By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari
Here, you have to befriend violence, not just the kind that gets your driver killed while an attempt on your life is made, but the kind that appears in the form of hate speech from college campuses to boardrooms.
I was at a social media event in 2011. In it an expert from the US was talking about how he follows news in Pakistan: “I just follow @razarumi and I know what is going on in Pakistan — what is going right in Pakistan and what is going wrong in Pakistan. I do not need to follow anyone else. He has the pulse of the country on his timeline.” I remembered thinking to myself that is the kiss of death, having an American consider you a hero.
What makes a person a hero? Of course, you need the right personality, the ability to articulate, the charisma, the depth of knowledge, general and in your field of work, the poise to handle difficult situations and the nerve to stand up for what is right in times of crisis. In Pakistan, you need more than just these leadership 101 traits. You need to have a death wish manifested in the form of a deep burning passion, almost an obsession to claim for others those rights that you cannot imagine humanity without — fundamental rights and human rights — the right to worship freely and to be guaranteed equality in status by the state.
In Pakistan, to be a hero you must also tread that dark and dangerous place they call oblivion. Although you may have a following, you really do not have support — those few worthy souls who can protect you, those worthy souls who would pour their own blood where you pour yours. They would be enough, these people, to light a silent vigil in their rooms for you afterwards but would not echo what you say when it is bright and lit up.
In Pakistan, to be a hero you have to do away with that very need for legacy because you know you may not be there to see posterity through. So you shout your outrage against violence and mayhem in the storm, not knowing who is listening, not sure if your words are reverberating in the hearts of the youth, those you hope will raise the flag in the future. Here, you have to befriend violence, not just the kind that gets your driver killed while an attempt on your life is made, but the kind that appears in the form of hate speech from college campuses to boardrooms. Social media amplifies this violence against you and not just your thoughts.
In Pakistan, you have to struggle, so hard, to live in the grey while your universe imposes a strict binary: secular and religious, bought-out and religious, foreign-funded and religious, atheist and religious. This enormous vacuum sucks you in to convert you into a construct of society, ably aided with low literacy, hardly any education and a curriculum of warped religiosity.
In Pakistan, a hero must have an endless supply of hope, optimism and resilience. Not just the kind that amasses a few protest rallies in the scorching heat or the freezing cold, but the kind that seeks to go down to the common person who needs to hear those lone alternate voices. A hero is the man who opens himself up to the vile rawness of this nascent electronic media and its sinister ability to scapegoat you. In this trying decade’s Pakistan, a hero is someone who engages with individuals via Twitter, convincing, reinforcing, reminding and persuading to see their sense of identity in a different way. A hero is someone who does the scariest thing to create change — he gets involved.
Raza Rumi was attacked in Lahore, bullets sprayed on his car as he left the station where he hosted his talk show on television. His driver is now dead, may his soul rest in peace, and his guard is injured. God Almighty kept Raza alive. Maybe it is time, a time for Pakistan’s heroes to make it through the darkest assault because their voice needs amplification. He treaded along the path of journalism knowing well that the environment in which he operates would sooner or later attempt to halt him. Raza Rumi is not just a hero; he is everything Jinnah’s Pakistan stands for. May he live long and prosper. May Jinnah’s Pakistan prosper.