The Arab Spring, a Christian terrorist overturning notions of associating extremism to a single race and religion and last if not the least, the London riots [ that should be finally putting to rest the practice of describing particular cultures and people of possessing a ‘special traditional proclivity’ to behave in such a manner thus deeming them inherently uncivilized ] – 2011 has been more or less, a year defined by change.
But for Pakistan, it has represented nothing but a painful aggravation of political, economic and social instability.
From Salman Taseer’s cold-blooded assassination, the ‘Raymond Davis Saga’, Operation in Abbotabad for Osama Bin Laden to the paroxysms of violence in Karachi exploding to become a siege of a reign of terror in the city.
Incidents of brutalities have now merged into the routines of the Pakistani, developing a great sense of vulnerability.
Also, the budding yet professionally weak media has caused an over-exposure of barbarities to people of all age groups, to the extent of imbuing [ albeit unintentionally one might suppose, in regard to how frequent such happenings take place in Pakistan; making their inclusion in the daily news permanent] dispassion and insouciance in them towards occurrences that should naturally elicit responses of shock and leave one in a jarring spell.
Coupled with these, the contagion of being stung by the helplessness of not being able to stop this savagery has contributed immensely to the epidemic of hopelessness in the country.
The convergence of all these has affected the country, inevitably, with the disease of desensitization.
Joseph Stalin is to have allegedly said:
‘The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.’
Nothing better illustrates the human propensity of desensitization. The human mind perceives a single death or loss with genuine compassion and sympathy but when it comes to a loss of more lives, it simply can not grasp it with the same rush of emotions.
The grip of those emotions loosens with the loss being bigger.
Keith Payne, a social psychologist, excellently notes in an article of his ‘Why is the death of one million a statistic; Why we feel the least when we are needed the most.’ :
‘Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said that the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic. And Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.”
When Stalin and Mother Teresa agree on a point, I sit up and pay attention. It turns out that the human tendency to turn away from mass suffering is well documented. Deborah Small and Paul Slovic have termed this phenomenon the collapse of compassion.
It’s not simply that as the number of victims goes up, people’s sympathy levels off. No, when the numbers go up, the amount of sympathy people feel goes perversely down..’
One witnesses the very ‘Collapse of compassion’ in Pakistanis as the state of Karachi deteriorates and corpses over corpses pile up as the result of being caught up in the crossfire between the thugs, goons of different political parties fighting for the hegemony of the city.
‘The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said 800 people have been killed in Karachi so far this year, compared with 748 in 2010’. With some reporting the number to be 1450 on social networking sites.
Changing channels, shifting the topic of conversation and blocking all confabulations related to Karachi are the new trends for coping with the reality of the ‘City of Lights’ having been made into nothing but a graveyard where some of the living reside. This also applies to the killings in Balochistan, murders of Hazaras and suicide attacks.
This desensitization has also given birth to the ‘Bystander Effect’ becoming widespread in Pakistan of which beastialities such as that which took place in Sialkot are a consequence.
At TEDxPSU, Sam Richards says in ‘A Radical Experiment in Empathy’:
‘Step outside of your tiny little world. Step inside the tiny little world of somebody else. And then do it again, and do it again and do it again. And suddenly all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex world and they build this big complex world…Attend to other lives, other visions’.
By turning away from the cruelties in Karach or elsewhere in this manner, one insults the humanity that is within all since birth. Pakistanis need to abandon this desensitization and find the empathy that they have lost.
If people are affected adveresly in any place in Pakistan, nonchalance towards them is nonchalance towards the whole of the country because those people and that place too, is a part of the country.
The inferno that has set ablaze different areas of Pakistan will eventually devour all of the country if the pathetic numbness towards it is maintained by the rest of the nation while it chars countless Pakistanis mentally, physically and emotionally.
Tahmina Durrani wrote in the last pages of ‘My Feudal Lord’ :
‘Silence condones injustice, breeds subservience and fosters malignant hypocrisy’
This silence, fathered by despair arising from the feeling that the people are powerless, needs to be torn too.
It wouldn’t be fallacious to say that it is Pakistan’s mortifyingly obscene acclimation and acquiescence with the exacerbation of the state of affairs around them that has quite generously contributed to their greater intensification and added to the confidence of the perpetrators and miscreants.
Condemnable compliance with the worsening environment has been once again, been jumbled with heroic grit and resilience.
The Quran states:
‘Verily Allah Will Not Change The Conditions of Those Who Do Not Wish To Change Their Conditions Themselves.’ [13:11]
This isn’t a mere message for only Muslims but for all mankind, keeping in mind that it is a fact.
Unless and until the people themselves transform their wish to change their conditions into action, all will remain static and stagnant.
An invitation to a colloquium ‘Public Action in Pakistan: Vacillating between Apathy and Anger’ faultlessly elucidated the problem in Pakistan:
‘While noticing the non-presence of robust movements of social action in Pakistan, the academic wisdom identifies the supposedly widespread ‘apathy’ towards public action in Pakistani society as one of the major reasons.
Dubbed at times as social malady, many observers claim that apathy is a commonly observed phenomenon in developing countries. Its symptoms include lack of participation and social responsibility resulting in meek public actions, allowing either the status quo or worsening of individual rights and civil liberties.
It is indeed true that the pattern of public reaction in Pakistan is sewn on its oscillation between anger and apathy, eventually halting at inaction and so, there is a striking void left by the nonexistence of dynamic social movements/activism. Social malady at its best.
One may attribute this to six factors;
1. Economic Conditions: most Pakistanis are engrossed in earning enough to put a four-square meal on the tables for their children and affording the basic necessities of life.
2. Discouraging situations in the country, desensitization and lack of trust in the elected representatives in regard to the possibility of their demands being fulfilled even if social movements are initiated or of a change occurring.
3. Disinterest and apathy: Many merely believe that the country is already in an abyss of disaster and the chances of bringing a change have dispersed into nothingness. This despondency lures them into adopting and accepting inertia.
4. Lack of appropriate knowledge pertaining to social actions: Majority in Pakistan wants to contribute in making a difference but they seek a set of guidelines, information and a direction for this [ Ways in which they could participate in social movements/groups/NGOs etc] which none have thought of providing them even now.
5. Limited vision and objectives of existing activist organizations that either do not strive to involve more people with them or are not determined enough to bring their organization or cause into peoples’ attention.
6. Political idealism: The general perception in Pakistan is that a change can only be brought through political means and figures even in matters of the society and community that they are well-capable of changing themselves.
Anyhow, what must be realized is that the public reaction in Pakistan must stop swinging and swaying between anger and apathy and must be converted into social activism and public action.
Be it in the form of peaceful protests, strikes, boycotts, demonstrations or internet activism. People must learn to register their dissent, initiate plans to make their demands met and must not be desensitized into inaction which has paralyzed the country.
Can one expect the politicians elected from the people to lend the mayhem, that has cloaked this country, some consideration if the people themselves do not seem to be burdened with the distress for it?
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” — Edmund Burke.
~ Hafsa Khawaja