Ten years later

“I was afraid of the dark. It never happened before 9/11. It was a sense of security having that light on,” says Artie Van Why, a witness to the September 11 attacks in anarticle on bbc.co.uk. The story talks about the trauma that Van Why went through and how the harrowing memories of 9/11 made it too painful for him to continue working at his office which was located close to the towers. Before long he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

George W. Bush made a highly debatable decision when he responded to the attacks by attacking Afghanistan, and later Iraq. For the 3,000 civilian deaths of 9/11, the United States butchered thousands of civilians in Afghanistan (women and children amongst them). Under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was invaded and massacred, and what was once a flourishing Baghdad was reduced to rubble. According to WikiLeaks, the civilian death toll in Iraq was over 92,000 deaths.

The ‘War on Terror’ continued with Pakistan being forced to become a coalition partner with the United States and a never-ending stream of drones still continues to annihilate the tribal areas. Noam Chomsky in his columnon 9/11 titled ‘Was war the only answer’ explains that the attack on Pakistan has only radicalised the nation further, and that America has in fact helped Bin Laden on his mission. “That Washington seemed bent on fulfilling bin Laden’s wishes was evident immediately after the 9/11 attacks,” says Chomsky.

Simon Jenkins of the Guardian agrees to that and insists that waging war was not in America’s best interests. Anti-American sentiments were fuelled when America attacked a hapless Afghanistan, and later Iraq and then carried out drone attacks in Pakistan. Daniel Byman from the Brookings Institution (an American think-tank) suggests that drone strikes may kill “10 or so civilians” for every militant killed. In contrast, the CIA believes that since 2010, no civilians have been killed in the attacks — only militants were killed. Civilian deaths are seldom reported and when we hear of the casualties, they are given that seemingly benign terminology: collateral damage’. Whilst we have thousands of 9/11 survivor stories like the one mentioned in the beginning, somehow, Western media has failed to produce similar news stories that talk about the suffering of a little girl in Iraq, or someone in Afghanistan, or someone in Pakistan whose school was blown up in the fighting instigated by a nation once highly esteemed in the world.

“Pakistanis are too poor to go and seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. They also realise that the trauma is far from over,” writes Mohammed Hanif in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section. Indeed, poverty-stricken individuals in Pakistan have more pressing concerns such as proper meals and potable water.

That is most certainly not to belittle the crime that was 9/11 or the sufferings of those who went through that horrific incident. I only wish to present a simple question — why is it that when Muslims kill it is called ‘terrorism’ or ‘crime against humanity’ and when the United States massacres anyone in broad daylight, with the aid of men such as Tony Blair, we dismiss it as though the blood of those being killed is of lesser value? Is it fair to clothe the butchery of innocent civilians, who get killed alongside so called ‘militants’ under the garb of ‘collateral damage’? Moreover, why isn’t the Western media powerful enough to expose the true situation in Palestine, where the most horrific injustices take place under the approving eye of the United States?

War has been detrimental for the United States economically too. The economy collapsed after billions of dollars were deployed to fund the wars which many noted thinkers and writers have termed a mistake. The spillway effect has been the worst recession the world has seen in recent times.

There is no doubt about the fact that the attacks on the twin towers were truly terrible and every such action or intention by the militants has been condemned by Muslims all around the world, as it should be. However, America has achieved little in terms controlling terrorism – for every civilian murdered by American troops, a new Bin Laden is born. The word ‘jihad’ is in rampant misuse and young people are brainwashed as they happily blow themselves up in the name of Islam. Radicalism has placed its feet on firmer ground than before as militants use America’s crimes to fuel sentiment against America.

Amidst all this, Islam and Muslims have taken the most serious bashing. Anyone with a beard and a cap is automatically a ‘fundamentalist’, women with hijab are looked at sceptically as though they are oppressed and opting for ‘madressa’ for your child is a definite no-no — even if all they do there is teach the Arabic language.

Ten years down the line, we as a global community are worse off. Life on this planet becomes increasingly more dangerous as a doomed war continues, and we wander farther away from peace and stability. One wonders though, how Artie Van Why would have taken it if something like 9/11 happened on a daily basis, and that too for years. Someone in Iraq would know.


First published here: http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/09/ten-years-later.html

Playground for bullies

First published in GN

gulfnews : Playground for bullies.

The car lurches to an ungainly stop, as we inch along on a snail’s pace on an extraordinarily congested Faisal Road in Karachi. People appear to be in a mad frenzy to get home, so much so that each bus or truck I spot has scores of people sitting on its roof, because political unrest severely hampers public transport. People clamber upon the buses that are still running, and finding no available seats they gladly ride al fresco. I hear the wailing of a siren in the distance, and my lips move feverishly, hoping, praying, that I reach home in one piece.

I did make it home safely after an extremely disturbing hour on road, but sadly many others did not. Over the last few days, more than a hundred people, civilians, (children amongst them) have been brutally murdered, whilst many have been maimed and crippled for life. We watched the news horror-struck as the death toll kept rising, and political parties and ministers issued statements that, as usual, were of little consequence.

Huddled inside the confines of our homes, those of us who live in or regularly visit Karachi know what terrorism; brutal and untamed, really feels like. We have experienced first-hand what it is like to feel fear (bordering on paranoia) for our lives, hoping our death will not be just another statistic in the blood-fest.

This sprawling metropolis is the financial hub of the country where people from all across Pakistan have migrated to make a living, and generates 70% of the total annual tax revenue collected by the government. The ‘City of Lights’ as Karachi is (somewhat inappropriately) called is one of the world’s largest cities in terms of population, and is almost four times larger than Hong Kong in square area. Unfortunately, it has also served as a battleground for ruling political parties MQM, ANP and PPP.

In the 1980’s ethnic and sectarian violence first marred the landscape, and in the 1990’s the situation aggravated. The average citizen of Karachi in those days was used to ‘halaat kharab’ (tense situation), but hope was always around the corner, and each new regime brought with it a wave of much needed optimism. Cut back to the 2000’s and the situation has not improved. According to human rights organisations, 775 people died in political and sectarian shootings and bomb attacks in Karachi in 2010. The BBC reported on the fifth of July this year (before the recent massacre took place) that in the first half 2011, 1100 people have been shot dead in Karachi in severe political unrest. Statistics suggest that the condition is worsening alarmingly. Add to it incidents such as the killing of a civilian Sarfraz Shah, a man who was shot by the Rangers at point-blank range as he begged for life and one can say without a shadow of doubt that Karachi is a perilous place.

Is there no hope for the people of Karachi? Must we live in constant fear, as we witness, every few days, something simply atrocious? Is there no one who can stand up to this cruelty which has plagued the city?

The recent spate of attacks was centred on areas like Qasba Colony, Orangi Town and Kati Pahari where people belonging to low-income groups reside in unbearably filthy conditions. Clean water is accessible only to a lucky few and the demand for electricity far exceeds supply, meaning power cuts for long hours are a norm. Health and education services are rudimentary if at all available. Must these people located in slums who are already disenfranchised, and already in need of aid, suffer in a far more grievous way because of the terrorists who attack their children, homes, shops and even hospitals, mosques and police stations? Is there no mercy in the hearts of those who call themselves human-beings? Strikes happen on a regular basis, and everything is closed down, hampering the already beleaguered economy of Pakistan. People like rickshaw drivers, fruit vendors and builders who earn a daily wage are hit the hardest.

As of now the outlook appears more bleak than anyone, including this writer, who has always called Karachi home would like to admit. Solving the day to day problems of the common man is a far cry, here even the death toll is viewed cynically, treated as a pattern and accepted as a harsh reality. Karachi has turned into a playground for the bullies, who happen to be political parties and one-upmanship happens in the most bizarre way – cold-blooded butchery of people. After all being the more dominant, successful political party is far more important than the loss of an innocent life, right? One hopes that the political parties currently causing havoc reach some kind of agreement with each other and what is essentially a wonderful city with immense potential for growth can survive in peace. One hopes for hope in the hearts of the embittered, jaded citizens of Karachi.