On November 13, 1974, police were called to a home situated on Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York. The bodies of Ronald Defeo, Sr., his wife, and four of their five children were found inside the home. They had been shot execution-style. The survivor (Ronald Defeo, Jr.) was later charged and convicted for the murder of his family. The news of the death of a family by a firstborn son was shattering enough. The grisly nature of the crime lent itself to the creation of urban legends.
The legends that followed the crime have made this tale one of iconic value. It retains elements of American Gothic literature. A family who later took residence in the home fled with claims of demon footprints in the snow and startling events inside the residence. The home had an architectural style amenable to putting a bit of spin on horror. A Dutch Colonial built early in the 20th century, the home sported two windows, which were quarter moons. What may have been a happy home is now eternally cast as a haunted house. The whole thing evolved much like the writing of Edgar Allen Poe. The prose embedded in “The Fall of the House of Usher” comes to mind when looking at the exterior of the home. The “vacant eye-like windows”, and Edgar Allen Poe’s belief that the eyes were the windows to the soul fit perfectly. As events moved along, a wildly popular movie secured the story of the Amityville tragedy for future gawkers and conspiracy theorists.
Today, Pakistan clings tightly to its own version of The Amityville Horror. To keep the blood-spattered house marketable, the leadership pays homage at their own altar of demons. The urban legends that present the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as noble beasts are nebulous ideas floated into the psyche of mere idiots. The urban legends cannot be substantiated. But then again, Pakistan maintains a cultural gestalt that supports weird political dynamics.
So let’s take a look at just two of the urban legends that have allowed the TTP and men like Hakeemullah Mehsud to take root and flourish in Pakistan’s soil. The hand wringing and tears from the leadership of your nation disgusts me. These men...are in power? They maintain legends that run oppositional to the reality on the ground.
Urban legend I:
Hakeemullah Mehsud was a noble beast who cared about the average Pakistani.
Debunking the myth:
Mehsud was an ideologically hypnotised young man who took up arms against his nation. The mass murder of civilians under the nobility of flag-waving against the west does not work for me. This ‘ruler’ did not join a cause and then become a mass murderer. Whenever he planned an operation, a body count was sure to follow. Mehsud was a bigoted racist. He did not treat all men equally. In 2007, he did not spare the captured Shi’a Pakistani soldiers. He beheaded them.
Urban Legend II:
A ‘peace process’ is possible with the leadership of the TTP.
Debunking the myth:
Let’s call this negotiation by its proper name. The negotiation is with a Mafia-style organisation that runs a protection racket. Throw the beasts a bit of money and status. They, in turn, might possibly quit throwing back chunks of bloody flesh. TTP is like ‘junior’, the son who killed the whole family. But the Amityville Horror show must go on.
After the death of Mehsud, the Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq vowed revenge. “Every drop of Hakeemullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber. America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood.” Blather, blather.
The words above are not the stuff of urban legend. They speak the truth regarding the Taliban and their business model. In June, one Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan site posted a rather lengthy justification for suicide bombings. They clatter about with texts from the schools of jurisprudence. I get a mental picture of a cook in a large kitchen hunting for pots, pans and cooking utensils. The cook has invented a new dish, but cannot quite grasp how to get the food from the stove to the table.
The saddest of distortions of text is the use of what is quoted below to justify suicide bombings:
Mua’th ibn ‘Afra asked the Messenger of Allah: “What makes Allah laugh upon his slave? He replied, ‘The slave immersing himself into the army without armour.’ Mu’ath then took off his armour and fought until he was killed.”
A text that honours the warrior who plunges himself into the ranks of his fighting comrades to assist them is convoluted to support plunging into a group of citizens with asymmetrical battlefield weaponry. Suicide vests are battlefield weaponry used to ambush the innocent.
We locked up our Unabomber. We locked onto Hakeemullah Mehsud. No apology from this former naval officer. Your Amityville Horror needs to end. It will only end when Pakistan chooses to love truth more than myth.
“I looked upon the scene before me/Upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain/Upon the bleak walls/Upon the vacant eye-like windows/Upon a few rank sedges/ And upon a few white trunks of decayed trees/With an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium/The bitter lapse into everyday life/The hideous dropping off of the veil” — Edgar Allen Poe.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at email@example.com