edifice is built. To pretend otherwise is to compromise on the future of Pakistan. If we are to survive at all we can ill-afford to keep on living through our lies.
(The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at usmanhotspur@gmail.com)