Is it time to rise above? – 25 May 2023

Ever since the onset of ‘Project Imran Khan’, the nation saw the start of a terrible journey towards extreme polarization, division, and intolerance towards dissent. PTI followers increased over the years, and this increased volume translated into a bitter war of words on social media, drawing rooms, classroom and elsewhere.

Later, innovations like WhatsApp chats/chat rooms, TikTok and other social media applications took these mini wars to a different level altogether and made them more personal, direct and – sadly – uglier. While this continued at one end, what broke on the side were friendships, relationships, bonds and unions of people everywhere in the country. It created walls of hatred, displeasure, anguish and even trauma.

This toxic environment peaked during the 2018 elections, and thereon a bitter sense of smugness and mockery began where all those who opposed the PTI were seen as morally bankrupt, outright stupid and, in some cases, even anti-state. Today’s reality stems from this period. However, today is a different day; today is a different time; and today needs a different attitude, approach and action. Today, in the name of Pakistan, we need semblance, reflection, forgiveness and positivity.

We have seen some horrific and vile wars on a ‘them vs us’ basis for more than a decade. Enough tears, heartbreaks, negativity and anxiety have emerged over all these years between families, friends, neighbours and even acquaintances. Many have said and stuck to words said on social media and WhatsApp groups that they would have never uttered during a face-to-face encounter.

From Imran Khan’s rise to his forming a government and from his losing the vote of no-confidence to the May 9 attacks, we have seen the worst of people across the political divide. The filthy language, aggressive tones, verbal backlash and immense trolling became normal. Today is a different day, and two weeks into the events of May 9 and its severe reaction demand some sort of semblance for the sanctity of this nation’s nerves and minds. It is time when many need to pull back and draw no-go lines. We need makers, joiners and helpers, not breakers, destroyers and polluters. We need to take stock of everything done so far and simply pause. In short, a ceasefire is the need of the hour.

Reflection is a tool few find any use of, and often we don’t find a reason to introspect. PTI supporters need to sit back and reflect on how they dealt with and treated those on the other sides of the political divide. Supporters of other political parties need to reflect on the kind of terms made to describe and mention those who supported the PTI. It is a good time to think back on all those arguments, fights and language that we threw at others. Just because we had many egging us on or supporting whatever we said, did not imply that all we said or wrote was right or it made sense. We all need to reflect on how our choice of words and language added velocity to the further polarization of Pakistani society.

I think it would not be unfair to mention the word ‘forgiveness’. Any recourse to our absurd actions of the past has to start from the simple words like ‘I am sorry’. Many need to rise above themselves and seek forgiveness through a call, message or physical meeting. It is time to heal and sit together in peace. It will take one small gesture to plaster the wounds. One small step can blind the bitter and ugly past and disagreements.

So much has happened and so much more will happen but nothing or no political head or personality is bigger than our blood relations, friendships and bonds. We can well be related and be really close friends despite having opposing political views. I hope all these years of bickering and losses must have taught many of us to rise above ourselves and mend fences even if we are the first ones to apologize.

This brings up a necessary follow-up to the above. Irrespective of our political ideologies, beliefs and following, we as citizens of this country need to stand on one platform when it comes to democracy, the constitution and the laws of the land. We all need to demand a right to peaceful protest, but we all also need to demand an unconditional condemnation of violent protests where state and private properties are burnt and attacked at ease and with acceptance.

We ought to demand the arrests of all those who caused the mayhem of May 9 through their incitements or violent actions but should also demand a fair trial and due process and ensure that civilians are tried in civilian courts. We must demand a crackdown on peddlers of fake news, violence, unrest, hate and lies, but in the same breath should demand them being produced in courts and given access to a legal team to represent their stance. We must ask to go after the attackers of army installations and national monuments, but should ask them to distinguish between them and bystanders and passers-by.

We need to fight our own prejudice, hate and anger and demand fairness for even those who we are convinced were on the wrong side of history. No matter what is said, seen or heard, even people like Khadija Shah, Imran Riaz, Shireen Mazari and many others deserve a court, and not a media, trial. They too deserve a fair and transparent process of justice and not an unaccountable, unfair or nontransparent system of justice. We may hate and ridicule these people. We may nurse a thousand grievances and issues with them. We may simply hate them for doing horrible things to us through their words or actions. But as civilized, educated humans we cannot stand for anything beyond the realms of legality, normalcy and humanity.

Many of us stood with the plight of the marginalized Baloch, the traumatized PTM, the suffering Hazaras, the brutalized transgender, the stigmatized women and all those suppressed by the high, mighty and powerful of the country. I recall many of us stood against the political victimization of the opposition, journalists, ordinary citizens, etc under Imran Khan’s regime too. Thus why stop today. Just because these are the same people who stood by and mocked when others were at the receiving end during the ‘same-page’ era?

Then what will be the difference between those vilifying yesterday and those watching the same today? It is insane, wrong and abysmal not to stand up and speak for all the Khadijas and Mazaris today for you are not just asking for a fairground for them. In essence, you are demanding a just system of fair play for all.

The nation will accept and respect whatever decisions emerge from such a transparent, fair and accountable process. Otherwise, the nation will not heal and reconcile and in fact will be more divided, angrier and much more chaotic. Therefore in the name of Pakistan and in the name of millions of Pakistanis we demand fairness, equity and only the law of the land to prevail.

The writer is an educationist and International baccalaureate (IB) consultant. He tweets: @TBandey

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