Wielding sticks and a badass attitude, these gentlemen stalk the streets in search of prey. They roam in packs, haunt the motorists, scare the motorcyclists and shoo away cops with ferocious glares. They prowl, they prance and they pounce when provoked. And often even when they are not. They scare the living daylights out of citizens and the state alike. They are not just one group, or one party, or one sect. No, they are not even one in their beliefs or ideologies, or even orientation.
They share very little except the realisation that when needed, they can project immense power over the law of the land. Yes, they know they can bend it, twist it, maul it, shred it and incinerate it at will. No one will touch them. And why won't anyone touch them? Well, all you had to do was to look at the footage running on all channels on the morning of December 7. These gentlemen in question took over the main highway connecting Islamabad and Rawalpindi as if they owned it.
Then they began their finely-honed ritual: blocked traffic, threatened commuters, littered rocks on the road, and some even stretched out in the middle of the thoroughfare. As the mayhem unfolded on this crisp winter morning, what were the cops doing? What indeed.
They sat cross-legged on the lush green median, soaking rays and generally having a chillaxing good time. Just another day in this republic of ours where the men are men and the state is scared.
So what, you may ask. This is an almost everyday occurrence somewhere or the other in the country. Hordes of men (and increasingly women too) take to the streets to protest this and that.
Then Standard Operating Procedures kick in. Tyres are burnt, slogans are chanted, assorted effigies (as per the flavour of the day) are alighted and then trampled, bricks and rocks are hurled, windowpanes smashed, cars damaged — and soon a full-fledged riot ensues. Skulls are cracked, limbs are broken and blood is splattered on the sidewalk. Lahore, too, saw similar scenes on December 7. Young men rampaged on The Mall and gleefully ripped apart whatever they could lay their hands on.
Even blooming flowers were trampled on as if they were rotting carcasses of a state that has abdicated its responsibility to maintain order and peace.
It's a queer relationship: gremlins nourished by the state now mutated into fire-breathing Frankensteins, terrorising those who incubated them in the first place.
So when these rage rovers take to the streets, cops quake in their boots and the hapless citizens run for shelter. The roots of this rage are too many to keep count. In fact, manufacturing rage is now a growth industry because it allows a projection of power which is deprived to them through the ballot box.
Rage is a marketable commodity. It comes with a neatly packaged set of rites and rituals — handy tools to magnify charged emotions and flammable rhetoric.
Today, it is the murder of a cleric. Recently, it was American insolence. Tomorrow it could be anything. The reaction is the same: stalk the streets looking for a fight to pick. Demolition Derby on steroids. All these are ominous signs of a fragmented society lorded over by a fractured state. Appeasement reigns supreme because an alternative policy is yet to be born. The consequences are too horrifying to contemplate. Hatemongers have a free run to sow seeds of hatred and intolerance in the minds of a growing horde of ill-educated youth. Wave upon wave of these brainwashed youngsters flock to the cause of the hatemongers, bathing in their murderous rhetoric and exclusionist ideology.
The state is losing the battle of ideas for a very simple reason. It's not even fighting the battle. There is panic in official ranks. The rout — it seems — is inevitable.
Can this slide into oblivion be reversed? Yes. But for this to happen, key political leaders will need to face up to this scary reality and decide to take the fight to the hatemongers — a fight fought not just with guns, but with ideas that promote peace, progress and inclusive beliefs.
Will such a leader please stand up.
The Express Tribune