I wanted to tell you why I thought the bombing in Islamabad just happened. That’s what I ought to talk about, in this world of terrorists and wars on terror and conspiracy theories about military intervention into civilian affairs and covert operations that create terrorists.
But can I tell you instead that the crenulations on the very top of the Islamabad Marriott are a sort of jaunty seventies mihrab shape? – a nod in the direction of both Islam and the modernist obsession with geometry.
Islamabad is full of that kind of architecture: tall buildings with porthole windows, triangular houses that fail to be A-frames. Pakistani architects strove in the sixties and seventies to create that perfect, progressive, modern form, that departure from tradition that would mark the beginning of an enlightened and prosperous age.
When I was a kid, my mother would go to what was then the Holiday Inn and enter it through a side door. I was often with her. She’s American and non-Muslim, so she had an alcohol permit with which she would buy bad vodka, worse gin, and some half decent beer to bring home for the party we would be having the next night. It was Murree Brewery beer with a horse involved somewhere in the logo. She would walk in, hand a man behind a high counter her permit, which he would inspect as he chatted her up, and she would come away with the loot and a sense of exasperation: at the fact of the permit and that all it bought her was lousy local booze.
Over the years, that building has acquired thicker and thicker skin. Coats of paint and concrete blockades have built up on it until you can only park far across the road or in the next city block in order to come in for their conferences, or weddings, or expensive Thai food, or bad local booze.
Rich people go to the Marriott; poor people guard them.
Not that it mattered in the flames of that inferno, anymore, except that the guards were already dead by the time the guests started running. They were trying to put out the fire in the suicide truck. The cab exploded with a grenade; then the back of the truck caught fire and the guards rushed away, only to rush back with fire extinguishers.
The Interior Ministry may yet release the rest of the footage, and show the entire truck exploding, making a fifty-foot wide crater, killing the guards and the valet staff and anyone in a car on that road and anyone in the driveway.
I think there must have been another explosion inside, even though I haven’t heard a single report about it. Because when I turned on the TV, a room on the top floor was gushing fire and then a few minutes later, the gas main ignited, and a whole floor was ablaze. Someone who was there told a friend of mine that he heard two explosions, one of which was from the inside.
But, like I said, there will be more theories.
What I know is that the windows blew. The gas main ignited. The rooms caught fire. People were perched on the windows, waiting to be rescued. And someone thinks this is Islam.
Someone thinks this is the straight path, siraat-e-mustaqeem, that God wanted us all to travel. The path of an explosive-laden lorry straight into the gates of a building where people were doing the business of living. Someone has died making sure this would happen and someone else is patting himself on the back, between the sunset and the night time prayer, for a job well done.
If you die in a state of worship, you’re a martyr. Anyone who died breaking the fast, therefore, is a martyr. It was heartbreaking to watch on TV the funeral prayers held for a dead police officer who was there at the scene. To see his daughters weeping and his body enshrouded. To know that nobody’s filming the last rites of the unimportant dead, if they’re even being offered.
Where do you bury pieces of a man? What do you say over him? Does he get a shroud?
If you die a mass murderer, your soul is forfeit and your body… You know, I don’t care about your body and I don’t care to find out how it should be treated.
The point is anyway moot – the bomber is laminated over the landscape and I hope no one ever prays for him again. Although I know that somewhere out there his friends have read his janaza in the absence of his body and praised his name to God. May they become stains on their own souls.
Those who died on Saturday at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, breaking their fasts, or holidaying, or guarding the hotel, or parking the cars, died martyrs because they were conducting the business of life, which is living; and life is worship and who dies in a state of worship is shaheed.
Who dies a mass murderer is just a dead mass murderer, waiting on God’s mercy to supersede God’s justice. May he be a stain on his own soul.