Daily Archives: June 2, 2008

Strange Fruits of Pakistan: Silence and Betrayal

This was not outburst of crazed men or uncontrolled barbarians but the triumph of a belief system that defined one people as less human than another. For the men and women who comprised these mobs, as for those who remained silent and indifferent or who provided scholarly or scientific explanations, this was the highest idealism in the service of their race. One has only to view the self-satisfied expressions on their faces as they posed beneath black people hanging from a rope or next to the charred remains of a Negro who had been burned to death What is most disturbing about these scenes is the discovery that the perpetrators of the crimes were ordinary people, not so different from ourselves – merchants, farmers, laborers, machine operators, teachers, doctors, lawyers, policemen, students; they were family men and women, good churchgoing folk who came to believe that keeping black people in their place was nothing less than pest control, a way of combating an epidemic or virus that if not checked would be detrimental to the health and security of the community

Leon F Litwack , on lynching in USA

History is a unique experience, one that fully shakes you up. It can enlighten you into a revolutionary struggle by exposing the texts; or it can cause frustration, anguish and pain when it keeps on repeating itself excessively. You know what is happening, how it can be changed and what’s going on but you are utterly powerless to stop or intervene. The pain it causes is unimaginable and unforgiving.

In these circumstances, when nations are pushed into certain kind of manias in the name of Religion, Race, Nationalism, Honour, and other higher ideals, all the discourse become hegemonized. This does not necessarily happens through the use of brute force or censorship alone as force alone can never eliminate “dissent”. What is done is to create an idea so serene, so pure and so passionate that questioning it becomes treason. In 1933 Martin Heidegger in his notorious pro Hitler declaration stated “Truth is the revelation of that which makes people certain, clear and strong in its action and knowledge”. This is the intellectual spirit of all fascism which subjugates truth to some higher idea, revival of nation etc. In simple words in order to motivate a nation any lie can be spoken and it becomes the truth. These are the moments when speaking the truth becomes most difficult because doing so means being a traitor in eyes of almost every one, but not doing so makes you a traitor in history.

In 1930s USA was in a similar situation, winds of change were threatening the old order of prejudice and bigotry. To save their skin they created madness in the South in the name of order, morality and humanity. They started lynching the blacks. Whole city gathered and watch the young black lads being beaten, hanged and burned. People posed with them for post cards. All this was believed to be for the sake of keeping the society clean, for maintaining law and order. The blacks were accused of being rapists, thief, magicians and kidnappers etc.  The whole society united in this great deed to propagate this belief as to be seen affiliated and to implement in all its superficiality.

Abel Meeropol, a Jewish school teacher who was member of the American Communist Party saw a picture of two black men hanging from the tree and he wrote a poem “Strange Fruit” which became the most important statement against American Racism. He published it under a pseudonym Lewis Alan. Billie Holiday sung it and it became one of the most influential songs ever sung. Holiday’s father died of pneumonia when “white hospitals” refused to treat him [doing so was against the segregation laws]. She could relate to all the injustice which formed the basis of this poem:

Strange Fruit – Lewis Allan

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop

I am listening to Billy Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” and in front of my eyes is the picture that became inspiration for this song, but in my mind is another south and another lynching of 22 year old Hindu boy in a Karachi factory by Muslim mob for the crime of “Blasphemy”. The true crime was being Hindu in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The personal grudge  transferred and carried out in name of Blasphemy. The mob of Sunni Tehreek fanatics who worked in this factory killed him in the most inhumane way to carry out this brutal murder. He was asked to stay, than the gates of the factory were closed, beaten to death;  his eyes were gouged out using iron rods, than his body was thrown out on the road to save the name of factory owners. His body was about to being burned when police arrived. His family escaped to their ancestral village in interior Sindh where his father has locked himself in the home. Why because when he comes out he hears the outcry “Anyone who commits blasphemy against Muhammad should be killed. He should be killed too”. Forgotten they have all, the mob which has taken upon itself to regulate and interpretation of this belief which is the constitution. A grave situation, dark and gloomy, where an interpretation of the constitution is carried out the by the society; in most heinous ways to settle their own accounts and differences. Continue reading

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