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The Islamabad Marriott

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.


Kyla Pasha

Kyla Pasha is a Pakistani poet, journalist, and contributing editor to GC. Please visit her homepage here.

4 thoughts on “The Islamabad Marriott

  1. nk & zaibun: Thank you.

    Poeschl: If it turned out that your suspicions were true, it would not be surprising or probably anywhere near the first time. We make a big deal about the democratic process, but in truth, no government of Pakistan has ever erred on the side of protecting the public. Who did this is also a question.

    Thanks for reading.

  2. According to a 22 September 2008 BBC News website item, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and other Pakistani chief ministers narrowly escaped being killed in the bombing of the Marriott Hotel. These government officials were scheduled to have dinner at the Marriott the night of the bombing, but relocated their dinner at the last minute.

    According to this BBC News website item,
    the Pakistani Prime Minister, Pakistani Armed Forces Chief (I’m not sure I recall the correct title), and possibly some other ministers in the Government of Pakistan were scheduled to be hosted at dinner by the Speaker of Pakistan’s National Parliament at the Marriott Hotel on the night of the bombing. At the last minute, they relocated to the Prime Minister’s residence.

    My own suspicion is that the Pakistani government had already received information that there might be a bombing of either Pakistan’s National Parliament building, the Prime Minister’s residence, or the Marriott Hotel, and therefore publicly scheduled, as deliberate misinformation, the Prime Minister’s dinner at the Marriott Hotel on the night of the bombing, and then, at the last minute, surreptitiously relocated the dinner to the Prime Minister’s residence, which was more heavily guarded than the Marriott.

    Details about the Prime Minister’s escape can be found on the BBC News website at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7628964.stm

    The title of the above BBC News item is “Pakistan leaders’ ‘narrow escape’,” and its date is 22 September 2008 at 10:35 GMT.

    The theory that the bomber(s) chose the Marriott because it was more lightly guarded is mentioned in a BBC News website item entitled “Islamabad’s ‘message from Hell’,” dated 20 September 2008 at 20:31 GMT. I didn’t record the URL, but the item can be found at the BBC News website’s URL above.

    I realize that readers of this column are probably already aware of these BBC updates on the Marriott Hotel bombing, but I wanted to call attention to these BBC updates to support my suspicion that the Pakistani government probably had prior information that there would be a bombing that night and carefully thwarted what the government might have believed was a planned assassination of Pakistan’s prime minister — or else simply deliberately leaked misinformation about the Prime Minister’s dinner in order to prevent any bomber(s) from harming Pakistani leadership.

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