Haal Rode suicide —Ejaz Haider

The civilised world would not accept becoming “morally sound” on the basis of terrorist threats or even for the terrorists, whatever the basis of their ideology, to decide what is morally right or wrong

Lahore’s Hall Road has a subterranean layer. This underground Hall Road caters to the libido of the young and old in Lahore. It may be committing suicide. Here’s how it goes.

A news item in this newspaper tells us that traders on Hall Road burnt a large pile of “obscene” CDs “in the presence of District Co-ordination Officer Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta on Friday after unidentified, suspected terrorists threatened to attack the market.” Apparently, the “unidentified extremists had warned the traders… against selling ‘immoral’ CDs through an anonymous letter”. Talk of misplaced, dangling and squinting modifiers, offences worse than a terrorist threat. Flay the subber of this story, I say.

So, what did the traders do? They raised banners with anti-terrorist slogans but said they were frightened, nonetheless, and therefore the CDs must be burnt. The DCO of course was present on the occasion and it doesn’t seem he was unhappy by what was happening.

Nothing illustrates our confusion like this incident does. We may not like obscenity, leave aside my grave scepticism over this statement for now, but should we let a terrorist threat determine the probity of our conduct?

There are two issues here; one relates to the freedom of making a choice, the other to conflating sin and crime.

Does choice lie with the individual and, in and through a suitable system made up of formal and informal institutions, with the collection; or is it a matter to be decided by a bunch of people fired up with some ideology which is ahistorical and millenarian?

Similarly, does sin rank higher on the scale of offences than crime? Will we let sin be eradicated through a criminal act? Remember the man who shot dead a woman legislator because it was sinful for her to have come out in public?

Important questions these because they cannot be swept aside simply because the other category we are dealing with, “obscenity” in this case, doesn’t sit well with our sense of social virtue — or shall I say our public sense of social virtue.

Thieving is generally not accepted, though neither is it acceptable now, as it once was, that a minor going hungry for a few days could be hanged to death outside Old Bailey simply for stealing an apple. Would the police be happy with a terrorist threat directed towards the thieves, which can actually get all of them to seek penance and never steal again?

Or will our sense of social virtue be satisfied if terrorists were to begin to cut up prostitutes like Jack the Ripper, prostitution being offensive and sinful, forget its being the world’s oldest profession?

Forgive my saying so but I find something innately wrong with a sense of piety that is prepared to put up with terrorism to cleanse society of its so-called moral wrongs.

Morality tends towards black and white; life lives mostly in shades of grey. This is not to say that behaviour cannot be regulated. It can be. We don’t kill each other. That right to violence has been given to the state and its functionaries. If someone kills another person, the state has the right to kill him, although some states even abhor killing a killer, choosing instead to put him or her away.

We don’t deprive someone of medical assistance; we accept the sanctity of another’s nose while flailing our arms; we accept that children and women have some rights which set them apart from adults and advantage them; we give the right of way on the road to whoever is coming from the right and so on.

Ok, I accept that for the most part we in Pakistan don’t do any of these things but the point is that most of the civilised world does. This is also why most of the civilised world would not accept becoming “morally sound” on the basis of terrorist threats or even for the terrorists, whatever the basis of their ideology, to decide what is morally right or wrong.

But this won’t wash with us. Why? The terrorists are also Islamists; they carry a moral baggage that most of us do, except not all of us are prepared to resort to mass violence to make this morality stick. Nevertheless, when someone does, we tend to focus on the sin part rather than the plain criminal aspect of the action.

I won’t be surprised if I hear the following conversation: “Yaar ae bum dhamakian wala kum bhaera vey… parr ik gul changi hoee vey. Haal Rode waaliaan da gund saaf ho gaya vey”.

The subterranean Haal Rode exists because of our confusion about sin and crime. We wank through our lives instead of living like adults and call it morality. And we use this morality to govern our collective and individual lives instead of giving personal choices to adults.

What do you think will happen now that Haal Rode has been caught with its pants down? Watch out for Google stats on porn site visits from Pakistan!

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk


Source: Daily Times, 12/10/2008

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