Over and over again I have been using Dawn and Dawn.com to hit home the point about the vicious, soul destroying mindset the bulk of Pakistan’s urban middle-classes (especially in the Punjab) have fallen in to.
I have tried to give numerous examples to highlight this devastating observation and here again is another one: On May 28 when terrorists associated with what is called the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ attacked various places of worship of the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore, the TV channels were out in force covering the gruesome event. However, that did not stop them from running happy-go-lucky commercials of their corporate sponsors during breaks, giving the whole event a rather surreal feel.
But this can be expected from this unfortunate republic’s many TV channels. There is now not an iota of doubt left about the level of sheer cynicism, sensationalism and demagoguery that they operate on. Most of them have become a reckless reflection of some of the most obnoxious, conspiratorial and chauvinistic sections found within the country’s convulsing middle-classes.
That said, one however does expect some semblance of decency and reason in the polished corridors of the companies that advertise their brands on these channels. Couldn't any of these companies that always claim to be ‘good social citizens’ have the presence of mind and heart to ask TV channels to stop running their ads during the coverage of blood-splattered events?
Can’t they see how strange their ads look and sound when squeezed between images of blood, gore and tragedy? Don’t these ads with an unending series of plastic smiles and jingly material-worshipping actually end up mocking the tragedy that is unfolding live on the TV screens?
I don’t think such a thought even crosses their minds. And how can it when a number of the same companies so nonchalantly end up sponsoring TV shows run by utter hate-mongers. It’s quite a sight, really, watching macho, loud demagogues and so-called TV anchors spiting venom against the West and then asking for a break that are riddled with commercials of Western multinationals.
A religious TV show on a popular TV channel that in 2009 instigated violence against the Ahmadiyyas continues to be sponsored by various colas, facial creams, telecom brands and shampoos, and so is the show whose host is under scrutiny for allegedly having sympathies and links with terrorist organisations.
In my eyes the companies who claim to represent the decent, ‘family-oriented’ and peaceful ‘modern’ sections of the educated urbanites carry an equal amount of blame as do the channels that let hate-mongers run amok in the studios just to jack up their ratings.
It’s like shouting populist slogans mingled with idiotic juice, milk and telecom jingles over the dead bodies of all those unfortunate souls that these very channels so enthusiastically report and show.
Is there no one among us so-called educated urban classes with the sight, mind and conscience to at least question the kind of convoluted and surreal corporate-jihadi anarchy so clearly visible on TV channels?
Can’t we see that much of what is being preached and ‘debated’ on our channels in the name of religion, justice, reform and politics (and cynically being sponsored by multinationals), is one of the major reasons behind the confused and ravaged state our middle-classes (especially its youth) have come to suffer?
This is not an overstatement. Certain TV anchors and their shows have proven to have enough power to actually instigate violence. Examples are in abundance of idiots listening to idiots on TV, gathering hateful ideas about certain Muslim sects, ‘minorities,’ and personalities, with some actually going to the extent of committing murder in the name of religion.
And yet we can still see such TV anchors and their favourite side-kicks holding fort on prime-time television, and multinationals willingly sponsoring all the hatred and venom that is spewed on these shows.
So what is that narrative upon which a bulk of Pakistan’s ‘political’ and ‘religious’ TV programming is based on?
For years this narrative has gleefully been disseminated by the state, the clergy, schools and now the electronic media. It’s quite simple: Pakistan was made in the name of Islam (read, a theocratic state). Thus, only Muslims (mainly orthodox Sunnis) have the right to rule, run and benefit from this country. ‘Minority’ religions and ‘heretical Islamic sects’ living as Pakistani citizens are not to be trusted. They need to be constitutionally, socially and culturally isolated. Parliamentary democracy too can’t be trusted. It unleashes ethnic forces, ‘corruption’ and undermines the role of the military and that of Islam in the state’s make-up. It threatens the ‘unity’ of the country; a unity based on a homogeneous understanding of Islam (mainly concocted by the state and its right-wing allies). Most of our political, economic and social ills are due to the diabolical conspiracies hatched by our many enemies (especially India, Israel and the West in general). They want to break up Pakistan because Pakistan is the ‘bastion of Islam’ in a volatile region dominated by Indian, American and Shia Iranian hegemony. The many terrorist organisations operating in Pakistan are foreign funded ...
This narrative can go on in its bizarre depiction of what we as a country are or should become. Not for a moment are we ready to stand back a bit and look at what we have made of ourselves and of what we call our home. We call ourselves ‘moderate Muslims,’ and yet applaud or quietly tolerate the hate-spewing claptrap that pours out from our mosques and TV screens. We cheer about the fact that Pakistan is one of the very few democratic Muslim countries with a constitution, and yet we will not speak a word about those clauses and sections in the same constitution that have triggered violence and repression against women and have sanctioned a religiously apartheid state that only allows the orthodox Muslim majority democratic rights to rule the country, or run in an election.
Isn’t it obvious that not only do these sections in the much celebrated constitution go against the modern-Muslim vision of men like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Iqbal and Syed Ahmed Khan, but are also against the basic spirit of tolerance, mercy and justice so vividly present in the Quran?
We have clearly lost sight of what Pakistan was supposed to be: A democratic, modern Muslim country where religion had nothing to do with the matters of the state and where the so-called ‘minorities’ were free to practice their respective faiths.
These are not my words. And neither are they the words that Pakistani children are taught at school, in spite of the fact that these words and thoughts were spoken by the founder of the country, Jinnah, when he succeeded in carving out a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent, thinking that they would struggle under what he believed would become a ‘Hindu theocracy.’
So what happened to that Pakistan? The obvious culprits in this regard are the many years of repressive military regimes and their growing nexus with obscurantist forces that we have had to burden and face. But were the democrats any better?
The 1973 constitution that legitimised religious apartheid was inaugurated under a brilliant and popularly elected Prime Minister and approved by equally elected members of the parliament. And even though the same constitution was further riddled with myopic laws against religious minorities and women by a fanatical and hypocritical ‘Islamic’ dictatorship, how many democrats that came after the demise of this dictatorship ever bothered to at least debate or review these laws?
So much has become taboo in this country — so much so that the question now arises, can we ever become a truly free, enlightened and intellectually robust nation? Or will we keep hiding behind our fragile masks of religiosity and ‘patriotism,’ a mask that goes up in front of our faces every time we are confronted by a situation in which our views and actions (especially in the name of faith) are questioned.
We do not debate. We react and then huddle up behind our flimsy and lopsided historical and national narratives for reassurance, cursing the world for our ills, looking out for ‘infidels’ and ‘heretics’ among us, or for scapegoats in the shape of media-constructed punching bags.
The nightmare we are living today has a lot to do with all this. We remain in a slumber, carving out an isolated ideological comfort zone for ourselves, while obnoxious, sectarian and so-called puritanical keepers of the faith attack and kill in the name of God whenever and however they please. We claim to be treading a middle-path between liberalism and fanaticism, when the truth is, it is exactly the middle-path that has gone entirely missing in how we think, behave, act and react.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
He tweets @NadeemfParacha
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.