Sep 20, 2010

While Rome burned…

Dr A Q Khan
The Roman Empire was at its peak, Christianity had just started, when a boy was born on Dec 15 in 37 AD in a suburb of Rome. He was later to become the infamous Emperor Nero. On his maternal side he was related to Caesar. In those days intrigues, murders and scheming was quite common within the royal family and it was by these means that Nero became emperor at the age of 16. There are many stories about Nero, and he is even accused of murdering his mother. Historians accuse him of being the most cruel and tyrannical intriguer of all the Roman emperors. On July 18, 64, when there was a huge fire in Rome that originated in a fireworks shop. At the time the fire raged, people found Nero playing the fiddle in the royal park. There was even rumour that Nero himself had the fire started in order to level the area for the construction of a huge new palace complex. It is said that, in order to divert the blame from himself, he accused the new Christian community of arson. They were subjected to extremely cruel and inhuman treatment, like being thrown to ferocious, hungry wild dogs, nailed to crosses and burned alive.
However, there are also historians who credit Nero with fearlessly roaming around in the burning areas and opening up his palaces for the displaced victims and feeding them. It is also said that he built new spacious houses for citizens at greater distances from each other in order to protect them from future fires. He is also praised by some for providing liberties to his subjects and safeguarding them.
Because of his cruel and brutal murder of Christians, the public turned against him and the Senate condemned him to death by lashing. In order to avoid this public humiliation, Nero chose to drink poison. He died on June 9, 68, at the age of 31.
The main reason for cruelty and misbehaviour by such rulers is the absence of checks and balances. Characterless leaders, after gaining power, become totally oblivious to the pains and troubles of the common man and consider those who point out their misdeeds and shortcomings to be their worst enemies. Let us look at the precarious situation prevailing in our country. The rulers are totally ignoring the interests of those who voted them into power. That same public is being mistreated with impunity and the police are allowed to carry out cruel baton-charges. Hundreds of thousands of hungry, homeless flood-affected people are being treated as pariahs. All our leaders do is undertake a brief helicopter flight to a predetermined area, properly secured and surrounded by well-fed and quickly assembled supporters. Photos of these excursions are shown on TV and published in newspapers. And then the leaders carry on with their daily lives, as if nothing has happened. They forget that the public never forgets such attitudes and take revenge at the first opportunity offered.
This poor country of ours has been subjected to successive oppressive and tyrannical rulers, both civilian and military. Starting from the deranged Ghulam Mohammad, through Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Gen Zia and, last but not least, to Gen Musharraf, all played havoc with the country that gave them so much. We have only to recall the Musharraf era to be reminded of the betrayal of benefactors, the selling of the sovereignty of the country at a phone call from a foreign power, the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the burning and killing of men, women and children in the Lal Masjid affair and the murder and burning of innocent people in Karachi. Would the people not have been justified in branding him as the Nero of Pakistan?
Nowadays our Nero-like leaders are allowing the merciless beating of starving, thirsty, half-naked flood victims while they patronisingly pat old ladies on the head as if they were little children. The whole world has branded our leaders and the government as corrupt, and their corruption has been mentioned in terms of “percentages.” Contrasted to the official lethargy is the sincere and efficient help provided by the personnel of the armed forces, NGOs, social workers and the media. But for their help, many more human lives would have been lost. No wonder, then, that MQM leader Altaf Hussain has suggested draconian measures, similar to those used under martial law, for the solution of the problems of the country. However, he should be giving practical assistance here, and not armchair advice from London. Even those politicians of the so called “friendly opposition” are not free of blame, as it is indirectly through them that the present clique can remain in power.
Equally painful is the fact that the judiciary has totally failed to deal with the criminals involved in corruption, fraud, loan defaults and political murders due to lacunas in the present penal codes. These loopholes made it possible for all sorts of mischievous means to be used for defiance of judgments and avoidance of penalties. The compulsory appearance of a witness to give evidence makes a mockery of the whole system as no witness dares to come forward for fear of repercussions, even though, in many cases, there is clear TV footage of the crimes committed. The old qazi system was much more efficient. Under that system, criminals would never have been allowed to go scot-free.
Our leaders enjoy foreign trips and luxurious lifestyles, paying only lip service to the poor and their suffering. Meanwhile, all the political intrigues and misbehaviour continues unabated. This cannot go on forever. Almighty Allah has ordained: “Deaf, dumb and blind they are, hence they are void of wisdom. Deaf, dumb and blind they are, hence they do not see. Deaf, dumb and blind they are, hence they don’t understand.” In Surah Ibrahim we have been warned: “Think not that Allah does not heed the deeds of the wrongdoers. He but gives them respite against a (fixed) day when their eyes will fixedly stare in horror.”
Our leaders have before them the examples of their predecessors. Did they not all plan, scheme and intrigue? But all in vain, for Allah is the best planner. They ended up either in graves, were disgracefully banished from their homeland or chose to live in exile. If our leaders cannot learn from such a recent past, their fate will be no different and they will become homegrown Neros along the lines of the Roman Nero. They will simply disappear and be replaced by others who, hopefully, will have learned from history and will thus do a better job.

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