By Nasim Zehra: January 30, 2007
Throughout time the power of narrative has remained a potent force for constructing common zones of collective existence, ones that often travel through multiple generations. This power is like the miracle that overwhelms the human consciousness with its pathos, its sensitivities and its emotional appeal. Few narratives in history have so captured the human consciousness as has Karbala. Of the multiple messages it has left behind, four are particularly significant.
One, Karbala represents indivisibility of being, of values, of sensitivities, of thoughts and of action. So in the heat of the struggle, at the height of what one believes is the virtuous act, the correctness of human behaviour must not be compromised. Pursuit of the virtuous and the moral provide no license for the immoral. In collective zones these are easy licenses to give to oneself, as in Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. No less is this license at work when suicide bombers target the innocent. Karbala is the story of combining the struggle with the best of human values. It is about no licences at the height of the struggle. At Karbala we see the followers of Islam, the practitioners of the Quranic teachings and followers of the Holy Prophet's (PBUH) and his family's spiritual track. In the tradition of his grandfather, the Prophet, Imam Husain demonstrated at Karbala demonstrated that the efficacy of the message of the struggle is entirely linked to the character of the messenger.
Two, in journeying through life, opt for the correct, effective path. The one through which you can actually impact upon your context. The effective path is not always the confrontational one. Space to spread one's message and ideology is what is most important. If possible, do not give bayat, allegiance, to the corrupt and malevolent Yazid. If all the space is squeezed, like it was for Imam Hussain, then battle becomes imperative. Don't be forced, but when space is all squeezed then don't be forced to change you ideals and your Qibla.
To be the force of change it is essential to embrace both inflexibility and flexibility. Your own character has to be inflexible; for example, steadfast and inflexible in sacrifice and incorruptible in position of power. Yet flexibility is the hallmark of engagement with people and with power.
Three, Karbala's most compelling message remains, never let the spirit die, never give up your ideals. They must remain your guiding principles to enrich your soul and spirit.
Four, Karbala effected a revolutionary recasting of power, both in content and in practice. The strength of the martyred Imam's message confronted the oppressive power of its times. It confronted tyranny and injustice through the centuries. Imam Hussain's own conduct at Karbala in executing his responsibilities, in conducting his relationships, in engaging with the enemy, presented power in a changed context; it was power away from brute force to the gentle spirit of humanity. Karbala not only threatened tyrannical power, it also humanised power. Karbala tutored subsequent generations also in the values of justice, fair play, respect, dignity, patience, tolerance.
Karbala's values have connected generations. Ultimately it is around the swivel of values that the human civilisation connects. Take a look around to know that the contemporary calculus of power that informs most politics is a doomed calculus.
The world has been hit by unprecedented calamity; the mountains, the seabed, the land and the atmosphere rattled by earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, snowstorms and floods. All this has so emphatically demonstrating the utter fragility of being. And against the utter fragility of being this is not such a hard message to comprehend. When the being is so fragile only the intangible spirit remains the abiding reality. The spirit represents the core of our being. Yet, in witnessing the power-propelled and the force-enforced frameworks of management, it is difficult to forget that the human spirit that naturally gravitates towards good is being stifled in the process. Hence the mayhem. Undoubtedly for the spirit the message of Karbala offers the most abiding lesson.
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org