Trying to figure out whether the terrorist attack on the Ismaili community was more horrifying, or the response of our ‘awakened’ generation, makes for a sorry state of mind that one is left to struggle with. Our condolences and condemnations have being reduced toputting up display pictures and status updates on social media showing our disgust at the attacks. Those of us lucky to have a slot in the op-ed pages of newspapers will race to write our ‘expert’ analyses blaming either the government or the intelligence agencies, or both. The moment being just right, depending on the inclination, we will set about putting forward our personal agendas arguing either in favour of secularism as the only way to end this barbarity, or the implementation of ‘true’ Islamic ideals as a better way. In the hours after the attack, the debate delved into deciphering Jinnah’s Pakistan and Iqbal’s dream.
And in the midst of this all, sufferings of the Ismaili community may well be forgotten, with social media and op-ed pages returning to the normalcy of political rhetoric and government-bashing in a few days. Meanwhile, the government quarters following the social media trend after the attack will gauge the response, and depending on the public intensity, will do one of the three: condemn the attack in the strongest words, promise an investigation, form a commission. By now, even the government is aware that the ‘rage’ won’t go beyond social media.
Indeed, gone are the days of revolution. Social media, contrary to popular belief, has only entrenched the status quo — not challenged it, something that even Imran Khan may have come to terms by now. People venting frustration and anger on social media rather than doing any real damage on the ground may well be a blessing in disguise for the establishment. With crisis after crisis, this has become a repetitive, almost monotonous exercise of our ‘activist’ generation, and the response of the government has become equally predictable for the right reasons.
Political leaders lead long marches or will take to the streets for seven months for stolen mandates, something which is yet to be proven, but are absent when it comes to taking the government to task on issues that actually matter — rights of minorities and those of people belonging to certain sects. No ‘change-makers’ or revolutionary leaders are in sight beyond ‘strong’ scripted statements of condemnation when people are dying in the heart of our major cities.
Leaders are leaders, but what about our civil society? Unfortunately, when activism becomes an industry — a platform for our privileged class that has idolised, since infancy, the likes of Che Guevara or Simon Bolivar, to either find solitude in the idea of ‘contributing’ back to society, jumpstart their political and social careers, or even worse, finding shortcuts to becoming international celebrities — the cause is lost.
Protest after protest reveals the same story: a handful of people, truckloads of cameras, and record-breaking tweets. Some may argue that this is bravery. But is it? Bravery would be to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ahmadis in Pakistan when the police raid their places of worship and houses. There was a time when academic activists like Eqbal Ahmad stood up bravely for Ahmadis. That’s bravery, and sacrifice that never got media attention or a photo session. Ahmad was from that generation of Pakistani activists that could give up the right to a passport, go to jail, and suffer for its principles without caring about the mileage on media.
Today, however, in a society where activism becomes media-driven and borderline populist, we will keep producing revolutionary heroes and saviours who may even be celebrated in history, but little difference would come in the lives of the persecuted sections of the population, which will continue to either suffer or silently leave Pakistan dejected both by the terrorists and the ‘saviours’.