Karachi Bus Massacre: An Elegy for our Souls

That four Pakistanis boarded a bus and methodically executed 45 of their fellow citizens is a fact. That it is an atrocity against humans and humanity in general and the Ismailia community in particular is also a fact. Facts are always easier to grasp, as they leave gruesome clues to their own existence.

It is when we look behind the facts, when we try to grasp the underlying genealogy of an atrocity that we enter the murky terrain of human nature and the cosmic puzzles about the corruption of our souls. We are long past the stage of asking the “why” question. We need to delve into the frightening and perilous terrain of the ‘what” question. Yes! What causes the kind of degradation of soul that its human embodiment, the subject of violence, can so easily, precisely, and methodically kill unarmed civilians in the name of God.

Yes, what made them into these selves that could put guns to the heads of other human beings, without any provocation from the victims, and pull the triggers? Killing someone is not easy! I have been in a war, and even in a war when you are pulling the trigger, so many questions still besiege your mind. In my case, it was always a simple set of questions, up on that forgotten battlefield called the Sia-Chin glacier: what prompts us to kill each other in this inhospitable terrain? What purpose does it serve?

But this atrocity did not happen in a battlefield. It happened in a city on an ordinary day against ordinary citizens of Pakistan. It was not a random act of violence. No, it was planned and executed with cold-blooded professionalism! The killers must have known that their victims were Ismailis; they must have also gathered information about their activities, about their plans to travel in that bus. The killers must have been trained to do this by their masters, their leaders. What kind of training must have that been? What kind of human  subjectivity must be constructed, and through what ideological indoctrination, to kill innocent civilians in clod blood.

So, let us forget about blaming others for our own failures! Let us ask ourselves the hard questions.

What created the kind of human subject that can kill other humans with impunity? Religion, of course!

What kind of religion or religious ideology? The kind that teaches its followers that all those not following their own particular version of the “truth” are inferior and “killable.”

The kind of religious ideology that makes killing the so declared killable people a pious act!

Do we have people in our midst, in our mosques, schools and even our universities who espouse such ideologies? YES! I have heard them stereotype others, heard them use terrible terms for minorities, women, foreigners. Even the talking heads on our TV shows spread such unacknowledged hate against people they have never met!

What does this free proffering of hate, both open and subtle, and prejudice do? It creates a rationalizing narrative. It converts some and makes other apathetic. And apathy, let us remember, is a subtle kind of evil: it enables us to continue living our false lives, while others suffer. It is like a cancer, a cancer that cannot be detected and it eats away at the very best aspects of individual and collective human souls. This apathy and narratives of free-floating hate have made it possible for so many demagogues amongst us to convince their followers that killing other smaller groups, killing minorities, killing our foreign guests is somehow a noble act.

So, let us face this truth: we belong to a country where common citizens, their minds shaped by a venomous religious zeal, can kill their fellow citizens with impunity and without care!

We belong to a country where, in the name of God, young men can walk up to other Pakistanis and shoot them in the head. We belong to a country where, for a certain segment of our society, schools, hospitals, mosques, Churches, imam bargahs, streets, playgrounds, and even pristine mountain tops are acceptable killing fields.

We need to confront these facts and accept them, for unless we accept these brutal truths, we will not be able to wrest the material and symbolic control of our streets and towns from these perpetrators of violence, these murderers.

So, let us revisit our question: What underwrites this politics of death?

Let us repeat the answer to ourselves: the most arrogant and misleading interpretation of the sacred text!

The consequences of this hate-filled, destructive interpretation and practice of the sacred are numerous, but the most pernicious happens to be the sad death of our souls, souls mired in apathy, callousness, and indifference! These are the souls that we must mourn, for they have already given up and conceded the public sphere to the murderers and killers of the innocent. But what else can they do against such overpowering hate!

I have no message of hope. I only have a heart that aches and a mind that has stopped trying to make sense of these atrocities. This is, therefore, an elegy for our collective moribund souls, for I no longer has the strength to write a war song!

So let us mourn. Let us think and feel. Let us offer ourselves to these murderers. How many of us would they kill. How many deaths would satisfy them. And after they have killed us all, what kind of world would they have created? Would there be any love in it?

I am sure it would be a dark, loveless, and death-laden world. How can it be anything else, for the narrratives inscribed in innocent blood can never be love poems and no God would sanctify them!

And if some God does commission such narratives of death, such poems of hate, what kind of God would it be? And if such a God were to create something such as a human, would the creation be worth anything. Would it be like us or something demonic?

That is another question: these men are the expression of the sacred as they understand it. When they kill people, like the travelers on that bus, their actions, performed in the name of their version of God, become a reflection of their God.

What kind of God is that?


Ask these questions!