What is a victim?

Published: November 22, 2011
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Somehow, the military managed to fool the people into thinking it is a body that is not only separate from the governmental framework, but is supposedly above it. PHOTO: AFP / FILE

All too often we see guilty people play the victim card. Someone made me do it. I couldn’t help it. It was the other guys own fault. And of course, the evergreen, if I didn’t do it someone else would have. Playing the victim is unfortunately an international favourite. From cheating spouses to murderers and rapists, from crooked businessmen and bankers to corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, almost everyone who has ever wronged another is, in their personal interpretations, a guiltless victim.

The reality is that there are generally only two kinds of victims – victims of chance and victims of design.

Chance refers to events and matters that are beyond one’s control, such as birth or blind luck. Design refers to that which we can control, such as the outcomes of our intentional decisions.

Victims of chance are the ones that are usually guiltless, for they are the ones who fall victim to events beyond their control. They are the people who are treated like second-class citizens because of the colour of their skin. They are the ones who are abused because of biological differences. They are the ones who are denied basic human rights because of the name they refer to their god by.

They are victims, because society is aligned in such a way to make sure they remain that way, but it doesn’t have to stay so.

In 1964, American civil rights activist Malcolm X delivered a speech, The Ballot or the Bullet, a speech that defined his legacy. Speaking soon after leaving the Nation of Islam because of the cult structure and the perversion of religious doctrines by its leadership (sound familiar?), X, who converted to Sunni Islam around the same time, told a church full of black people:

“It’s time for us to submerge our differences and realise that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem – a problem that will make you catch hell whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist. Whether you’re educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or in the alley, you’re going to catch hell just like I am.”

He was referring to white racists, but the context of what he said goes beyond racism.

Most of us may chose who we become, but few of us can change what we are. Therein lies the problem. Malcolm X, could somewhat justifiably be called a racist just a few months before this speech, if not for the fact that he was quoting verbatim the racist lies he had been told were facts by his former leaders, such as that white people, even if they are Muslim, are not allowed in Mecca. Having a half-white mother who was a child of rape, and hated her white ‘father’ because of it, didn’t help.

Hajj, and the experiences attached with it, showed him that this and many of the other racially-motivated teachings of his former leaders were in fact, false. When he saw a million people, black, white and everything in between, walking peacefully around Islam’s holiest site, he knew that God could not approve of racism.

Closer to home, we have Abdul Sattar Edhi, the greatest servant this country has ever had. A religious man who runs a secular, non-profit welfare organisation. Proof that being religious doesn’t make anyone a bigot.

Intolerance is based in closed-mindedness and adherence to the nonsensical views spouted by those who are trapped in time. It’s just as easy to be an anti-Semitic Muslim as an anti-Islam Christian. It’s just as easy to hate the white man as it is to hate the brown, black, red or yellow man. It’s not as easy to learn to accept them, not for what they are, but for what we are.

We are all in some way victims and beneficiaries of both, chance and design. But to remain victims of chance should not be anyone’s destiny. Most such people don’t deserve to be victims at all. We can save the victims of chance, simply by reforming ourselves and setting good examples through our personal conduct. It may take a while, but then, all good things do.

If it doesn’t take senators and congressmen and presidential proclamations to give freedom to the white man, it is not necessary for legislation or proclamation or Supreme Court decisions to give freedom to the black man [minorities]. You let that white man [majority] know, if this is a country of freedom, let it be a country of freedom; and if it’s not a country of freedom, change it.

Malcolm X

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“The first and the foremost thing that I would like to emphasize is this-remember that you are now a Sovereign Legislative body and you have got all the powers. It, therefore, places on you the gravest responsibility as to how you should take your decisions.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah – Presidential address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947

Last week I began writing about the two broad categories of victims-those who become victims due to events beyond their control (chance), and those who appear to be victims due to circumstances of their own creation (design).

Design is what made victims out of innocent who were ‘falsely accused’ of rape by evil women who couldn’t garner four witnesses of sound moral character when asked to by a court. When these slanderous allegations were ‘proven’ false, the women were punished for having ‘illicit relationships’, while the men got off scot free. Zia’s legal experts apparently felt that illicit heterosexual relationships could take place without the involvement of a man. I wonder what they would do to Virgin Mary?

In the 90s, Pakistan’s (and a few beloved green-flagged allies) involvement in Afghanistan’s affairs, especially militarising and financing the most violent elements of the far right, played no small role in breeding the home-grown terrorists blowing up mosques and schools south-east of the Durand Line.

The US watched their favourite freedom fighter turn into public enemy number one under similar circumstances.

On a related note, a news story that broke midweek can also help illustrate how design can make the party responsible for the ensuing events into a victim.

Memogate

The issue revolves around a memorandum that is alleged to have been drafted with considerable input from Hussain Haqqani. Playing on our Ambassador to the United States’ close relationship with the president, the army is trying to play the victim, and much of the media has bought in to this. As the story goes, the army is being conspired against by the sitting government. All well and good, except for one glaring fact. How can the elected government-the supreme body of the state-be accused of conspiring against one of its own arms? Whatever one’s opinion of the president or our ambassador in Washington may be, the fact that the focus has been on a purported effort to conspire against Pakistan raises a question:

Who represents Pakistan?

a)  Democratic governments that are voted in and out by the people as per the constitution, to function within a strict mandate defined by the constitution, or

b)  The military, an authoritarian body which is constitutionally subservient to the elected government, and whose officers are duty bound to accept the orders of their commanding officer, the President of Pakistan

It is unfortunate that the right answer, according to the law, is the wrong one in practice. General Zia once called the constitution nothing more than a piece of paper which he can tear any time he wishes. Legally, that act in itself would constitute treason. Practically, it is exactly what he did. Of course he wasn’t the first, nor was he the last, and if the memo is to be believed, there may be more to come.

Somehow, somewhere, the military managed to fool the people into thinking it is a body that is not only separate from the governmental framework, but is supposedly above it. The perpetuation of the long-running (and often correct) belief that our political leadership is corrupt and inept can be traced to establishment elements, but what makes the military leadership any different? Defying the very oath upon which your service is based is as bad as anything the politicians have been accused of, especially when coupled with their encroachment on private enterprise via their retirement fund, comprising various Defence Housing Authorities, Fauji Foundation, Army Welfare Trust, and a host of other business interests that have little, if anything, to do with securing the borders and keeping the people of Pakistan safe from foreign and domestic enemies.

This dear readers, is design.

This is what happens when a system is manipulated to allow the oppressors to be branded victims, and the victims as evil. Admittedly, the political hierarchy deserves much of the criticism it gets, but to criticise someone because their subordinates refuse to take orders and purportedly present veiled threats to maintain their positions, as the memo suggests, is wrong.

I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which embodies the will of the people, that I will not engage myself in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve Pakistan in the Pakistan [Army/ Navy/ Air Force] as required by and under the law.

Article 244 of The Constitution of Pakistan: the oath of the armed forces of Pakistan.

Vaqas Asghar

Vaqas Asghar

The author is a senior sub-editor on the Islamabad Desk and also reports on diplomatic events. He tweets as @vasghar (twitter.com/vasghar)

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