As a human rights’ activist who tries to ruffle just the right feathers and create enough noise through my write-ups on both print media as well as via social networking, I know that I have to do this. I understand the reason and the wisdom behind the uncountable hash tags on the names that became iconic symbols of the fight against oppression – Mukhtar Mai, Asiya Bibi, Rimsha Masih and now most recently Malala Yousafzai. Expat friends who sometimes, with undoubted sincerity, look at the problems of Pakistan from a distance, have a naïve and simplistic take on things when they say: “Talking about all of this in the media presents a negative image of Pakistan”. Yet those of us who are working at grass root level are facing the multiple complex issues Pakistan faces; it is an inner imperative that commands us to voice our concerns – for catharsis, to make sense of things, to at least be able to do something. And rid ourselves temporarily of that helpless feeling. Also simply because by raising a voice, some change may eventually come through, even if not in our lifetime.
So no, I am not promoting silence.
But as the news of that brave little girl Malala being shot hit my ears for the first time, a nagging fear tugged at my mind strings, not just my heart. Time has proven the fear right.
Malala is everywhere – on adverts of eateries and on Madonna’s back, on the social media and on prime time television. Everyone is talking about her. All of this is not worrisome and understandable. But a few things are worrisome to say the least.
What is worrisome is that Malala, now an icon of girl’s literacy and courage is being juxtaposed opposite the debate whether drones are acceptable in our territory. We become so swept, unknowingly, by a wave of collective unbridled emotion that we start to discriminate between our dead and injured. The “collateral damage” of innocent men, women and children killed in drone attacks are justified. Malala’s name, ironically, is being used and misused to focus so much on one issue that the others take a back seat. And not just the drone issue. Those killed in Sibi, Darra Adam Khel and the usual are not given the emphasis they should be given and damages this country suffers on a daily basis.
But so heart-wrenching is the image of that little child smiling at you with the book in her hand that anyone who dares to say that “hey, this is important, but the other issues are important too” will be bludgeoned into submissive silence because there will be an onslaught powered by raw emotion. Questions like “what kind of a human are you? Don’t you feel bad for that child? What if she was your daughter?” are flung across tables and forums. People daring to ask the right questions sincerely are not being allowed to do that.
I should not be misunderstood here. I am praying for Malala. I am angry and hurt and it does not make sense to me why a child should be punished for wanting to gain knowledge. I am hurt, as a woman, that it is becoming exceedingly difficult for women to survive in this society. I am struggling to keep my optimism alive in the face of all this insanity, and still trying to hope and believe that better tomorrows await Pakistan. I am all for Malala.
I’m, however, not willing to take up causes without enough reflection, without studying into it, without finding out the background. I am not willing to under-emphasize other important causes, though right now Malala is the cause closest to my heart too. The cynic in me does want to know what’s the catch and who will benefit from this tidal wave upon tidal wave of uplifting of rights. Extremists? The agencies? Super powers? Who? I may never know. But I will at least reflect.
What is again worrisome is that even the intelligentsia and the educated are peer pressured into having to say something about these issues; otherwise we put them in slots and assume they don’t care. So they feel duty-bound to say more, tweet more, and share more. In so doing (and forgive me for my nastiness here), we all become heroes for the day. We all are champions of human rights. We curse and display histrionics whenever an act of oppression or terror happens and in so doing advertise ourselves as people who care.
What we do not realize is that at times, thoughtless activism and careless remarks can complicate issues. Like a tangled ball of wool or a broth with too many cooks, the end result is nothing but chaos. And that is chaos without order.
My concern, and request, is simple. As a citizen of Pakistan, we all have a right to speak up, and vent and express. But reflect before you utter. Think before you hash tag. Choose your words carefully. You do not want to be doing something that will further escalate an already volatile situation and give a chance to opportunists to make their buck and sell their goods. It is a choice we make. One we must make responsibly.
Published in http://www.borderlinegreen.com/