April 2002 News

Fear and terror destroying Pakistan

19 April 2002
The Times of India
Mariane Pearl

PARIS: I first learned about Pakistanís silent majority at a time when most of the world found itself stunned and speechless at the killing of thousands on Sept. 11.My husband, Danny, and I had arrived in Pakistan just after Sept. 11 Pakistan was part of his beat as South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. We had no fear about being in a Muslim country. We had both travelled throughout the Muslim world. Danny had just spent five years covering West Asia. As a girl, I had spent my holidays with a friend in Algeria, and Islam, the second-largest religion in France, was very much a part of my childhood at home in Paris.We wished we had been visiting Pakistan in a quieter time. At our first meeting we heard from a group of women who advised the city of Karachi. They expressed anger at Western reporters for blaming the attacks on Muslim fundamentalists and Osama bin Laden without proof. They asked us to think carefully about our responsibilities as Westerners and as journalists.Danny and I were told that most people did not share the opinions of fundamentalists. But this reassuring voice of the moderate majority was nowhere to be seen or heard. Danny and I kept talking with all sorts of people in Pakistan. These conversations were honest and sincere; our interlocutors talked about what they really felt. Some blamed their countryís troubles on corruption and previous regimes. Others blamed India or the West, and sometimes both. All expressed shame and anger at how terrorists and their supporters had stolen Islam for their own purposes by promoting hatred and violence.Then Danny was kidnapped. Neighbours shut their windows and front doors to me. I cannot really say of what they were afraid. Was it the police? Gossip? Was it some earlier trauma? Was it Pakistanís intelligence agencies? The terrorists? Themselves?I prayed that the majority would not remain silent or paralysed by fears. I prayed that people would come out and defend their faith and country óand defend their own dignity by voicing their rejection of criminals determined to destroy the future of Pakistan and the hope of its citizens to live in peace.My prayers were realised in part. During this ordeal, I was surrounded by Pakistani and Muslim people as courageous and beautiful as those terrorists appeared ugly and without souls. I can never be grateful enough for their graciousness, a ray of hope in the midst of darkness. In the five weeks when I waited in Karachi for Danny to come back to me and our unborn son, the Pakistani police reported at least 11 killings of Shiite Muslims in Karachi alone. Those slain were mostly doctors and professionals. Sectarian terrorists were pursuing their work of destruction. They were planting even deeper the seeds of fear in the hearts of people, making the silence of the majority even more painful. Such fear and terror can destroy a society. When I finally had to acknowledge Dannyís bloody murder, I decided not to leave Pakistan right away. I wanted to show defiance against fear. In those days, absorbing the murder of my husband, I received the most heartfelt letters of support from all over the world. I then heard from the majority in Pakistan as it abandoned silence.

 

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