Pakistan Opinion Blog

If Only Faisal Shahzad Had Read Thoreau

Entries may be a little edited for clarity or brevity. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of PakPositive.

By Vidya

The first question moderator Matiullah Jan asked of a rather regal looking older woman on his programme Sawaal (Dawn TV) was the question of the nationality of Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square failed bomber). The implied question was “How much blame should Pakistan admit to?”

The lady rose to the occasion and dismissed Shahzad’s Pakistani roots on the grounds of his having accepted American citizenship. The opening tone of the interview on such a vital issue was so disappointing that this self-confessed TV addict simply shifted to a Saas-bahu saga (more on that in the next post).

Faisal Shahzad has evoked equal doses of bewilderment and disappointment among bloggers and media in Pakistan. On a positive note, there was a conscious attempt by most not to justify this botched attempt at terrorism. However, when Qureshi the Foreign Minister of Pakistan said that America should not be naive and expect retaliation for the drone attacks, he was addressing the core issue albeit in a manner that does not become you in your drawing room, let alone a representative of a democratic government.

Perhaps Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, Shahid Malik put it in a more palatable sound byte when he said, “We believe that terrorism stems from a denial of justice and deep sense of humiliation.”

Faisal Shahzad’s act of terrorism though potentially deadly is strangely similar to the infamous shoe throwing incident in Iraq. Both are misguided attempts to fight injustice.

Enter Henry David Thoreau and his essay titled ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ published in 1849. This influential thinker said that “Citizens of good conscience should actively oppose unjust government policies through nonviolent resistance. They should even be willing to go to jail rather than yield to immoral or unethical government laws and activities. (Wikipedia)”

Of course one of Thoreau’s forms of disobedience – that of not paying taxes – will be squarely mocked with that biting sense of humour that only Pakistanis, especially those from Lahore, seem to have.

Taxes aside Faisal Shahzad had any number of ways he could have expressed his opposition to the unjust policies of both his country of birth and his adopted country. And by opposition, Thoreau did not mean blogging from the comfort of your bedroom. He said – Talk means little unless action backs it up. Saying you are against an unjust government policy does nothing to eliminate that policy. But backing your words up with action – action that may impose hardship on you – will yield results.

By all accounts Faisal was on his way to Pakistan to rejoin his wife and family nurturing the fantastic hope that his act would not be traced to him. Unfortunately for him that was not to be. He will most likely face a severe hardship of confinement for the rest of his life- a hardship that only serves to fuel the highly divisive ‘Us and them’ doctrine of Bush.

Just yesterday when 26 militants were killed in Orakzai, the CIA received approval to target a wider range of targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And yet the talk on Dawn was all about the immunity Zardari enjoys vis-a-vis the graft cases.

Thoreau and his disciples such as the legendary Badshah Khan would have probably conducted highly visible non-violent sit-ins all throughout the tribal areas. And they would have been equally vigorous in their protest against the Talibanisation of the region. Until that time we will all have to hope that a certain US counter-terrorism official knows what he or she is saying (of drone attacks) – “Targets are chosen with extreme care, factoring in concepts like necessity, proportionality, and an absolute obligation to minimize loss of innocent life and property damage.”

As for more Faisal Shahzad’s on the horizon – there is a pressing need to include Thoreau’s landmark essay in school curricula.

  • Obedient Servant

    Oh, but you’re an Indian…! :) I can only presume from one of your previous posts, and of course only you’d have ridden such a high horse! :)

    But seriously, most of the homegrown “media” (not my words) thrives on what the majority of us Pakistanis do after anything that defies common layman religious explanation: Denial, denial, denial – our favourite escapegoat.

    Translated, it simply means that we will not believe we are capable of doing anything bad. And if something bad happens and an infidel says we did it, they’re conspiring against us, of course! Prick us, do we not bleed?

    I am sure this simplistic explanation can find some parallels in any society, but hey, we’re so poor, and can still squabble like the rich squabbling siblings! ;)

    P.S. Love your posts here!

  • maya

    live lively in pakistan