Humanizing roots of natural disasters demonizes victims and shrouds the state’s disaster relief incompetence

Why would our state with all its incompetence let go off such a God-sent explanation?

Ever heard of Marsquake? To scientists it is a phenomenon which jolts the Mars surface, and as a result new structures appear on the Mars surface and the present ones are displaced. Humanity has to agree that such Marsquakes have nothing to do with the tiny little acts of commissions and omissions of a race that rules billions of miles away on a tiny blue planet. The scientific explanations of agencies like NASA have to be accepted by all. And by all I mean the doomsayers on the surface of a country called Pakistan.

One ponders how my countrymen can become so objective in this particular case? Why the prejudices and tales of vengeance of a vengeful deity are not projected on to the horizons of the red planets, the prejudices that are born out of inflexible and ossified percepts of similar dogma. For one, it may have to do something with the fact that people were ignorant of the existence of such extraterrestrial objects at the time when the dogma was formed.

But this spark of objectivity vanishes away the moment the phenomena occurring on those extraterrestrial entities is presented as antithesis of their very theory that quakes on earth are results of our sins. The answer one gets is of usual blankness, followed by pontifications of fearfulness regarding God’s wrath and the disdain that you deserve by daring to present an alternative explanation to their medieval – but ironically still rightly-held – beliefs and explanations.

This is all because of our sins and we should all return to God’s ways to avoid mass scale destruction as was the fate of previous Ummahs, goes their assertion. This particular assertion is the natural corollary of the mentality that always seeks someone to blame. This blaming often comes in humanizing the roots and causes of every tragedy. The absurdity, if stopped here, would still be an absurdity but not a tragedy. Somewhere in this assertion is hidden the belief that somehow the victims of a natural disaster are responsible for the destruction and havoc been wrecked upon them.

From the ivory tower of victim blaming, the blamers assume the authority of being self-righteous and externalize to themselves the causes of God’s wrath. They are not to be held responsible as they are on the right track. Those who died either deserved it or their killings were a result of some mysterious divine test and lesson for the rest of humanity. This mentality even if it avoids demonizing the victims makes sure that their pain and condition is trivialized. Hence, in my country the victims who are in need of empathy, sympathy, and helping hand, get judgments and pontifications to watch their deeds and lifestyles.

The chaos created by the natural disaster and the dormant insidious mentality of victim blaming is tapped by religious and extremist organizations to further their cause of extremism and to find new recruits to their cause. In fact it is they who vouch for victim blaming and pronounce judgments from their self-righteous pulpits. Take up any Urdu daily and you will find their half-page injunctions composing of three things: the horrors caused by the disaster; the warning as it is from God to mend your ways; and to join that organization to help the affected and put yourself on the right path.

How the relief efforts of these organizations are used as cover for their recruitment manifests the incompetence of state which creates a void that is to be filled by such organizations. The state through incompetence, and sometimes in direct collusion, helps spread the cause of extremism. The victim blaming also helps the state escape any grueling and accountability. It is God’s work, right? How can someone hold the state accountable? One can find scores of ministers giving sermons as if to appease God and seemingly to abdicate their responsibilities to centuries-old dead occupants of shrines. The widespread humanizing of causes of natural disaster lets the state off the hook. Why would our state with all its incompetence let go off such a God-sent explanation?

Ascribing natural disasters to humans would have been plausible in an age when we did not know that the earth is not flat. We live at time when there’s ample evidence of our earth’s composition and that of its crust and core, with all other details that exhaustive nature of science have bestowed upon us.

Alluding natural disasters to human deeds was a way to put some order in the chaotic society, but in this technological age where stability lies elsewhere – in accurate predictions of natural disasters and following strict engineering standards and protocols – blaming victims adds more to the chaos brought about by the disaster. The victims need empathy not judgmental pronouncements, and the state needs to take up its role of relief and rehabilitation and not outsource its duties to a bunch of fanatics.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at Follow him on Facebook 

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