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Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak

That the Taliban claim certain mastery over the methods and instruments of death is no secret. They taliban_pickuphave proven their skills at killing their civilian brothers and sisters quite consistently over the last decade or so. The question that we need to pose to them and to many other like-minded groups is simply this: Do you have a politics of life?

Dispensing death is the easiest things in the world, given the fragility of human body and the power of tools of destruction that we humans have created. But to create conditions that sustain life requires a lot of doing! So, at the end of the day, how would Taliban, if they were to establish their so-called just system, make people’s lives better and would transform Pakistan into a place where living with dignity becomes a right and not just a privilege?

No ideology–religious or secular–can succeed if it does not contain a plausible narrative of life. A social system succeeds only if people see it as a life-giving system and want to become a part of it. Forcing people into a way of life through violence is like putting people in ideological concentration camps and using the religious rhetoric as a path to dignified gas chambers.

And we all know what happens when a powerful group of citizens decides that a certain part of population is undesirable and a danger to the body of the nation: This line of thinking leads only to death camps and gas chambers.

The whole purpose of any civilizational project is to privilege physics (politics) over nature. Much that I disagree with this nature versus politics dichotomy, as it relies on an instrumental logic, it has always worked under certain rational assumptions:

  • That humans are no longer able to sustain life in the state of nature.
  • A Government is necessary to protect them and to create conditions that enable life.

Law is meant to enable life and the role of justice and punishment is to maintain the established order. But to establish an order  through punishment and threat of violence and death is not the right method. To be a part of any system, people must voluntarily become a part of it knowing that after they accept to be a part of a community they will have to live by its rules. To force people into a “community” through violence and then to keep them enclosed is exactly opposite of voluntary participation in the communitas. And this is what the Taliban hope to accomplish: to force people into an ideological straightjacket and then keep them there through coercion and force. Thus, a politics of death is the only mode of action available to them. Taliban, it seems, are trapped in the logic of their own ideology: since their vision of the world is based in force and not in love, they must, automatically, become more violent and death-driven, for signs of love, within this masculinist narrative, are markers of weakness.

I keep writing about these subjects, knowing that the Taliban certainly do not read this, and if they did, they are not likely to be persuaded by my argument. So, what is the purpose of these words that I craft painstakingly and then throw them into the wind? I have no clear answer. maybe, it is my way of saying that I disagree with what Taliban stand for and since I cannot change much, I will, at least, say something about it, for silence is the ultimate form of surrender and, for me, surrender has never been an option.

Cultural silence and general apathy are dangerous signs: they lead a nation to put other humans in death camps. Not speaking against epistemic and physical violence will only lead us to our material and spiritual annihilation. We always assert that ours is a religion of peace, for that is the Arabic root of the word Islam, but do we seriously work to make this statement a real-life project. If we are about peace, then where do these brothers of ours come from? These brothers of ours who in the name of our God have decided that it is perfectly desirable and even virtuous to kill, maim, and destroy ordinary citizens of our country. What logic drives this insanity? Why should we accept it as our fate?

Yes, there are always material reasons for our actions. Yes, we are partially a construct enabled or encumbered by our surroundings. But we do not need to be rich to understand love, nor do we need to be scholars to understand compassion and kindness. I have travelled extensively to the farthest regions of Pakistan, regions considered “backward”–yes that is the term they use in Pakistan–and found the most natural kindness and compassion from amongst the very poor and destitute. Compassion and care of the others have been a part of our culture for thousands of years: we do not need a college degree to learn these values, and we certainly do not need English medium schools to learn these values!

So, what is it that  baffles me the most about Taliban: Their extreme lack of compassion and love. If they are adherents of Islam that I understand and if they read the Qur’an and Hadith and want to follow the sunnah, then how come they completely miss the most alluring part of all these texts. Every time I see images of Taliban–brandishing foreign-made guns and riding the pickups also invented and produced in the West–their faces offer no trace of the kind of compassion and love that is supposed to define a general Muslim demeanour. I see no difference between these stern faces and the faces of other gangsters from other parts of the world, gangsters who, in this realm of privatized violences, terrorize the common people to gain their material or spiritual ends.

As a nation we are in dire need of inventing new narratives of selfhood and nationhood: the ideal narratives would retain the best of our tradition and the best of what the world has to offer. A reliance on a purist past will not do; it will only produce more monstrosities like the Taliban. There is no natural path to the past: past is only textual and when we read the textual signs of our past, what we bring to the act of reading decides what we seek and see in the text. There is no unmotivated, unmediated engagement with history, nor is there an accidental transition to a bright future. To forge a future with a total reliance on history is a complete denial of the present and without the present–our only tangible signpost–one can neither retrieve a useable past, nor create a better future.

So, what the Taliban do in our streets, cities, villages and public spaces is nothing less than the destruction of the present to overwrite it with a simplistic and purist narrative of the past. If we lose, we would have lost the past, the present, and the future and such a loss of all temporalities is unsustainable.

It is time for us to wake up as a nation of living breathing beings and say it in our different voices that those who can so randomly and callously kill, maim, and destroy our brothers and sisters do not have our silent acquiescence. Yes, it is time to speak, for silence is now only a slow march to the death of our culture!

By M R

Originally from Pakistan, Dr. Masood Ashraf Raja is an Associate Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory and the editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies.
Raja tweets @masoodraja

One reply on “Taliban, the Politics of Death, and our Obligation to Speak”

A very logical, informed and educated picture of talibanization in Pakistan that obviously is a scholarly reflection but the sorry state of affairs in this country has reached the height where concerned people are ignorant and incompetent and such ideas are totally lost on them. Ijust wish and pray that this is understood by those who are in a position to deliver…..if they ever do. I agree that we must raise our voice. To be silent is to negate our right to existence.

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