Monday, June 20, 2011


I love and hate discussion threads under news pieces. They are fascinating, infuriating and so addictive that I once started writing my term paper for anthropology based entirely on YouTube debates, but changed the topic because it wasn't worth it to ingest that much stupidity for one paper. Take for example any music video from the subcontinent and glance at the comments below. Within ten or fifteen of them, someone will have raised the vital question of whether the musician/song/lyrics are derived from Hindu, Muslim or Sikh tradition. Within another five, there will be a lively discussion about people's mothers and sisters, with plenty of caste-conscious epithetsthrown in for good measure. I think YouTube comments are where I learned most about  penny-pinching banias, sewer-cleaning chamars, homosexual Pathans, sand nigger Musalmans and "d1rty guRlzz"-though the latter are of course ubiquitous on the internet.

But back to my original point, which is not asinine remarks about whether Bulleh Shah would have been Indian or Pakistani, but burger babies such as myself and their comments on the daily news. I say "their" and not "our" because burger though I may be by virtue of my residence, I try to not fall into the trap of acting exactly as mummydaddy as Karachi might expect me to act. And here we come to today's news article: 40 people mugged at T2F. Comments? 67. Content? Along the lines of, "I am furious...We must organize a protest...Let's show these worthless robbers what we're made of...I am enraged that someone is targeting a space for artists...How dare they rob an intellectual space?!" Just add a lot more exclamation marks, pseudonyms and spelling mistakes and you get the picture.

People's anger is legitimate, but it is lop-sided. Another news story from today: "Peshawar blast kills three, wounds ten." Comments? 0. Along the lines of, "Another bomb story from the Taliban province." One might say the disproportionately angry reaction to the T2F robbery is because it is a new kind of violent incident, one that we're not used to-after all, a few bombs go off every day and all terrorism news is old news. But it's not a new incident-it is the oldest of them all. So many people in Karachi get shot, mugged, robbed and generally terrorised every day that when I worked for the crime page of a newspaper, we had to choose the top 15 incidents every day to save space (which brings me to the next question of why the paper gave two columns to this story when they don't even run other mugging stories). There is nothing novel about armed men walking into a crowded public space and stealing cash and mobile phones, except that they are more likely to hit gold if they are in Defence than in say, Gulshan-e-Maymar, or some other place off the radar for DHA bubbleheads.

I completely sympathise with those who are feeling wounded by the violation of a place they hold sacred, simply because T2F is one of those rare places where intellectual growth is encouraged. But if we are to be intelligent, we must first be honest. Pakistan wouldn't desperately need places like T2F if the people who patronise it weren't so quick to polarise themselves from the rest of the country and blow their own tragedies out of proportion. Are you really going to attend the Facebook and Twitter protests for this? Are you going to spend an hour, or maybe even two, whining to your friends about how your own neighborhood is under attack now? Please consider volunteering at a low-income school, teaching a child who can't read or patronising local booksellers instead. Honestly, if we are ever to combat intellectual poverty, we can't do it alone on the second floor, crying about how the "other" Pakistanis are coming to get us in the comments section of the Express Tribune.


nuffsaid. said...

Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Anonymous said...

I really do share your love/hate but basically the curiosity to read comments under blogs, articles and youtube videos. I try to find arguments and counter arguments in order to help my self come towards a (relatively) rational, well reasoned opinion and also just to gauge the prevalent intellect and opinion amongst the so-called intellectuals, liberals, educated and i guess privileged enough-to-read the-english-articles-online community.

You bring up the point about how there was a large response to the looting at t2f where as the killing of tens of civilians everyday does not bring about the same.
Not trying to justify the prevalent apathy or resigned attitude towards violence, the 'everyday violence' and the state of the country but what are you supposed to write in response to the bomb blasts that happen everyday? You obviously condemn them, you are sad but not quite, you might pray for the victims, their families (i doubt though) and you continue on since you would seldom read a follow up story talking about an investigation or efforts to catch those responsible. But if such incidents take place every other day would you comment every other day too saying the same thing? and over time even for you your comments might not any significant meaning.
People certainly read the headline, very few would read the details because just by reading the headline they assume/predict the story, suicide bomber in a market, bomb in a car, innocent (unnamed common)people dead, no clue about the killer, fuzzy motives, and sometimes some group claims responsibility but with the way conspiracy theories exist in pakistan, we dont even know if that militant group exists and it might as well be CIA or RAW etc etc.
Its all too familiar for the reader and thus he doesn't feel the need point out the obvious over and over again!
And people write comments because they feel that they need to share their opinions and somehow hope that it would have an affect on others.
Further the victims are in most cases people in rural, tribal areas far flung in kohistan or pakhtunwa or places in karachi where "we" would seldom travel. Their families, friends and area residents are probably not your internet newspaper reader type and none of the internet newspaper types can really be empathetic and thus quite passive.
On the other hand t2F resonates amongst the younger, "burger" and I must say pseudo-intellectual population. And once their friends or their hangout spot in the posher (safer?!) place in the city is robbed, well all hell breaks loose in the comment section.
And measuring from the response somehow a robbery is more of a reason to solve this country's problems than the hardships of the masses and killing of the innocent.

Anonymous said...

Talking about T2F it seems to be a great idea but I wish the environment lived up to it. Only last weekend I was there for a talk by a young man talking about his experience in India. The venue, well, was filled by exactly the people who come to T2f ( and I can come up with a substantial check list on how to identify them, but I ll save it). Anyways the talk entailed one person's experience going to school in India and journeying around the country illegally(due to visa restrictions) and at most places pretending to be an indian tour guide to his gora friends because well the differences between us and them is probably just our muslim identity. In a nut shell, he somehow proves that he felt more at home there, he was accepted ( but acc. to me not as a pakistani since he'd pretended to be a tourguide). Indians of all sorts live together and they are prosperous and look at US!
The undertone more detectable in the q&a was that we are all the same, partition should not have happened, pakistan like israel is a state founded on the basis of religion, who is a pakistani? and is there any reason to be pakistani? what is national identity? what do we think about diversity? two nation theory was crap, and why did we spend time studying about people like shah walliullah who dont matter to us at all.
Expectedly the talk was met with some cheer by exactly the type of crowd I mentioned above. Apart from a couple mothers and an older gentlemen, the comments included "look at the country, the fundos, I have no reason to be a proud pakistani" "i am stuck with this passport" yaddi yadda!

I read your blog often, actually I have read all of your entries. Undoubtedly there is some great writing reflecting critical, intellectual thought and a genuine concern. You did major in history (focusing on South asia) and i was curious how you address these questions in a blog entry or even just a reply.
I was at the talk, I have had numerous(not so beneficial) debates with people about these very questions and I have somewhat formed an opinion. But it really doesn't end here for me I believe theres a lot more to this saga and my opinion needs to develop more deeper rooted arguments. So I am on a quest to ask these questions from people who might know what they are talking about or are also fellow curious souls...
And I pose the above questions to you with a sincere curiosity and interest to learn from other opinions which would allow for discourse, discussion, understanding, intellectual growth and idealistically solutions, actions and change. ( i apologize for the all-too-liberal-artsy terminology risking being considered a pseudo-intellectual myself)
How do you understand the creation of Pakistan? What is identity, national identity, a nation in particular who is a pakistani? What do you mean by a proud or not-so proud pakistani(whatever applies)? need and importance of diversity?

btw. I love India, in a lot of respects I wish we were like them and I am also kind of jealous of them as a nation or at least the nation I see on TV. We share culture, to a certain extent language but also the same problems, corruption, poverty, social issues etc. so according to you what does justify the existence of two separate nations?

s.e. said...

It's interesting how you've asked all the questions I'm grappling with these days-and have been grappling with for a few years now. I promise to answer with a whole blog very soon!

nuclearbattery said...

and I have a half written blogpost on similar thoughts, but never published it because I couldn't express it as powerfully as you did. So its funny, but I feel the same way about your blog.. I enjoy reading your posts so much and I hope you'll always keep writing where people can keep reading.

And, my blog isn't private- that was a whimsical temporary bout of uncertainty- which won't be materialising- so feel free to link wherever you like :)

Hope you're happy and had a great trip and are loving life.

s.e. said...

Thank you! I will be linking yours in that case-it made so much sense. No wonder it didn't ask me for verification when I signed in from a new computer.
I did have a great trip and I am loving life-something about living with a musician makes me feel very creative so hopefully it'll make me write :)