Anatomy of the tongue

When one’s voice is muted, it helps to be introspective. It helps to wonder if it was silenced by society and the general construct of what is acceptable speech or if you had given up on your beliefs voluntarily, the equivalent of slicing your tongue. If it is the former, you must know that you are a hero. Perhaps born at a time too early, like Galileo. Ice your tongue, as if it were in a morgue. Wait. Someone may come and breathe you alive a few generations later if you are lucky and then you can continue your sermon. In the case of the latter, that you had given up on your beliefs before you were forced to, congratulate yourself, you are a hero of the other kind. The dime a dozen kind, the normal kind, the kind with a self-preservation instinct. Pakistan is full of them. They go the extra mile. They support violence against those with a tongue. That is how they validate their own behaviour.
There are rules for speaking up in this country. If you want to speak your mind and that mind does not construct reality as the conformists construct it, you are in deep stormy waters. One of the rules is that you have to be fortified to be able to do that. The other is that you have to be willing to retreat if you want to be willing to breathe. The last and most important rule is that you have to let go of the currency of integrity. If you speak from that place, you will be preyed on as would be your weaknesses and you will abandon it like a cowardly soldier.
A few things do not work well for the refusenik, the rebel or the reformer: lawlessness, an abundance of black laws and the fact there are not too many that are like you. In fact you can count the like-minded on your fingers and many even among those could be from an era that belongs to the dead. The dead rarely come to anyone’s rescue. When you call on them they call on you. Pakistan is among the worst countries for journalists; you cannot, for instance, question the role of a few holy cows. Everything else, however, goes. Scan the discourse that takes place on television and the press: hate speech, threats, slander and libel.
A political leader threatened to hang police officers with his own bare hands if his party workers were harassed while another asked his workers to avenge his death by attacking our sitting government. Religious leaders decree death upon ‘apostates’ and non-believers regularly. This is all of course fair game. Rule number one you see: have tongue? Be fortified.
There is also another more interesting way that the manual for thought rebels offers the non-conformists if they want to live respectably in this country: they can be extremely vague. They can mean everything at the same time and nothing at all. Be only as specific as your daily horoscope and, no matter what happens, do not name names. Preferably ask a lot of questions that have even less specific answers. This strategy is guaranteed to win you a column or, at the least, a television show where you can do more of the same.
The problem with a country that curtails freedom of speech from the have nots is that it is in great danger of becoming fascist; committing genocides and endorsing them, covering mass murders, muffling resistance through torture brutality and missing persons, and above all popularising myths about why the country was created in the first place.
Pakistan is not a simple story. Attempts to simplify it have always ended up taking it down the path of exclusivism and creating another, different Pakistan for non-Muslims. Simplifying it expands the power of the simple-minded who want to fill up craters with the corpses of those who do not follow their brand of Islam. This is dangerous because the trend will reach a point where the politics of difference will lead to incredible amounts of mayhem and bloodshed, not just for Christians and Hindus but also for people who fall into the various sects of Islam.
We gained our independence this month in 1947 so we could be free. Freedom comes from the ability to yell an alarm and course correct when heading towards an iceberg. It is only if we cultivate respect for those to speak their mind when we do not agree with them that we will truly honour our independence and the freedom that our forefathers granted us.

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