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On black and white and conspiracy theories

Updated July 23, 2013

When I was a teenager growing up in Karachi during General Zia’s time, I used to believe that armed revolution was the only solution to the woes of the world. I used to try and convince my school mates that revolution was just round the corner and that it was just a matter of time before the proletariat and peasants of the world would rise up Trotskyite fashion to establish their dictatorship.

Jiskhet se dehkaankomuyassarna ho rozi,
Usskhetkeharkhosha e gandumkojalaa do

If a field does not provide for the laboring peasant,
Then burn every stalk of wheat in that field

Muhammad Iqbal

As I grew older and had opportunities to visit some of the places where the proletariat were supposed to have taken over the state to create a socialist, so called communist system, I saw a different reality to the paradise of humanity I had envisioned. The leaders of the revolution, the so-called vanguard, had established their own oligarchy, and power was being transferred not on merit but on the basis of nepotism and sycophancy. Although basic needs such as education, health care, housing and energy had been provided for the vast majority of the population (no small thing!), private entrepreneurship was frowned upon and even forbidden and people were expected to unquestioningly do their duty to the state, that the corrupt heads of state commanded. The masses were given solutions, without their really having a stake in them. Centralisation was promoted in all sectors of life, even art.

Why I do not see the break-up of the Socialist bloc a defeat of Capitalism over Communism is a whole separate debate. For the moment I’ll just say that I believe the thesis and antithesis created a synthesis and several positive elements of the Socialist system was established in many of the Western style Democracies, to create welfare states – and the evolution continues.

But back in Zia’s time I used to see the world in black and white, or rather red and blue! And on the other side, were not just dictator generals, corrupt industrialists, feudal lords and fascist clerics, but also the imperial power of the world – the US of A. This viewpoint made us rebels in our thinking, because at that time the mainstream of Pakistani educated and middle class society used to consider America as the savior of Islam, battling against the Evil Atheistic Communist Empire of the Soviet Union.

As the mainstream of Pakistani society started turning anti American after the Afghanistan and Iraq invasion and the continued accesses of the Israeli state against the Palestinian people, and the guns of the Jihadis were turned on their aforetime masters – I again found myself on the wrong side of the fence because of my ideas. By this time, I had seen enough of the world to know that power does not always rest with a single entity, and that we are all in some way responsible for the world we create. If I am to judge the entire Western society based on the actions of a military oligarchy and oil mafias, then I would have to condone the way the average Westerner bases his opinion of our society on our foreign policy, military industry, terrorist outfits and human rights violations. But there is much more to a society than what the state represents to someone. In the US, as in Pakistan there are better and worse people trying to exercise their influences in society; and where there are laws that are just and being implemented it’s because better people have been able to make their influence felt.

The only race I believe in now is the race of better human beings. Be they from this region or that region, this religion or that religion, this skin color or that – I come across people of my race everywhere I travel. And whichever cultures or stories I get my inspiration from, why should I be bothered by which path they have taken to arrive at the same conclusion – “Love thyself and treat the other as you would expect the other to treat you.” This truth is expressed by all religions and enlightened minds.

But lots of people around me still see the world in terms of black and white; the good state versus the evil state; evil states being formed by evil men to complete their nefarious designs; the clash of good and evil civilizations; and the growth of evil power until a divine savior should come…

Though, I too am inspired by the story of the divine savior and the ultimate hero, as the promise of the positive force winning over the negative; enlightenment over darkness; harmony over strife; beauty over ugliness; truth over deceit – I don’t believe that the world is being controlled by devil worshiping secret societies. I see all these diverse forces at play in each of us, and only the Most Compassionate may judge if someone is completely good or evil. We can only judge individual actions for a certain space and time.

For example the pyramid, with the all seeing-eye in the above picture from the very slick produced internet propaganda series, the Arrivals, could signify: the rule of Tyranny or ‘the eye of Sauran’, or the Commanding Self, as the film suggests; or it could signify the Enlightened Rule of Law – depending on what your mind has been conditioned into seeing.

In the same way, when Malala made her speech at the UN, many in Pakistan saw another pawn in the hands of powerful organisations with evil designs; some even attributed her with evil intentions. I (again in the minority in my country!) saw a strong-willed and confident young girl brimming with hope and enthusiasm delivering an impassioned speech in front of better or worse world leaders, not supporting the war on terror, but speaking for the right of education for everyone. It made me proud to see someone from this country shine in front of the world. Yes, she is not the only child victim of violence and bigotry in Pakistan. But circumstances and her own will and personality have made her a powerful ambassador from this part of the world. And since she’s inspiring a lot of people, it’s not surprising that the marketeers too are trying to get a piece of the action. For me this does not diminish her qualities in any way.

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Now the Great Game is set and the pieces ready: America, China, India, Europe, Pakistan, West, East, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Atheists… Which side am I on?

On the side of the more compassionate, more sensitive and more enlightened human beings from all of these cultures. They are my tribe, and our war is against our own ignorance.