- Published in Daily Times on February 02, 2014
By Aisha F. Sarwari
In 1878, the US passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, also known as the Third Force Act, to authorise President Ulysses S Grant to declare martial law, impose penalties against terrorist organisations and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The name of the Ku Klux Klan was derived from the Greek word ‘kyklos’, meaning ‘circle’.
The KKK believed in racial superiority of the whites and in violence to further their plans to disenfranchise blacks. The Klan evolved into a terrorist organisation that brought mayhem, fear and chaos. They were responsible for thousands of deaths: they lynched mobbed blacks, burned down black churches, raped women, murdered civil rights workers, murdered children and terrorised communities for over a century. They whipped freedmen’s schools’ teachers and burnt their schools. Their signature trait would be to form a circle around their target before they would destroy it.
Many spiritualists believe that to kill something you form a circle around it. The worst thing that you can do to societies is to form them in closed circles, surround them with people who have the same beliefs and to congregate them around the same reinforcing ideas — week after week — because eventually those societies will wither away. Circles are very powerful. Even more powerful can be those who want to break the destructive powers using the state’s will. Ulysses S Grant won office with the slogan, ‘let us have peace’ and categorically named the enemy, the KKK, and eventually brought it down.
When it comes to our version of sociopaths, the Taliban, the government is waiting for the century to turn it seems, waiting for the blood to spill red perhaps. It seems to not be enough that in the Mastung blast a week ago, a bus full of pilgrims was blown up. The Shia Hazara victims — men, women and children — were easily identifiable and defenceless. It seems to not be enough that a young boy named Aitzaz Hasan gave up his life trying to protect his schoolmates from a suicide bomber in Khyber Pakhtnkhwa. And how do we react? We choose to focus, instead, on preventing young minds from being ‘corrupted’ by the book I am Malala. We are fearful instead of ideas in that book. We are rewarding the mind that survived the Taliban’s bullet by closing our doors on it.
While we misplace our fears and priorities, the Taliban’s recent attack is on the Pakistani media. In an attempt to muzzle it, they have released a list of names of journalists they will target. To begin with, the media was already controlled by the Taliban. Knowing that the Taliban were watching, the tone, agenda-setting and the representation was largely something that sought their acceptance. The media even went ahead to air appeals from the Taliban itself. However, there were exceptions to this grovelling. There was an elite group of news reporters, anchors, opinion makers and thought leaders who cared to distribute information based on what the person in the voting booth needs to know; to inform people that their country is not the chosen one, but far from it if the indicators were to be believed and to hold elected officials accountable to their actions and comments. These veterans were not dictated by advertisements that push for infotainment — they truly cared about serving as the fifth pillar of the state no matter how nascent the media industry is. It is these people who are mostly on the list.
These people strengthened democracy at a time when we are just learning to stand up, our knees weary. It is the bolstering of democracy that the Taliban are deathly afraid of. It is the very instrument that can be used to exorcise the demons of bigotry, supremacy and the perversely destructive power that comes from it. The narrative of Islam as a peaceful religion has been hijacked, tragically, in an irreversible manner because we have let the barbarians claim it instead of the Sufis. Probably also because those with the will to die to promote savagery outnumber those that want peace, 1,000 to one. When Salmaan Taseer was murdered, the state showed new depths of weakness and, as a result, thousands more embraced cynicism. The circle grew.
The state needs to protect itself. Self-interest is the greatest morality. Rather than play to the narrative the Taliban furnish — of fairy tales — the state needs to stand up for its children. There can be no waiting when our posterity is attacked. In Hangu, on January 26, 2014, six children were killed while they played in their playground. If those in power — politicians and military generals (who have spent most of their lives serving blue prints of housing societies) — think that their own children will be spared if they wait, buy time and do not act, they are wrong.
More dangerous than their children under threat would be their children hated by thousands of country people who themselves get tossed onto madmen’s whims to save those who are considered more supreme. The mothers of the children who have been killed by the Taliban will form a more powerful circle around the necks of those who did this to them, and those who watched and did not act when they could.