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.