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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Murder, by any other name

By Saroop Ijaz
Published: October 22, 2011
The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk
It seems to be a season of protests and vigils in Pakistan. In recent days, we have seen people take to streets for assorted reasons ranging from electricity, loadshedding, Mumtaz Qadri, presumably Steve Jobs and now potentially Muammar Qaddafi. Amidst the news of the active population exerting their democratic right, there was one particular news item in this newspaper that perhaps was the most harrowing. It was a brief report of a vigil held last week in Lahore, in memory of the members of the Hazara community brutally being murdered in Quetta and the rest of Balochistan. Twenty-five people showed up, out of which seven were of Hazara origin. The display of utter lack of moral seriousness and even of the basic human emotion of empathy is shameful.
When Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was martyred, Lahore remained unmoved. In the case of the Hazaras, I doubt that a few outside the circle of the educated intellectuals (both real and pseudo) have any meaningful realisation of the extent of the barbarism being perpetrated upon the Hazaras. Even within those who at least acknowledge the existence of the violence, there is ambivalence in unequivocally condemning the violence. The principal debate it seems is on semantics and nomenclature, e.g. if the killing spree should be termed as ‘sectarian conflict’, ‘ethnic strife’ or the more graphic ‘genocide’, as if language and not murder is the primary issue here. The careful and meticulous usage of language is admittedly very significant in situations like this. Sectarian conflict is a hopelessly inexact term in the particular context. ‘Conflict’ summons to mind the existence of at least two opposing factions fighting it out, which is simply not true here. It is similar to using hollow terms currently en vogue such as extremists and fascists, both liberal and religious. The impetuous to using such gibberish is provided by the desire to remain ‘objective’ and not come out as an ideologue. I am afraid the luxury of maintaining a pretence of neutrality is no longer available to us. When one side is bullying, intimidating and murdering the other, it is not a conflict. It is an assault, and in cases of ethnic groups, the only appropriate terminology is either ‘cleansing’ or ‘genocide’. In the case of the Hazaras, there is clearly and unambiguously one side that is doing all the killing and the state establishment is either unbelievably incompetent or more likely complicit.
Christopher Hitchens, writing about the Armenia genocide, quotes the US ambassador in Constantinople in 1915, Henry Morgenthau. The term ‘genocide’ had not been coined yet in 1915, but Ambassador Morgenthau wrote to his government, describing the systematic slaughter of the Armenians as a ‘race murder’. At some level, ‘race murder’ is a more vivid and intense term than the now legally neutralised and objectified ‘genocide’. The precise connotation of what constitutes ‘genocide’ is important at a policy level, but that still does not explain why 25 people would show up at a vigil held at the Liberty Roundabout in Lahore. The rest are certainly not waiting for it to become genocide in the strictly legal sense before they decide to protest, at least I dearly hope not.
The intellectual elite presumably maintain their ‘objectivity’ because they do not have a dog in this hunt. Speaking for the Hazaras is not the cause currently deemed fashionable enough. The primary reason for that seems to be that they are too far away to make us really agitated as opposed to loadshedding, which is here and now. Let me assure you that if we are worried about descending into the prehistoric Dark Ages, it is not the electricity that we need to really fret about, it is the cowardly, criminal silence on the ‘race murder’ of the Hazaras. Earlier this month, the anniversary of the October 2005 earthquake passed. I know this seems outrageously callous and cruel, but the collapsing of the Margalla Tower in Islamabad probably helped millions in Kashmir and the north (not for long though). Margalla Tower and the infinitely tragic loss of innocent lives there immediately brought the stinging realisation that this not a calamity on other people, it is a disaster for us. Hazara and Balochistan unfortunately do not have that quality, yet. I quiver to think of a similar scenario happening in Islamabad and Lahore which would wake us up from our abysmal, apathetic slumber.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2011.

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