On New Year’s, Councilman Reynaldo Dagsa of the Filipino city of Caloocan was shot dead in front of his family. He was taking a picture for the New Year when amidst the explosion of fireworks he fell over, fatally wounded. When they looked at the pictures on his camera, they found that in the last picture he took had his assailant standing just over the shoulder of his family pointing a gun at him. The picture was used to find the assailant, a car thief who claimed Dagsa was to “heavy handed” on criminals. The man broke the law, was sent to jail, and had the audacity to blame the man who sent him there and murder him in front of his family. He was out on bond and was captured by police on Friday.
A few days after that Salman Taseer, a governor of Pakistan of the Punjab province who wanted to repeal legislation making blasphemy against Islam a capital offense was shot dead by his own bodyguard. Pakistan has seen a sharp upturn in Islam in recent years as leaders both legitimate and less than legitimate work with Islamic factions to stay in power and/or bring order to Pakistan’s more far-flung regions. It’s a classic case of both ruthless propaganda and a very silent majority.
Because of the conflicts that beset Pakistan, they have quite a few refugees floating around. Because the government can’t effectively tax its people (the current President, Asif Zardari, just secured his government’s stability by cutting a deal with a political faction that gained him their support in exchange for repealing an unpopular tax hike that would give the government the ability to deal with its debts spending), aid is often supplied by Islamic relief agencies—even when those refugees are running from areas like REGION, where the conflict is instigated by the Taliban. In addition to relief, these guys offer information and education.
I don’t want to come down against these relief agencies. They’re doing a good thing, and I’m sure that not all of them spout anti-American rhetoric or try to stir up feelings of radical Islam in those they help.
That said, it has provided an upswing in militant, outspoken Islamic numbers in Pakistan. It also hasn’t helped that while there are strong moderate voices in Pakistan, there are few enough of them that they are easily silenced, as with Benazir Bhutto and Salman Taseer.
Refugees from north Pakistan, where the Taliban has been fighting Pakistani forces and local tribes? They number in the millions. There isn’t much of a way to cut that that doesn’t end up with tens of thousands of able bodies running from their homes instead of fighting several thousand Taliban fighters. It is really hard to be sympathetic with those numbers.
A majority of the people of Pakistan don’t like what’s happening, but they’re not speaking up and they’re not acting to stop it. They are going to silently let Islamic radicals take their country, emigrate, and wait for someone else to solve the problem. This isn’t a slight against the Pakistani people. The same shit is happening in the US.
On Saturday, Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords(D) was shot by an assailant while meeting her constituents at a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. Six people died, including a conservative federal judge and a six-year-old girl. As I write this, four others are in critical condition, including Giffords who has a literal hole through her head.
Democracy requires a compact between the people and their leaders. They have to interact with us to learn about what we want (the alternative is waiting for crazies to call and divining the tea leaves of the latest election). To do that best, they should go out and mingle with everyday people in our own environment. Members of the House of Representatives can do this best since their seats are (largely) proportional to population and a tied to a specific area of their state. I ramble into this because I want to emphasize that she was shot while performing a function that is essential to the best parts of our democratic process.
You Must Be This Invested to Ride
Citizens in a democracy should be able, willing, and capable of doing just three things:
Discuss issues intelligently with those who represent them. They should be informed of the issues at hand, critically analyze that information, and be able to form cogent questions which can then be posed to leaders who will honestly answer them. A lot of that is idealism, but every point you just scoffed at represents a critical cultural and governmental failure of our country.
Vote. Make a decision for better or for worse, and act on it.
Accept defeat with civility. Accept that even if you believe this law is the end of everything you hold dear, that most people don’t. Well, either that or they do, but the things you hold dear aren’t that important. This is apparently the way that things are going to be. I’m not saying not to continue a rhetorical and political struggle for what you believe in or to quit trying to educate people, I’m saying that it’s not the end of the world. Continue working to change it, or go out on a limb and give it a chance to succeed. Deal with the world as it is, work for the world as it should be, and never be afraid to learn new things about both of those worlds.
Yes, Violent Revolution
“But wait,” you say, “wasn’t this country based on the concept of killing fellows to run government our own way?”
And I might say in return, “Yes, violence, but never violence without purpose.” Ultimately, any government can become a totalitarian state. Yes, even before a state reaches that point along the road of disservice to its masters, it is a legitimate act—nay, obligation—of the governed to rise up and overthrow the ruling structures of that state, to replace them with a system designed to better serve the people.
However, random violence—lone gunmen and solo operators, whether they have package bombs (like Maryland) or handguns—are not an effective means of societal change. These are angry acts, impotent in the face of any government, and ultimately only memorable to families of those killed in them.
Wrapping It Up
Look, the pattern in Pakistan is repeated here in the states: discontent citizens, provocative ideologues, and rising extremist violence against those in the middle. The US is and should be better than this. It isn’t enough, to me, that we can drop warheads on foreheads with pinpoint accuracy, send women into space, and weave together the world wide web if we can’t make the most fundamental aspects of our government work properly.
Ultimately, I’m disgusted that the US has to deal with sort of second-rate dreck. Are civilized societies too civilized to be capable of dealing with hard-line extremism? Are political extremists in the US too insular to form effective organizations for political change, either inside or outside of the system? Is fear a stronger political motivator than hope and duty?