Silence is safe

I’ve always prided myself over never having a nervous breakdown, of never letting anxiety take the best of me… of never, simply put, “losing it”. That is, until I did.

It was a few days after 13th April 2017, that fateful day when Mashal was brutally murdered. As had everyone, I too saw the many video clips scattered across social media. For some reason, I’d watched and re-watched those videos many times during these days. Maybe, I was trying to figure out how anyone could be so savagely diabolical, so viciously monstrous…so mercilessly cold-hearted. Or, maybe, I was simply punishing myself for belonging to this creed. Maybe, it was both.

There was no escaping the images. They haunted me; obsessively. The religious chants shouted by the crowd as they did what they did, echoed across my room, my bus, my pathways making me violently cringe. The sight of Mashal’s lifeless body became a permanent silhouette on any sight I laid my eyes on. I was burdened by an invisible load on my heart. I became a victim to a suffocation that rattled me from within. The shame I felt was so dense and putrid, it hazed my mind and thoughts. I am sure, that these days remain the lowest points of my life.

All this was exacerbated due to my thesis work. You see, I was analysing the discourse around the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan through the framework of ‘Epistemic governance’. The methodology required of me to go in-depth into the writings supporting the Laws (during Qadri’s trial) and project their imageries, identifications and norms in my analysis. Before the murder of Mashal, these were simply remnants of history; voices of a mindset of the past. Similarly, the murder could have only been a horrific act of an emotionally charged crowd if all I could hear were the religious chants. However, both combined somewhere deep in my mind; the words and the images of Mashal’s murder. They became one, a voice justifying an action and an action building up on the voice. I read justifications for murder that, till this day, frighten me. I saw images that were the true implementations of these justifications and realized that the chants were far from being a thing of the past.

It was then, that I lost it.

It took my country and its polity some time to condemn the heinous acts. Many waited till the authorities guaranteed that he had not committed blasphemy. Those who condemned the actions did so by painting Mashal as a saint insisting that he could never have blasphemed. Strange. What these people failed to grasp was that in their exclamation, they were condoning a similar treatment for a blasphemer. Hence, they too were the savages they were trying to condemn so cleverly.

The saint-ising of Mashal is an obtuse phenomenon, so misplaced that it just seems wrong. Much like the english translation of the Kalima written across Mashal’s wall; a wall adorned with pictures of Marx and Che and with quotations like: Be curious, crazy and mad. The translation might have been a last-ditch effort by Mashal to save himself as a furious crowd was trying to break down his door. Maybe not. No one will know.

Mashal was an unapologetic and an extremely brave intellectual. He was the sort of crazy who would debate his thoughts with himself and vent them out in endless rants across walls. He was a slave to his intellect. As his friend told me later, Mashal knew that his intellectually triggered discussions with religious zealots and bigots would create trouble for him and he promised his loved ones that he would stop. But, as his friend insisted, sighing helplessly, he couldn’t tolerate it… he couldn’t help himself.

I have gone through Mashal’s twitter feed many times since that fateful day. Every time I go back, I see more of him. I see how his mind worked and how beautiful and rare such minds are. I am deeply affected at the loss because in my endless scholarly pursuits, I know he was an absolute gem. He was, as his father claimed, a humanist at heart. A peaceful revolutionary. An intellectual drowned in a murky, filthy horde of fools.

Today the trial is at a standstill, the main culprit is scot free and the pleas of Mashal’s father (who’s afraid for his family’s security) continue to fall on deaf ears. I don’t personally look forward to the death of any of his murderers. Killing is bad, regardless of who dies. That said, I do mourn the mindset that is now deeply entrenched in the social fabric of what we call Pakistan today. The truth is that many of my educated friends failed to either condemn Mashal’s murder, decided to stay silent out of fear or even insisted that he deserved his fate (for being a] foolish to touch such sensitive matters and/or b] for blaspheming). The truth is that this attitude continues to stay as it did.

We live today in a society that is so shamelessly afraid, it has stopped checking itself. It’s a society so afraid of speaking its mind that it has recognised restrictions as the rules of discourse; of thinking.

At a very personal level, this attitude pains me. The stark truth is that most of the comments I get on my writeups warn me to take care of my safety. My loved ones, my friends and my family beg me to quieten my thoughts and exasperations and keep silent for it ensures my safety. This is what the society requires of me and indeed of any inquiring mind that is unlucky to breed in this murky puddle of bodies. Silence is important in Pakistan. Silence is safe.

This is the fearsome society that I belong to, the intellectually suffocating setting we recognise as Pakistan.

This year, this is Pakistan for me.


n          The writer is working as a health economist

in a think-tank based in Islamabad.

The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

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