Death of a Nation


*First posted on Pak Tea House.

Holding in the midst of political, social and economic storms, the Pakistan of today is a an unfortunate illustration of a national bedlam.

Unsurprisingly, death and destruction have now eased into the form of humdrum routinely occurrences for the people. Predictably throwing a cloak of desensitization over them; giving rise to apathy.

A rather common trend that has been nurtured in this environment is the juxtaposition of tragedies for comparisons to exhibit selectivity of people’s reactions and responses.

And it is to question this apathy that many have begun to question concern for and media coverage of a particular unpleasant incident; why one tragedy merits greater outrage or media attention than another. It is rather frequent to see comments on the social media touching upon drone attacks or killings in Karachi to ask why these do not yield as much public concern as other doleful incidents being usually currently shed light on, such as the shooting of Malala Yousafzai or the murder of Shahzeb Khan.

Stalin is to have allegedly said:

‘The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.’

Nothing better displays 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, 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.’ :  

jJoseph 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.’

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This is not to justify the expansion of apathy in Pakistan, but to merely accentuate the human tendency for it that has ballooned in the country into an even worse phenomenon, of selective apathy and empathy.

An evident outcome of the aforementioned commentary – of pitting one mishap and its casualties against another – has been the polarization which has thrust people into dissimilar angles of this discourse.

One may also ascribe this approach to the Pakistani proclivity for knitting and credulity to believe conspiracy theories; or looking for ulterior motive angles to certain events springing from the importance being attached to them.

There are those who point out how many are unmoved by tragedies which involve perpetrators that claim to be Muslims and will only raise voice when America or some Western state is at this end, and there are those who believe that a certain segment of the Pakistani society is only disturbed when religious minorities or supposedly ’liberal’ causes lie in the very plinth and base of those tragedies.

However, both agree that condemnation and outrage in Pakistan rests on whatever perpetuates one’s narrative or beliefs.

Therefore, there is no uniformity, but selectivity in outrage.

But most importantly, the reason is simple: challenging people’s indifference and nonchalance.

Ironically, this course often tumbles into the same cast that it seeks to break.

As in many instances of comparing two tragic incidents, these attempts to rouse attention or sympathy towards an ignored happening seem to degenerates into diminishing the value of and disregard for the lives lost in the first one, because the entire concept of comparing and contrasting deaths reeks of obscenity.

There is a great deal of truth in the issue of Pakistanis conveniently cherry picking certain appalling occurrences for grieving and clamoring, whilst amplifying the blithe thoughtlessness for other terrible incidents.

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But in reaching a point where we feel pitching tragedies against one another to raise and elicit equal compassion and commiseration for both and by doing so, we have let our collective morality and humanity slip between the cracks and diminish to specks.

Because surely when deaths are made to compete to be mourned, fouled and disregarded heartlessly to be given ascendancy over another, exploited to strengthen personal political arguments, ignored due to indifference and the solemnity they command consigned to oblivion, it signals nothing, but the death of a nation itself.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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