The Public Is Civil No More

The ‘cat in bin lady’ story made a lot of headlines in the UK over the last few weeks. For those unfamiliar with the story- a CCTV camera caught a 40 something year old woman picking up a cat and throwing it into a wheelie bin whilst she was casually walking past it. The owners of the cat found it some fifteen hours later, alive, but still in the wheelie bin. The matter was investigated and the CCTV footage was made public. And people got angry. Very angry.

The woman responsible made an apology and seemed sincerely remorseful about her actions. Unfortunately, that was not good enough for the public. This woman was brutally criminalized. She started receiving hate mail, then death threats and eventually, she was more or less ostracised by her neighbours. No one seemed interested in the fact that this woman had just visited her dying father before the incident happened, and that she may have been in a depressed state of mind. This woman has since then, lost her father, lost her job and is not in a very good place in life. But the people have not forgiven her.

It’s true that a civilized society is one in which animals are treated well. But should this be at the cost of fair treatment to human beings in that society? The public reaction to the wheelie woman’s actions was completely unjustified. I am all for animal rights, but to send death threats to a woman for throwing a cat into a bin- that I consider extremist behaviour.

Another recent victim of this extremism was Cheryl Cole. She received numerous death threats and hate mail, when she dismissed Gamu, a Zimbabwean singer, from X-Factor. Instantly, her popularity stats dropped amongst the twitterati, and many were keen to loath her in the blogosphere. Thousands of people voiced their dislike for Cole and her decision. Some in more violent tones than others.

There is also a quirky side to extremism in the UK. The best way to describe this is to tell the story of Pushkin the cat who was blessed by the Pope on his recent visit to the UK. Ever since Pushkin has had this hallowed experience, he has been receiving fan mail from across the world – from humans (including priests) as well as other cats. Call me narrow-minded, but writing letters to a cat? It seems just a tad bit odd to me and borders on fanatic.

Britain is a progressive and civilized nation, which reveres politeness, political correctness and self-control. A far cry from the emotional, reactive and irrational people of places like Pakistan. However, the reactions of the British public to these rather bland events have been quite shocking and quite like something I would expect to witness back home. This just tells me that there are fanatics here in the UK as well. Unfortunately, they are never branded as such by the media and it is only because of the UK’s fantastic law and order system that we don’t see these extremists burning tyres outside Cheryl Cole’s house or trying to set the wheelie bin woman on fire.

The truth is, words like ‘extremist’ and ‘fundamentalists’ are reserved for beard wearing, burqa donning, halal eating muslims. Now, I agree there are a handful of Muslims who do indulge in hate mongering and may deserve the label ‘fundamentalists’, but they are not unlike people at Fox News or in Tea Party politics. In fact, the two have more in common than they know. (Note: I don’t consider terrorists to be Muslims or representatives of Muslims).

Words like extremism and fundamentalism have become the legacy of Muslims world over. Others, despite their excessive behaviour, will never have the profound experience of being called extremists.

I say we change that. I think it’s time we re-evaluate words, labels, meanings and context. Every person who threatens Cheryl Cole should be labelled an extremist. Any person making a jibe at the wheelie lady should be called a fundamentalist. Anyone fighting violently over football or not bathing for ten days or corresponding with animals should be called excessive or extremist or fundamentalist or just plain crazy. It’s time we understand words and their consequences and become more sensible about using them.

America’s Double Game

Night before last, as I lay in bed reading news on my phone, I found myself intrigued by two reports on the ITN app. One had to do with the latest Wikileaks Iraq report and the other had to do with America’s withdrawal of military aid from those units of the Pakistani army that had been accused of human rights violations. In my state of half consciousness, what surprised me was not America’s hypocrisy in war matters but rather, its sheer flaunting of it.

The latest Wikileaks report essentially tells of thousand of civilian deaths at the hands of the US army and also of incidents of torture by the Iraqi Army that the US army willfully ignored.

The American government has strongly condemned the publication of these classified documents. It has also gone a step further and emphasized how the release of this information would be detrimental to the security and safety of the US (and British) troops that are still deployed in the region and that are fighting to win the war against terrorism. The US government has so far not even hinted at looking into the matter. The only promise of an investigation, albeit an elusive one, has come from the British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

The Wikileaks report just reiterates the fact that there are groups within the US government and the US army that place the preservation of human rights second to their own interests- especially human rights in other countries. In the ongoing War on Terror, civilian deaths are almost always labeled as collateral damage and strongly defended. Similarly, the torturing of ‘enemies’ is silently accepted because it is done under the guise of a greater good.

I have a problem with the fact that the US, on one hand, has turned a blind eye to the Iraq human rights abuses because its own military is involved there, and then, on the other hand, it has publicly bashed the Pakistani army for committing the exact same crimes.

Hillary Clinton said this with regards to reports of human rights violations by some units in the Pakistani army, “We take all allegations of human rights abuses seriously, and we discuss them with the government of Pakistan, and we follow the law, and we work with our partners in Pakistan to deal with any issues that come to our attention.”

After reading her statement and then seeing how it contradicts with the reality on ground, I am pushed into believing that these so called ‘allegations’ are taken seriously only when they address issues outside America’s realm of influence. The fact that the US government ignores its own record of human rights abuses and then quickly jumps ahead to give Pakistan a public lashing for the same just proves the duplicity of the situation.

Now, let’s set one thing straight. I am not arguing for or against the $2 billion military aid or its withdrawal from certain units. I am also not saying that human rights violations, especially those committed by the Pakistani army, should be ignored. Certainly not.

All I am saying is that it’s time we question the integrity of all those who are living in a glass house and throwing stones at others. In principle, Americans claim to be the champions of human rights, yet they allow these very violations when it suits them. Long gone are the days when America stood for the rights of the underdogs. Now, it acts just like all other colonial powers did in the past- by showing of power and might.

The withdrawal of this military aid to Pakistan is an obvious political maneuver. It may have to do with asserting pressure on Pakistan to do more, so that in the US mid-term elections, Obama can defend his strategy. It may also be a response to the Wikileaks controversy- a way to silence those that accuse the US of ignoring human rights issues. It plays out perfectly in that regards- Clinton distracts from local problem by bringing attention to the common enemy/ally (Pakistan and its army). Problem at home is brushed aside (or so is hoped). Appropriate action is taken. Equilibrium restored. Everyone goes home happy.

The only problem is that for as long as this War on Terror continues, the US-Pakistan ‘alliance’, no matter how superficial, has to be served and respected. With the passage of time, Pakistan will become more embroiled in internal matters and may not be able to serve its ally status. This combined with the fact that Pakistan also has a tendency to play ‘rogue nation’ (burning of NATO trucks, supporting of militant groups etc), the burden of making this relationship work might just shift to America’s shoulders. When that happens, America would no longer be able to carry on these double games in its war strategy. It would have no choice but to reevaluate its relations with India, its presence in Pakistan and its methods of aid giving.