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Bigotry And Intolerance: We Are All Living In Attock

Allow me to help you process that little episode from Attock where a hapless Assistant Commissioner is facing weaponized takfir from random people. I wish to share a story set in Lahore.

I’m outside a government building, waiting for my security clearance to come through, so I can enter. It is a daily simulation of life under some sort of foreign occupation. But after all, it’s not what it seems. It’s for our own good, so I’ll be cheerful. It’s raining and you need good cheer.

One of the ladies “manning” the beeping doorway at the check-post is kind to me in general, and I try my best to convey my high regard for her, whenever I’m there. Other guards who know me apologize for making me wait. I tell them I’ll wait as long as needed. It’s raining but good cheer will carry us through this.

Presently, one of the armed guards saunters up to the lady at the beeping doorway. He says in a conspiratorial mutter, “You saw that girl that went in, just now?” The security lady leans in, curiously. I prick up my ears, ever willing to eavesdrop on gossip, to pass the time in the rain.

She’s married, you know. To a Hindu!” says the guard.

A Hindu? And she’s a Muslim?” asks the nice lady who just let her through. “Yes!” confirms the guard.

Isn’t she ashamed of herself? She should be beaten up for becoming a Hindu! Does anyone abandon their religion like that? They should get her for this. Shameless!” opines the lady, in a tone of polite, measured indignation.

I do a little exercise every time such a thing happens. I suppress any surprise. I learned from Hannah Arendt that whatever this is, it is completely banal. I take her very seriously. So I begin to wonder about practical things, instead of moral considerations. For instance, how the guard might have found out the religious and marital statuses of people that he waves through a check-post occasionally. Or how he might be so sure of it all.

I think to myself that it’s safe to rule out the possibility that one afternoon, the young woman shared all this with the guard on her way in.

They must have caught her some other way. How long could she have gotten away with it, anyway? You need to think about these things before you do something foolish with your life!

At that moment, my clearance arrives. The nice lady lets me through, beaming. We exchange our usual gestures of courtesy and goodwill.

I thank God that this security doorway has never beeped to betray the secrets hidden deep within my soul – as it perhaps did for the people being discussed by the security staff. That weekly security lapse allows me to function, just as we all do, in a state of taqiyya. Only mobs willing to rip limb from limb can afford to proclaim their faith here, such as it is.

Shamloo wrote in the context of Iran, but of course it applies just as much to Pakistan:

دهانت را می بویند

مبادا گفته باشی دوستت دارم

دلت را می بویند

روزگار غریبی است، نازنین

و عشق را

کنار تیرک راه بند

تازیانه می زنند

عشق را در پستوی خانه نهان باید کرد

They smell your mouth
Lest you have told someone:
I love you!
They smell your heart!

Such a strange time it is, my dear

And they punish Love
At thoroughfares
By flogging.
We must hide our Love in dark closets


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Naya Daur