Cry over a charred cinema but not a dead human being?

Published: October 2, 2012

I think we need to prioritise loss of life over material loss, don't you? PHOTO: AYESHA MIR

The six cinemas that were torched during the rather ill-fated Ishq-e-Rasool Day, marked the decline of cultural tolerance in Pakistan. However, going by news coverage of that day, it seemed that this incident was more important than anything else that happened.

However, there was another side to the story, too. The sun that went down on Ishq-e-Rasool day, held as a mark of protest against an anti-Islam video, took away many other things along with it; including 26 lives — lives which did not spark a debate in the news media.

One can posit that these 26 lives belonged to 26 households and these deaths scarred all of them for life. These lives were silenced for a crime they had not committed. Neither had they belonged to the team that made that video nor had they concurred with it. They were killed solely due to their crime of being out of their houses that day. When the rioters rampaged through the streets on September 21, they demolished and burnt everything that came in their way; shops, tyres, ATMs, KFC branches and cinemas.

What shocked me more than the fact that a day meant to exhibit love and reverence for the Holy Prophet (pbuh) turned into a day of looting, torching and chaos, was the fact that news of burning cinemas garnered more content and attention than the killing of innocent people! Have we become such a shallow, commoditized society?

More Twitterati were concerned about the cinemas burnt — which, according to them, marked the death of “entertainment for the poor” — than about the loss of those 26 lives.

Karachi_Post ‏@Karachi_Post

#Pakistan had 1770 cinemas in 1990, which were down to 570 in2002,those left are also sitting ducks for extremists to burn & take down

Rizwan Saleemi ‏@rizwansaleemi

So are the burnt down cinemas in karachi gona be rebuilt or not ?? Anyone ?? @MohsinSayeed

Mark Hourahane ‏@eggplantuk

@movie_theaters How about an article on the site about the 6 cinemas in Karachi that were attacked on Friday?

ßashir ßaloch ‏@HellboyBaloch

Horrible sights in downtown. Prince, Nishat and Bambino Cinemas burnt down. #karachi

Attilio L. De Alberi ‏@aldealberi

Ishq-e-Rasool Day violence: One of Karachi’s last 2 Pashto cinemas also gutted

While a lot of people cried over unruly mobs torching cinemas, 26 families mourned the death of their loved ones. After thoroughly seeing the coverage and seeing at least one story printed everyday for the two weeks, following the ill-fated day, I thought to myself: have cinemas or entertainment in general surpassed the value we place on human lives?

If the ratio was even remotely balanced, maybe I wouldn’t have been so stunned, but 6 to 26? Over four times the amount of lives were lost as these cinemas that everyone is mourning. How can we as a nation be so oblivious to the pain these families are suffering and have suffered.

Deep down , I know that had even one influential person died, our media coverage would have been remarkably different. This is what saddens me even more. Do the poor not deserve the same?

Have we become so indifferent or rather desensitised by the media churning stories about killing everyday that we do not care about such news anymore? Or, were the cinemas worth more than those 26 lives, so much so that the government was called upon to set up a panel of architects and experts to assess the damage made to the cinemas?

I think we need to prioritise loss of life over material loss, don’t you? Or have we lost the human being inside us?

Read more by Sidrah here or follow her on Twitter @seedwah 

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Sidrah Moiz Khan

The author is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • loneliberalpk

    You got us! What do you want?

    You want us to send a horde of journalists to these people’s funerals? Hound the weeping families of the deceased with questions like: “Aap kaisa mehsoos kar rahe hain?”.

    The deaths have not exactly gone unreported. The reason the destruction of the 6 cinemas is being given relatively greater coverage on the media is because:

    a) it’s a whole new dimension of bonker-ness that the nation is not accustomed to seeing.

    b) Many, many people depended on these cinemas either for employment or inexpensive entertainment. Even though the deaths were infinitely more tragic, the destruction of these cinemas affected far more people.

    But I understand why the moral police would want the destruction of our art and entertainment centers to be disregarded as inconsequential, if not a blessing!Recommend

  • Farrukh Shabbir

    Finally. Thank You! Recommend

  • Aheelam

    Wonderful piece of writing!
    Our media acts so irresponsibily at a times..they would give full-fledge covering to news full of masala sidelining the stuff they should be covering.
    Our media and we as a nation need to change our priorities before we end up paying through the nose,God forbid!Recommend

  • Faisal

    Nowadays the coverage of human casualties in media only depends upon which minority cast or sect or religion they belong otherwise it does n’t matter whether they are 26 or 260. Recommend

  • Liberal

    well said & yes this will always go on till this present party is Ruling .Recommend

  • salman

    You don’t get the point. The burning of the cinemas is another step towards complete anarchy and intolerance. It is the nail in the coffin that these corrupt people are driving into the Pakistani society by removing all forms of arts. They already have been doing it by claiming pictures are haram, videos are haram, entertainment is haram, dancing is haram, music is haram, till a point will come when a woman writing an article is haram. Understand that and you’ll understand why this event is so consequential. Recommend

  • Ahmed Raza

    Wonderful piece of Writing. In Civilised Societies Nothing Exceeds the Worth of Human Life or Even the Pain of Human Beings. But In society like Ours where 40,000 Innocent Civilians have lost their Lives in War against Terrorism perhaps people No Longer care. I wonder when wud Our Society return to a state when killing one being wud be considered Killing a Humanity ..!!! Recommend

  • nitish

    Yes ,Death of those 26 people does not worth reporting.These r those people who went on rampage,torched and destroyed public property.A civilized society should never allow this.Even their family member should be kept under custody and questioned for their heinous act .It is clearly a question mark on the society and culture in which they have been brought up.Have you ever imagined what impression world have about you people specially after riot on that particular day.I saw the video on my television and I was shocked.Even 6 and 7 yr old kids were protesting with gun and grenade.Those goons who torched the cinema hall should be brought up to the book and fined to pay for the loses.Why common people should suffer for the damage of property caused by some perverts?Loss of 26 lives should be a lesson for those who want to protest in violent manner. Recommend

  • Haris

    Can’t say I agree with the author.. their just overreacting, to be fairly honest in our country ‘Pakistan’ a life has least value of concern.. everyday someone is dying a bad death in Karachi you hear it in news all along, you’ve seen many times how report barge in the house of the dead and ask “how are you feeling right now?” (which should a good hard slap)

    but here is why I think cinemas are being given more attention, simply put because no cinema has ever been burned down before in a country wide protest and this time not one but six were burnt down and this matter values because I don’t remember these cinema’s showing any trailer which I doubt any one has actually since cause youtube was so quickly banned.

    Life being taken, poor losing loved ones, innocent people taking damage to their properties and being pillaged it all happened in previous protests..

    lets admit it people in our grow numb to these things.Recommend

  • Naveen

    Thought provoking and very well said. As a nation where are we going and what are we trying to prove, no answer yet. May Allah guide us. Recommend

  • Imad Uddin

    Half of our problems can be solved if we prioritize the value of “innocent lives” above everything else. And burning our own culture and art like tht is as disastrous for our identity as westernization.Recommend

  • Still

    It’s a very strange argument that is made in this article. Yes peoples lives are important and that loss should be reported. Even today I’m sure there are lives out there which have been lost to violence which we’ll never hear of. People in this city die of drinking contaminated water and we hear nothing of it and make nothing of it. Yes we seem to be numbed by the loss of human life and that shouldn’t be the case. BUT WHY do you have an objection to reports of cinema’s being burnt? Firstly I do not think there was enough coverage on it and secondly the cinemas were not just about ‘entertainment’ as you seem to think- they are part of this city’s history, it’s public culture, democratic public culture, people’s livelihood, their memories and so much more. The torching of those buildings not ‘just’ cinemas as you seem to think made a lot us see the compete anarchy, destructiveness and lack of any human values in what happened that day.
    Somehow your bizarre parallel between lack of reportage on lives lost and reportage on cinema burnt belies a political/cultural agenda on your part which is extremely naive at its best and extremely discomforting at its worst.Recommend

  • She

    On one hand we have these radical extremists who want the whole Pakistanis to believe that watching a movie or listening a song is a sin while the other side including media is packed with those so-called liberals who have nothing else more important but to highlight how intolerant these homegrown extremists are. Recommend

  • Sami

    The last time I checked human life was more worthy than property ….. So, the author’s argument about the media’s screwed up priorities is valid…. But again what can you really expect from a delinquent media which covered the wedding of a washed up cricketer and an extremely mediocre tennis player for over three weeks??Recommend

  • Khurram Awan

    On that day I saw the coverage of the dead on almost every news channels of Pakistan and on all talk shows and no one talked about Cinemas but all talked about Human beings on Pakistani News channels so what are you talking about???.. Also out of the 300,000 Twitter crowd of Pakistan showing tweets of some 7 or 8 individuals and then making up your point is a sheer stupidity and nothing else. Generalization is a pretty bad thing and atleast 26 People are lucky enough that people talked about them. Do you know on that day in Karachi alone 3 Ahmedis were gunned down by the mob but you all remained silent and they were not included in the 26 list. . Also the properties that were burnt mainly included the properties of Shias and Ahmeds and again you all remain silent. Also the writers like you are also silent when some target killing of settlers are done in Karachi and in Balochistan.Recommend

  • GrimmJow

    Clearly indicates that the value of human life is decreasing with each passing day since it’s (killings & murders) something that continues to happen on a daily basis.Recommend

  • Seabass

    @ Khurram Awan- very well made point!Recommend

  • Seabass

    @ Khurram Awan- very well made point.Recommend

  • Ms. Ras

    Aptly written and rightly directed. The loss of life of a loved one is so over whelming that at times one would want to give away all one has to bring the dead back but nothing could help. The cinemas could be rebuilt , ATMs refurbished, buildings repaired but life once lost is lost forever and the pain `s enormity can only be felt by the one actually going through it.

    Yes, Yes , Yes this is not a humanly attitude and we should condemn it. Recommend

  • Kay

    Aren’t the people killed during that violence were themselves responsible for their deaths to much extent..I would say all taking part in the violent protests were suicidal. No need to blame media.

    Also I want to ask the author why we build a 6 million HUMAN army to protect this country. Are the humans important or this country and it’s property?? please replyRecommend

  • Imran Manzoor

    How did these culprits in garb of a religious cause played with lives and destroyed the public properties. One Major question: How did these arsonists managed to get so much time to open the closed shutters and then destroy the cinema houses? In which direction the investigation is being carried out? What about compensation to the owners? Life is no doubt most important but property is important as well because it caters the jobs of many, just think before making a comparison. Recommend

  • hamurabi

    who killed the people? Barelvi hooligans?Recommend