Against the lions

Published in Dawn Comment – cover art by

America’s Justice Cardozo once described the dissenter as the gladiator making a last stand against the lions. He may well have been speaking for the likes of Justices Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and Gulzar Ahmed when he wrote,

The voice of the majority may be that of force triumphant, content with the plaudits of the hour…The dissenter speaks to the future, and his voice is pitched to a key that will carry through the years.…(martyrs) do not see the hooting throng. Their eyes are fixed on the eternities.

In any event, the ‘hooting throng’ is here: they will take up airtime and column inches, posters and panaflex. The judgment will be turned inside out, misquoted, misconstrued, and misunderstood. There will be a brouhaha over the subsequent investigation, and a bigger one over its implications. And that’s when we get past The Godfather references.

Panama season, already a yearlong exercise in mass hysteria, is far from over. Anyone witness to what went on in court today – rage or revelry depending on which side you were standing on – will know that. All the ingredients for a Pakistani soap are in the offing: politics is involved, the military is (now) involved, and the fate of a family that’s been in charge since before most Pakistanis were born is, as ever, involved.

And yet, when all this is over, one thinks back to what their Lordships said: a decision that will be read twenty years later and, after that, a decision that ‘will endure for centuries.’ They were right.

Over half a century later, we remember the Tamizuddin case: upright, honourable, doomed-to-fail Maulvi Tamizuddin, speaker of a dissolved assembly; an admiral without any ships. It was the first time it could all have been different: he pleaded, they listened, they disagreed. Everyone went home.

Yet even in Tamizuddin, Justice A.R. Cornelius dissented. He dissented because, as the old saw goes, the hard thing and the right thing are usually one and the same.

But it was 1955 then; it’s 2017 now. Presiding over one of the most consequential benches in history, Justice Khosa quoted Balzac from the original French: ‘The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.’

The majority of the men and women that made up the Tamizuddin case have departed now, leaving us to trace over what Cornelius wrote. And long after the dust settles on what we call Panama, indeed long after all of us are gone, law students will read Balzac for the first time, the harshness of the indictment. They will understand that it requires every bit of a man’s heart to make that last stand against the lions.

And that might be good enough.

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