“Aristotle implies that through witnessing tragedy, we purge ourselves or gain relief. This suggests tragedy has some moral or therapeutic function in society.”
–Jennifer Wallace: an author on tragedy
From Shakespeare to modern authors back to ancient novelists and philosophers, tragedy writers, all along human history, did not evolve this literary narrative as a purely entertainment genre. The idea, from a philosophical humanitarian perspective, is to learn from tragedies in order to understand human behavior and the implicit apathy that has led humanity into numberless episodes of tragic events. Julius Caesar’s murder on the senate floor by his best friend Brutus (as Caesar says, “Even you, Brutus?”) is meant to comprehend the nature of the beast in mankind: Brutus killed Caesar to strengthen the Roman oligarchy’s control (the rule of an autocratic junta) over power while Caesar died as a champion of the masses turned into a political dictator. And we, as the audience undergo a sort of “therapy,” as Artistole thought, watching this tragedy unfold.
Present day political Pakistan is an appalling example of turning national calamities and catastrophes into state-sponsored “therapy” of epic dimensions. We, as a nation, seem to be fascinated by common everyday tragedies. On the other hand, the “State” and its national affairs managers use these tragic episodes as emotional and symbolic sloganistic prescriptions as a political strategy to manipulate mass sentiment. The human ego and, as social-psychologists would say, megalomaniac obsessions have ruled over human intellect, wisdom, sensibilities and visionary perceptiveness.
Today’s democratic Pakistan, from Karachi to the remote villages in Waziristan and beyond, is laden with countless tragedies. Children have been made orphans; young woman widows; young men slaughtered like sacrificial animals. Old rendered homeless. Innocent civilians made targets of aerial bombardments with their limbs scattered all over. Soldiers’ lives lost in meaningless battles. Policeman slain unnecessarily. No one seems to be safe. Fear has gripped the entire nation. Lawlessness prevails in every corner of this country. “Rambos” have free reign. Mafia groups control major cities, financial centers, every nook and corner and to the full extent of our tragic existence in this unfortunate nation. And yet, in this massive debris of misery and countless tragedies, our rulers are looking for “heroes” in our daily tragedies so they can penetrate our feelings, manipulate our emotions and sentiments, and make us believe that relief can be found in the mystical ideals of personal bravery.
Aitzaz Hassan, the 15 year old from Ibrahimzai village in northwestern Pakistan did not have to die or become a national hero in this way. Having a school and a stadium named after him will not stop the prevailing carnage all over the country. Or the question is: will it?
It was time for the 15 year old to live, grow up, enjoy the limitless bounties of nature, bring solace to his parents, relish in friendships, take delight in romance and raising a family, enrich the community, struggle for an independent, productive and useful career and to live a long and happy life. Instead, he died at the hands of a suicide-bomber who was a product of our mismanaged national political discourse. Aitzaz Hassan died tragically because our “State” and its national ruling “managers” have failed to protect its citizens.
Aitzaz Hassan is a victim, as are countless others in this nation, who die tragically every day because our political establishments, over a long period of time, have espoused politically incorrect national discourse and policies and have remained incompetent, inefficient and incapable of devising a productive, sound and appropriate approach towards resolving national issues. 2013-14 Islamabad, like the previous so-called democratic regime of 2008-13, has also failed in the proper prioritizing of national problems. Hence, we are asked to take refuge in personal heroism, bravery and sacrifice. My questions are: To what purpose? To what objectives? Do we want more Aitzaz Hassans or should we tell our political managers that they have failed - they have violated our mandate - they offer us no hope in their political prescriptions to set matters right?
A “State” and a civilized society cannot organize or have “gun-slinging cops” roaming city streets with automatic firearms in hand slaying suspected criminals and committing extra-judicial killings. Take, for example, Karachi as a case in point: the global media has reported that, “last year was the bloodiest year in the history of Karachi with 2700 people killed including 190 policeman and rangers.” It is reported that, “with the Karachi police unable to effectively take on criminals… Rangers were also given police powers… despite such extensive action, 2013 saw incidents of heinous crimes - such as killings, extortion, kidnappings, robberies, theft and terrorism – remain at all-time high, similar to trends seen in 2012.”
The bravery and heroism of a top Karachi cop, killed recently in an ambush, is tragic as well as magnificent and magnanimous in a specified personal sense - but the vital question remains to be addressed: has the “State” policy of the use of force, empowering the Police and Rangers and justifying a “non-political” approach to Karachi’s problems, resolved the issues at hand? If ground realities are an indication of a successful policy option, then the “State” and its policy managers have once again failed. Have they not?
The resolution to Pakistan’s national problems is in efficient, competent and visionary “out of the box” political solutions and in properly prioritizing those issues. Unfortunately that has not been done. Instead, our national policy managers continue to believe in the power of pure symbolic and sentimental rhetoric. They do so without recognizing that it is not the 1960s – it’s more than a decade into the 21st century. It appears that our political leadership is in limbo, stuck in time, in a bygone era.
Otherwise, how could they present the tragic victims of their morbid and failed political discourse as offering national solace and relief to our present disastrous existence?
Let us stop being the audience to these tragedies. Let us forgo the “therapeutic function” that Aristotle spoke of. Instead, it is time for us, this nation and its leadership, to learn lessons from our daily tragedies – and move forward. Is it not so?
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.