Remember, Remember, the fifth of November

“Remember, Remember, the fifth of November*

Hassan Rehman

“It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

By all means he seems an ordinary mortal. Talk to him and the level of his reasoning reveals that he has not been fortunate enough to attend some prestigious school or college. His clothing reveals that he belongs to a middle class family. His ‘khatara’ byke confirms his middle class back ground. If he is not wearing black coat and pant, no one will believe that he is a lawyer. So what made TIME print his photograph at its title back in November 2007?


His courage and his defiance. On 5th November, 2007, when the premises of the Lahore High Court were stormed by the Police, where hundreds of lawyers and dozens of students and faculty members from LUMS & FAST were peacefully protesting against the unconstitutional steps of the then-President Pervez Musharraf, Afaq did something no sane person could have imagined. When the Police started firing tear gas shells on the protestors (extensive baton charging not being an effective lesson), he started throwing those shells back at the Police. A TIME reporter captured the image which was to appear at the title of TIME (complete story at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1682292,00.html). Seeing the image, Ralph Nader noted that US lawyers to learn a lesson in resistance from Pakistani lawyers (http://www.counterpunch.org/nader11132007.html).

Afaq, like hundreds of his colleagues in Lahore and thousands in other cities of the country, was detained that day and sent to a prison outside Lahore. He was released after a few days but he didn’t learn the lesson the establishment wanted him to learn. He took part in all lawyers’ protests afterwards and was one of the ‘vigil keepers’ who were arrested from the official residence of the honorable Justice Shahid Siddiqi on 6th December, when the then Chief (In)Justice of LHC ordered the eviction of the honorable Justice Shahid Siddiqi on the grounds that since he had refused to take oath under the PCO, he was no more a judge. Afaq was at the Aiwan-e-Adal on 10th January, 2008, when the GPO was rocked with a suicide attack. Afaq, like thousands of his colleagues from around Pakistan, participated in the boycott of the PCO judges, which meant loss of income (he is not a salaried person). I come to the point lest it seems that I am writing an obituary.

Afaq is an ordinary person, a mediocre being. What differentiates him from the rest of us is his belief in struggle. A struggle which is not necessarily waged in the air-conditioned court rooms, or in the ivory towers of academia (or, for that matter, on the online discussion boards and email lists). He, and his fellows (students, doctors, faculty members, civil society activists) believe that protesting on the roads is a question of philosophy – of asserting one’s being – and not necessarily of strategy. They refuse to live like the modern counterparts of Roman spectators, who read blogs, send links of atrocities recorded at YouTube to each other, indulge in discussions, all from the safe havens of their homes and offices. (Their Roman counterparts used to go to stadiums to watch the atrocities – pity they didn’t have access to YouTube, discussion boards and online articles to have fun). The most important dividend of Afaq’s struggle (ignoring the tear gas shells and detention at prisons) is the satisfaction – that he tried his best when something blatantly wrong was being done to his country. And he, alongwith thousands of brave and determined lawyers of Pakistan, has done us a favor that can never be forgotten. I disagree with the utilitarian angle of looking at things (lawyers helped bring CJ back and the CJ is helping the poor by reducing the price of sugar and the cases are being disposed of quickly these days!!) or, to be precise, attribute more importance to the less-utilitarian (more philosophical??) angle of looking at things. Lawyers helped this nation in witnessing a moment which I label as the ‘indigenous audacity of hope’. We, the ‘sofa Bolsheviks’ and others, owe a lot to them for this favor. Hope that we had lost; hope that we were desperately seeking. A lesson to be learned from the struggle that spanned two years: issues don’t survive on their intrinsic academic or ethical importance alone, their survival, and the possibility of some solution down the road, is dependent on the extent of the determination of their supporters.

One is reminded of a quote attributed to Plato, “One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that we end up being governed by our inferiors” – no reference intended!!

*The title is a comment made by V, the masked anarchist and the protagonist of the movie ‘V for Vendetta. Interestingly, the tactics used by the lawyers’ movement, peaceful from day one till the end, have no similarity with the tactics used by the anarchist in this movie!

The writer is an IT professional and a political worker associated with FASTRising.org. An edited version of this article appeared at http://pakistaniat.com/2009/11/05/lawyers-movement/


Some relevant links:

http://reddiarypk.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/today-at-the-lahore-high-court/

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1680691_1480052,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1680691_1480042,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1680691_1480041,00.html

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