Friday, August 22, 2014

State-enabled terrorism

Pots have a habit of calling kettles black. The Punjab police killing of unarmed PAT workers in Model Town is just as egregious and criminal as American police killing a minimum of two unarmed black men every week. America has no room to anoint itself as the champion of human rights when a significant portion of its population suffers under the “driving while black” and “flying while Muslim” syndromes.  

For more than a decade, Pakistanis have taken to murdering physicians or citizens if they are Ahmadi, Shia or Christian. Entire families have been gunned down or victims have been killed in front of their children. The murderers invariably ride away on their motorbikes, and no one has been apprehended or charged with these murders. This is classic enabling behavior. The state is to have tenderness and affection for each citizen; what of the one that does absolutely nothing about these episodes? It might as well have been holding the gun.  

The PML (N) government has been on the path of self-aggrandizement and minimal achievement in this round of governance and now it is badly besieged. The previous PPP government similarly did nothing; in fact one of its own members Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by a fanatical bodyguard. And the shameful elation of members of the lawyer community, the pro bono defense of the killer and showering him with rose petals is evidence of a society gone mad.  

And even more unspeakably heartbreaking is the murder of Ahmadi children a few weeks ago with no condemnation or action by the government.  

Pakistan is young yet at 65 and democracy in Pakistan younger still. America is 238 years old and has been blessed with democracy for its entire life. Democracy is a noisy, evolutionary process. The slave trade, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment by the US Public Health Service on African-American men, and the continued harassment and murder of blacks in the United States are a smear on its democracy and its vaunted claims of pluralism, diversity and tolerance.  

It is well established statistically that a young black male is a lot more likely to be pulled over by police than any other race. It’s a shame that black families in the United States train their children on how to behave if they are stopped by police: keep hands on the steering wheel, move only when instructed and address the police officer with “sir”. These families know that the deeply entrenched racial hatred in America boils over within its police force, and instead of dealing with their sons the way the sons of white families are treated, they are liable to be recipients of that terrible knock on their door that bears the news of death.  

According to the FBI’s most recent accounts of “justifiable homicide,” in the seven years between 2005 and 2012, a white officer used deadly force against a black person almost two times every week. Of those black persons killed, nearly one in every five was under 21 years of age. These are probably severe underestimates as they are based on self-report by police departments and only 750 of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies participated. In 2007, a joint effort by ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter examined police shootings in the 10 largest cities in the U.S., and in every city, African Americans comprised a disproportionately large percentage of those killed. Nationally, African Americans are arrested three times more frequently than their white counterparts, although African Americans make up only 12 percent of the population.

19-year old African-American Renisha McBride was killed by Theodore Wafer, a white middle aged man, for simply knocking on his door at 4:30 a.m. He thought a home invasion was about to occur and instead of calling the police he chose to shoot her in the face. Wafer was found guilty of second-degree murder but Renisha is gone, as is the fate of so many Trayvon Martins and Renishas all over the country on an ongoing basis.  

Whether a police officer pulls the trigger or the state simply looks away when citizens murder on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion, comes essentially to the same thing. Citizens are targeted in Pakistan because of their belief system and Americans are killed in their own country because they are not white.  

The other commonality in the murder of innocents in the two countries is the easy availability of guns. The NRA, National Rifle Association, is the most powerful lobby in the US. The right to be armed is enshrined in the US constitution. Despite wholescale massacres like the Connecticut school shootings Americans want to hold onto their assault rifles for dear life. Presidential candidates and even elected presidents try to stay away from the gun control issue for fear of their popularity plummeting.  

The influx of weapons into Pakistan after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, particularly the Kalashnikov, seems to have permanently changed society. Citizens have no protection from the police and there is an absence of due process. Armed bodyguards are as common as cars. No law exists though, that affirms a citizen’s right to carry a weapon. Yet why would governments in recent memory care about the death wreaked by guns in Pakistan when political and governmental leaders travel with bullet-proof vests, bullet proof cars and armed cars front, back and sideways.  

APPNA, Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America, in its annual convention last week did an awesome job of focusing attention on the killing of minorities in Pakistan. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia was the keynote speaker addressing a crowd of 3000. Just the day before, Ferguson Missouri had been placed under curfew to control protestors after the police shooting of unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown. Addressing the issue of sectarian killing in Pakistan, Sen. Kaine advised Pakistani-American physicians to take American pluralism, diversity and tolerance to Pakistan to help deal with the sectarian violence there. Really Senator? Care to look at your trigger-happy police force and the fires of racism in your own backyard? But individual and governmental American hubris only makes those blinders bigger.  

Discussions of the killing of Michael Brown reveal how deeply embedded racial hatred is in American society. “He was 6 foot 4 inches”, “he had just robbed a store” are some inane statements. The fact that he was unarmed and had his hands raised saying “my hands are up” make no difference. Religious and sectarian hatred has putrefied Pakistan. People are friendly until they find out that the other person is Ahmadi, Shia or Christian; and then just because of that they deserve to die.  

In both the US and Pakistan, generations have been bathed in racial or religious hatred. It seems the only controllable thing in this equation is the availability of guns. And funnily, if the government puts its mind to it, de-weaponization is possible in Pakistan. Not so in the US, courtesy the NRA. And with the fact that American police guns down black youth on a regular basis, the prognosis in the US is a lot grimmer than it is in Pakistan. And makes the Missouri protestors’ placard “stop killing us” even more poignant.