Yesterday, I went to work, and the word was that there'd been a blast. This time it was close to home - two streets away from my son's old school. My colleagues' house was next door to the blast site and was damaged extensively - one of her employees and his son are dead. My niece was in her school yard a couple of streets away. The ground in her school swayed for several minutes and panic stricken teachers instructed students to stand in corners and wait. She told me the story today with a stoic matter of factness. There was fear in her voice, but also a sense of taking it in her stride.
All the schools in the area are indefinitely closed. Even my son's old school which almost never shut down - even if it meant disobeying government orders or risking city trouble. CAS never compromised on even one day's worth of education. Parents are worried to send their children to school because of the unpredictability. Some of the classrooms are in the basement and that brings with it reasons to imagine the worst possible scenario. No one really knows where the next attack will be, and when, which police officer may be a target, what station, what military outpost, which government official's house -- because no one has the information about intelligence operations conducted against militants, and the nature and degree of the role played by anyone who lives so invisibly around us - embedded so casually in our midst carrying with them cells for the most terrible dangers of our lives. No one even knows whether there is any vision for an end to this violence on all sides.
About seven kilometers away from the site of the blast, we felt we were almost in a different city. My children's school did not shut down and life resumed almost instantly. When May 12th happened I stopped class - asked my students to talk in an effort to politicize, to offer catharsis, to engage young people. Last year, in 2010, I was teaching an evening class when the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi was bombed. We were less than a kilometer away -- but for some architectural reason, we did not feel the tremors, or hear the sound. But the cellphones went nuts and students began to panic. I gave them a few minutes to make calls, and then resumed class.
This time around, I taught unblinkingly. Students wrote an exam on promissory estoppel as if doctrines would save them --us. Sorrow has become a redundancy in our lives. A few years ago, a blast so close would have given us pause. We would be grieving, thinking, exploring, petitioning, bringing out the candles for vigils, talking to each other, lamenting the loss. And now the perpetual violence on the replay button, the news of suicide blasts and severed heads, the chilling stories of targeted killings where victims are slaughtered like goats, the casualness of blood, the you tube videos of trained assassins who recount the details of their 58 murders in our very city as if they were talking about vaccinations, the floods that have devastated rural Sindh two years in a row.
You lose the capacity to grieve; you become desensitized. You stop realizing what it means to have ripped bodies and pools of blood on the roads you have traveled just days ago. I am pretty sure I felt more when I heard about the people killed in Gujarat pogrom in 2002. Constant tragedy has a way of dehumanizing all of us. I took a nap today. I was exhausted and felt a congestion in my chest. I woke up and headed to work. Am I allowed such peace, I wondered. Am I allowed such normalcy when people around me die -- my fellow Karachites -- our hearts beating together in our experience of the tumultuous happenings of our time, the inflation of hunger, the despondency of the years -- or has it always been the case? Some people are allowed peace while others die slowly and invisibly from the terror of poverty in the city's inner circles, in the outskirts of its industrial developments. The city stretches its sinewy arms over useless flyovers, somebody's 10%, and superfluous malls and deliberately, coolly crushes people every single day in its embrace, in its utter disunity, in its callous disparity - in its senseless budgeting, privatizing, and legislating.
Violence numbs even politics and activism. How do you collect yourself and pick up pieces to organize against, amidst, engulfed in violence? Perhaps those in and close to the blast never do or do so with mad newness. The others move on with a tighter, more self conscious pace, and people so mockingly from afar will call us resilient --without so much as a moment's thought that it is disparaging to call us that.
Its a fact of life. Work, school, hospitals, exhibitions will go on. So will the vacations, and travels to Dubai of the rich. Just as sceneries change in computer games, from icy mountains to grassy savannahs and then to thick amazon forests, blasts are blending into the background. Navy, police, shrines, and roadsides. Until there is mass chaos, mayhem, curfew, and until the food runs out in the pantry - we will persevere, and not because we are tough and resilient, but because we are clueless and apolitical and because we have no choice but to go on with the business of living. There will be Dawn bread on the table tomorrow. The paper would have landed on my father-in law's car rolled up. The dew drops will have covered leaves. I will feel anxious that Sadiq was so eager to cut the palm branches that shielded us from the stares of the street. Karachi will be fresh for moments only in its first sweep of morning. The rickshas will stop for me as I cross the road and I will wave no to them. My friend, the newspaper vendor, will hobble to my window and tell me how he was hit by a motorcyclist and now his foot must be operated. I will look at all people on the front lines and worry for them.
But cluelessness is unforgivable in these times. And so is the columnist, ex Marxist, Nadeem F Paracha (NFP). Right winged people posing as liberals - supporting war and implicitly even imperialism, desiring democracy only for themselves and their kin, and covering up their blatant mistrust and disdain of the youth with their mere sense that the youth think rebellion is fashionable but have no depth --when its really people like him who have systematically failed to provide analysis that would allow the youth to develop critical ways of thinking - a full understanding of the systems responsible for such violence - the US's misadventures, the military's greed and complicity with the imperialistic designs, constant war in lieu of development, the social and legal oppression of the people of FATA, debt servicing and IMF conditionalities that have wreaked havoc on the poor, both rural and urban, stagnant wages and bad industrial laws, ungreen revolutions, and uneven lives.
Did a drone kill that kid and his mother today in Karachi? Oh, it was a response to drone attacks. Wah! How brave our heroes, the TTP!
In reality, a blast in our midst should remind us that we should be opposing drone attacks and not playing clever word games asserting the humanity of some victims and denying the lived experiences of people in FATA who are fleeing the most terrible attacks --as numbing, as devastating, as traumatic, as fatal as the one two days ago. HRCP estimates 957 people were killed in drone attacks in 2010 alone, many, if not most, were civilians. Some were children and certainly not part of the TTP. Many were women. All were denied due process of the law in this most brutal form of summary execution - not given even one chance to present evidence that they had nothing to do with militancy. Yet, we are willing to hold democracy and compassion in abeyance because we can't relate to people living in areas where militancy has taken root -- because they are invisible in our so called liberal English discourse that is paranoid only about the liberties of a few. At the peak of the Swat operation there were as many as 3 million of these people internally displaced by the military operations and the drones - their homes, peace and lives losing their continuity forever. One thing people like him can not admit is that drone attacks violate the human rights of the people of FATA, are illegal and contravene international humanitarian law. Many United States civil liberties oppose drones, doubt their precision, and argue against the lack of transparency and accountability in the system.
Drones are terrorism too. State sanctioned.
Sarcastically, he comments in another article:
It is a sad fact that some Pakistanis use more time protesting about trivial issues such as blasphemy, gang-rape cases and the fourteen people who were killed in the only suicide attack that has ever taken place in this country, instead of protesting against the drones that have killed billions of Pakistanis. But then, such misguided people are all alcoholics, drug addicts and believers of free sex, so one cannot expect them to speak out against the drones. They will all burn in hell. Inshahallah.
Why this idiotic and false dichotomy? Why does opposing drones somehow mean that you tacitly and implicitly support what the militants stand for? Why can't you be against drones as well as religious extremism and militancy? How deceptive of him to create a self righteousness around opposing the blasphemy laws and violence against women and mock people opposing other forms of human rights violations and terrorism - drones.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, NFP says: "Now's the time for the United States to adjust its ways and try more to engage with the people of Pakistan through their representatives in the shape of the country's mainstream political parties."
This is obviously not true as many political parties are collaborating with the U.S. We have evidence of that through wikileaks. More importantly, this is said without any perspective on the U.S.'s role in the politics of the region, the agriculture, the trade agreements that affect the poor of the region, and whether it even makes sense to talk about soft interventions right now. Perhaps, what NFP needs is the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union to remind him that drone victims are people too - and that drones violate human rights. He would believe them, I think.