Love in the time of jihad: Flowers are the dead's domain in Pakistan - unless you’re a madrassa graduate

What makes detractors of Valentine's Day more upset is the very idea behind a day of love. The idea that makes visible the ‘objects’ to be controlled: women

“An elderly woman took a flower from the shop. When she saw me in shock, she replied, ‘it is for my son’s grave; the mullahs had sent him for jihad’”

Imagining that a band of goons and vandals of the extreme-right variety would be coming to this flower-shop on Valentine’s Day in order to shut it down and harass the youngsters away from the culturally disastrous act of buying flowers, is not that far from reality.

How dare someone present a flower to someone who is alive! In this country flowers and flowers-splattering is the domain of the dead and their graves.

There are exceptions though: when you graduate from a madrassa after seven years, garlands of flowers and rose-petals showering is allowed. But that is on the condition that the one showering and the one being showered are both males.

Why are they so afraid of flowers? Why are they so afraid of balloons? What have chocolates done to them? If you ask these questions in isolation, they seem ridiculously absurd; but they try to provide them context.

Their context is as hollow and as illogical as the derivatives from the context. Behind their shrill cries of protecting the eastern and Islamic culture, runs deep their fear of life, of positive affirmation, of human emotions, of embracing yearning for another human, of the fact that we alone are weak and we need solace from our beloved and their dread from selfless act of love-making.

But why so much fear from love and life? Because their narrative is that of power, of control, of manipulating the gullible and of stripping away the agency from free humans.

They can accept youth as just another tool in their design to conquer the world, to fortify the bastions of Islam, to purify the society from perceived evils of human connections; as agents of imposing their notions of false self-grandeur and as enforcers of their injunctions of self-righteousness.

They abhor life. They thrive on nausea for any engagement with beauty of the world. They revolt at the idea of the youth engaging in a positive way with the world. Alienation from the surrounding is the jugular vein of their ideology: it makes inculcating hatred for the other and destroying the other easy as everyone outside your narrow self is the other who is meant to be annihilated.

What makes them more unsettled and start in disgust is the very idea behind a day of love. The idea that makes visible the ‘objects’ to be controlled: women. Women in their worldview can exist only vis-a-vis a relationship to a male.

What a day of love does is that it violates this relationship, makes women visible as free agents and as participants in public spaces as men. All other days of the year such acts are to be sneered at, but a day that is about seeing a girl, a woman in her individuality and not as an indistinguishable part of the whole, riles them up. The act of presenting flowers to a woman violates her veil according the them; the very veil which is the edifice of their reductionist concept of women as objects of honor stripped away from all agency.

Feelings can’t be associated with an abstraction. Love gives a human shape to a woman, who according to them should be no more than an ignoramus and evil-untapped behind a veil.

Stories make us humans; stories of individuals, of suffering, of pleasure, of yearning, of imagining a future, of creating beauty and of contemplating beauty. Their story is all the same, no variation is allowed. Variation makes us individual; individuality is to be disdained in their puritan notions of unity propelled by their divisive thinking.

Our love can engulf them; elate them; make them know what feeling human is like. But they will not listen. This compels us to express our love in more forceful way.

By them I mean, anyone out there observing ‘Haya Day’ while burning flowers; anyone too concerned about eastern values while using Facebook and Twitter; anyone sneering at Valentine day.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

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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