Tarar Square

Why the recent 'sexist spat' in Pakistan reminds me of Game of Thrones

Winning a Twitter who-is-more-abusive battle should not be the highlight of your day.

 |  Tarar Square  |  7-minute read |   28-04-2019
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"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked in your favour."

The brilliant, cynical but never irrelevant Tyrion Lannister, and the things he says, it is as if instead of the realm of Westeros and beyond created by George RR Martin and enhanced by David Benioff and DB Weiss, he is speaking in the context of the world I live in, the world around me, the world I try to make sense of.

And it is not merely Tyrion whose words make more sense than of those who claim to speak for us in our parliaments and on our television screens. Every character of Game of Thrones, stripped of the fictionalisation of the era, dialect, choice of words, costumes, landscape, customs, peculiarities, is relatable. Human beings since the inception of mankind have had the most unremarkable penchant for remaining unalterable despite the world around them changing to the point of unrecognisability.

Take the games for power, disguised in seeking of votes and holding of elections and promises to change the life of the common man and destiny of the country, and throw in some violence, drama, sex, rumour-mongering, defamation through innuendos and lies, backstabbing, cut-throating, betrayal, deception, and there is a Game of Thrones in loop throughout the world in one form or the other. It exists in Pakistan in ways that are ugly, ridiculous, macabre, and increasingly cruel.

tyrion_042819023609.jpgThe Game of Thrones in Pakistan is ugly, ridiculous and macabre. (Photo: Twitter)

The microcosm of that is Pakistan's Twitter.

Viewing it from a distance — having taken a tweeting hiatus for the last few weeks, it makes me cringe even more than it did when I was actively tweeting. I write ergo I need to remain updated about what is happening. I read news online, and I don't have a television, and ergo Twitter is my go-to place for news that matter, and things that I just read. The coarseness of language and discourse, the absence of civility and healthy debate, the inability to disagree with politeness and to even dislike without mudslinging, it was all there always.

Human beings seem to be genetically unable to hide their worst side when hidden behind a veil, a wall, a glass, and these days a screen — be it of a phone or a computer. But now it is all out of control, in a free fall, blind to what is being damaged, who is being damaged, and how much. In person, the façade is still there. Somewhat.

Online, all bets are off. Gloves are off. Greasy palms are rubbed in glee. Fangs are bared. Claws are sharper than ever. And people's lives and characters are hashtagged to smithereens that fly in all directions, taking no account of who is being hurt, who is bleeding.

After writing one of my two weekly articles on Wednesday morning, I felt a deep sense of anguish in addition to what I've been living with for weeks. Writing about 14 people who were picked and killed with a shot to head at point blank range in Ormara, Balochistan, and the 259 churchgoers and tourists in churches and five-star hotels of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, I said a prayer for all who had lost a loved one, some more than one, some their entire families. The horror, darkness and grief of an act of terrorism is beyond nationality, beyond border, beyond ideology, uniting the world in an embrace that is warm, kind and just what this hate-tainted humanity needs.

Later that day, I noticed a couple of tweets and two hashtags. For once, the inane callousness of words on Twitter made me sad. Without ever resorting to incivility and bad language, and even while being absent from Twitter, I'm a constant target of hateful trolling. Honestly, I couldn't care less; it amuses me, nothing else: my opinion is so important to people whose existence I'm unaware of. Strange, right? But what I see people doing to people, even people who troll me, it makes me wonder how it all turned so ugly, so dark, so twisted.

All around us, there is death and pain and misery and hardships and poverty and disease and natural disasters, yet our priorities are so skewed it is like watching things sitting in a rollercoaster that is stuck in an upside-down loop. Toddlers are dying after being fatally injected, young women are raped and murdered in government hospitals, babies are diagnosed with HIV, polio workers are being killed, and young girls are trafficked by their own families who have nothing but their children to sell. 150,000 tons of wheat crop is destroyed because of two days of rainfall in South Punjab, setting in motion a series of events that would be a reason for a long period of misery for countless people. Inflation is crippling everyday life of the millions who live on a fixed income that is already too little to be of much use to them and their children.

But hey, why waste your time and energy and words and anger and outrage and condemnation and compassion and empathy on things that matter? Let's just hashtag, and be the ugliest you could be in a matter of a few thousand tweets and favourites. Just be the worst of you, and unleash your anger in words that are neither necessary nor applicable even when the annoyance or the anger is immense and must be verbalised.

Going back to the two hashtags and tweets — many more appeared over the next two days, but I decided to close my eyes and Twitter app for those; my life can't be about shaking my head in futile what's-wrong-with-people-one was Bilawal Bhutto Sahiba, and the other one was bleep-bleep-ku**a (bi**h).

pakistan-inside_042819023655.jpgSahiba controversy: It was unbecoming of a Prime Minister to refer to PPP chairperson as 'Bilawal Sahiba'. (Photo: Reuters/Twitter)

The first one first: yes, there isn't and there mustn't be any whataboutery regarding the inexcusable usage of words by Prime Minister Imran Khan when mentioning Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. It is an absolute NO: for any public figure, and especially a prime minister, to ever use the slip-of-tongue excuse to cover the distastefulness of a cruelly uttered word or phrase. Our leaders must be very conscious of their words and the effect of their words, and that must be said without indulging in any oh-but, oh-if, but-they-do-it-too.

The next was a tweet of a female journalist, a human rights activist and a known PPP supporter. Prime Minister Khan was called a barking dog, and his "owners" were to be sued. Thousands of condemnatory tweets later, it was explained as a "Punjabi adage," and the rest, as they say, is an outpouring of filth and formation of the k**ia hashtag followed by other hashtags for other journalists, most of whose names and work I'm unfamiliar with, but I just have one thing to say: STOP.

It is absolutely unnecessary to react to criticism, trolling and even abuse with a worse form of the same. It is abominable to add anyone's name to abusive words and turn them into trends. It is undignified beyond words to have grey hair and behave like high school bullies high on bad weed and testosterone. It is utterly unacceptable for young people to think using worse language is an appropriate counter-response to online filth. It is simply a waste of time to keep responding to petulant responses of a troll and her/his group of like-minded trolls who in their fake unity act as the liberal, progressive, enlightened minority of Pakistan. It is an unpardonable act in my eyes to start a war to prove they are anything but liberal, progressive, enlightened. In a few words: LET IT REST.

Winning a Twitter who-is-more-abusive battle should not be the highlight of your day. Hashtagging a person with a gaali shouldn't be your high-five moment. As a woman, constant trolling and use of bad language for women you've political disagreements shouldn't be your lol moment, back-patting your vicious troll buddies. Justification of yellow journalism shouldn't be your freedom of expression. Construction of vicious hashtags to counter that yellow journalism shouldn't be your idea of one-upping in a Twitter battle. Indulging in whataboutery in a futile justification of a below-the-belt remark of a leader shouldn't be your idea of loyalty to a political party. Abusing your prime minister shouldn't be your way of proving your loyalty to another political party.

Look within. Look at yourself in the mirror. Someday you will see what is apparent to everyone around you. You are no longer you. Do you ever wonder what happened to you? The real you. Remember that you?

Also Read: All men must die. But Game of Thrones is not about men and women


Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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