Numbers matter

Originally published in The News International, Pakistan on 9th January, 2016.

We grow up being conditioned on the fact that numbers are important. We are trained to have a quantitative outlook. We breathe in measurements. We are told that being calculated helps in the real world. Everything is numbers; in one way or another. As Pakistanis, we should know.

Dates (another type of numbers) are stamped onto our national fabric. Starting from its inception to the present age, Pakistan has had a tumultuous existence. The only thing constant in our journey has been quantities, dates, and facts and figures. Our worldview is modelled on their basis. From things as hardcore as our foreign policy to our day-to-day routine tasks, dates play a strong role in our lives. We unconsciously hold notions about almost everything based on something that happened at a particular time in history. After all, statistics matter.

We can’t help it; we were born into this. If Wikipedia is to be believed, between 200,000 and 500,000 lives were lost when Pakistan came into being. From then on, countless others have joined the ranks of martyrs. Our collective history is embedded with them. Hence the standard protocol we follow whenever confronting something new is understandable.

What should come as a surprise is the fact that it has been our routine to flush these statistics out of our memory as soon as they enter our collective consciousness. The value ascribed to them is often insignificant, if any. This is how we roll and have been doing so for the past 68 years. Perhaps this is so because these figures go hand in hand with insinuating memories. Insinuating as they remind us of guilt we are all very eager to repress. They cause us to ask questions that shouldn’t be answered. Hence a defence mechanism against such unprincipled thoughts is called for.

Don’t get me wrong. Born and bred purely in Pakistan I am, just like any other citizen of the land of the pure, a true believer in the hope of tomorrow. Honestly, it’s the only thing that keeps us going. The hollow slogans of ‘Never Again’ that I’ve been hearing people chant quite vociferously in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack anniversary, however, have left me in a haze of doubt. I am concerned for the wellbeing of my people’s mental health.

If a person decided to travel across the length and breadth of this country in search of a generation that hasn’t been witness to violence, war and pain, s/he would realise how difficult a task that is. Having been born into violence, by now we should be pros at coping with it. And in a way, we are.

I am part of the generation that has seen the pinnacle of everything. Of happiness and jubilation. Of chaos and grief. When I was in Grade 3, I didn’t know the importance of divisions. I didn’t know boundaries could exist within boundaries. Now, my youngest sibling asks me the meaning of the word Shia and I’m left speechless. Even after the fateful day of December 16, I see people huddled in their extravagantly decorated drawing rooms, gossiping on about how a certain family conforms to a particular sect whilst another insists upon declaring what characterises a better Muslim and what doesn’t. There lies a streak of extremism within each of us. How did we come to this?

That is why, a year on after the APS attack I fail to see the reason of putting up banters of ‘Never Again’ when clearly the potential of another December 16 is very much there. It won’t go away unless the particular streak found within all of us disappears. Granted, whitewashing history is our unofficial national sport. If it weren’t for this skill, the demons inside us wouldn’t have let us sleep at night.

What we are unwilling to see is that living in this shameless disbelief mars the so-called sacrifices of all those fallen on December 16 and the innumerable others who fell before (and after) them. We have become comfortable under the skin of desensitisation, and what is more alarming is that we aren’t even aware of it.

As stated earlier, numbers are important. We grow up learning they are. The sad part about growing up is that the values we are supposed to take forward with us we choose to leave behind, while the teachings we are supposed to grow out of, we carry forward. We have forgotten that numbers, even the ones that are seemingly insignificant, matter. Each and every life lost in our war against extremism matters.

Not forgetting what led to their decimation is an integral part of coming to terms with our present reality. Until we fail to accept this, ‘Never Again’ will just remain a cute jingle to feed our jingoism. A far-fetched delusion. The children butchered on the 16th of December will remain a relegated memory. Just like the countless other faces that become numbers on news bulletins every day. After all, statistics matter. The sooner we realise it, the better.

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