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Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Wrath Of Words

It is time again to roll the tape back for the benefit of many who may have forgotten the events of August 2005. The Gulf Coast here was bracing for a ruthless hurricane called Katrina. That deadly storm was an unprecedented storm that left the levies of New Orleans paralysed. The water submerged the city, reminiscent of floods in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The scenes on television and the print media were devastating and surreal. To witness a strong nation like the US go through such a disaster was incredible, to say the least. The TV talking heads were repeating the phrase ‘mother nature’ way too much in their broadcasts.

The failure of communication and leadership in the state of Louisiana was downright shameful. The confusion, the chaos, the inability of the city, state and federal government left many dead and thousands stranded. The racial undertones to the catastrophe could be hardly ignored. President Bush at the onset of the disaster looked detached and indifferent. No matter what he did subsequently as damage control, it appeared to be fruitless and almost in vain.

Back then, our Pakistani ‘independent’ media was not to be left behind in replaying the miseries of my fellow Americans. Heck, media here was beaming the plight of my fellow citizens and highlighting the folly of our government without fail. There was one exception back home though. The very independent-of-reasoning media had labelled it ‘the wrath of God’. According to their interpretation, it was the answer of the Almighty for the US’s intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Urdu newspaper columns were littered with rebuke and it was mostly on the line of ‘divine lesson to the evil Umreeka’ (America) theme repeated over and over again.

I was reminded of a Sufi poet’s Punjabi line back then. “Dushman maray tay khuskhi na kariyey, Sajana wee marr jaana” (Do not rejoice on the death of your enemy as your friends are going to perish too). Little did I know that this line would resonate with many of my fellow Pakistani brethren within weeks of Katrina. It was Ramadan in October 2005; I had stopped at a gas station and as soon as my engine started, the CBS radio announced a massive earthquake in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. The sheer magnitude of 7.6 was alarming for a densely populated area. Having lived through a 6.7 earthquake myself, I could relate to the agony of many. The darn shaker comes unannounced and at that moment there is nothing you can do other than bear its swaying brunt. The earth becomes your adversary and the aftershocks tend to play with your jittery nerves for a long, long time.

I had wondered if the theory of the wrath of God was valid, then what was it that the poor 1,400 people on the mountainous plains must have done to invite the fury of the Almighty. The same ‘ugly’, ‘imperial’ and ‘cocky America’ offered a helping hand to Pakistan. Government and private assistance in the form of donations from various US organisations poured in within a few days of the massive destruction. The self-righteous on the idiot boxes and local rags, rather than being grateful for the American generosity and compassion, came up with a bizarre conspiracy theory. According to their unsubstantiated claim, the earthquake was caused by the so-called HAARP technology that the US administered remotely. The quacks spun it and the clueless crowd sucked it up like sponges.
How about the deadly floods of 2010 that left many of my poor Pakistani brethren dislocated and many dead? If the same wrath of God theory was true, then only the Almighty knows what those economically deprived had done to turn penniless and, of course, homeless. Ah yes, even then the HAARP theory was peddled. But I digress.

So when Hurricane Sandy knocked on the Eastern Coast of the US last month, the familiar theme of wrath was repeated on our national TV. Social media had images laced with various captions of ridicule and rebuke. This time around, it was about it being an answer to drones, the YouTube anti-Islam video and, of course, the Afghanistan and Iraq invasion. I am not here to defend all acts of the US, and I certainly have disagreed very vocally on a few of those, but the silly and juvenile captions of my fellow ‘faithful’ are plain distasteful and disgusting.

The 167 lost lives and billions of dollars worth of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy will be a point of discussion for months in the US. Rest assured, the investigation, fact-finding and reasons will be transparent. The measures will be in place to minimise such a loss when the next one strikes. But I sure hope, wish and pray with utmost sincerity that the Punjabi line of the Sufi poet does not get to rebound again for my motherland.

The US is a resilient nation and I have witnessed it with my own eyes. It picks itself up, moves and marches forward. The sheer compassion of people is very uplifting and exhilarating. Perhaps this is the reason why the Almighty has blessed this land so much. Yes, the same Almighty that my fellow Pakistani brethren feel should be punishing ‘all Americans’ for their ‘collective’ transgressions around the globe.

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