To trust or not

Published July 3, 2020
Zubeida Mustafa
Zubeida Mustafa

THE underlying cause of what is currently termed as ‘confusion’ in our political discourse is a deficit of trust. Simply put, it is the paranoia that has subsumed people from all walks of life, causing them to distrust others. Can you blame them when they have been deceived so often?

Take the case of the pandemic. On June 19, a very eminent infectious diseases specialist, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, wrote an excellent article in this paper explaining the pandemic, the emergence of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19 and the need for a lockdown. According to her, we have already crossed the Rubicon. She attributes the failure to win the full cooperation of the masses on SOPs to “poverty, illiteracy and dense populations” as well as “ingrained habits”. Hence she appeals for specialists to be given the opportunity to explain what the pandemic really is.

True, the masses are now not paying much heed to the specialists and, as a result, ‘smart lockdowns’ have had to be imposed. It is not that the specialists have stopped explaining their case on the media. Their mission has been hijacked by the wrong people — conspiracy theorists and political leaders who claim to know better. Such are the ways of Facebook and WhatsApp, the biggest nemesis of an uneducated society. As a result, the masses who had responded quite responsibly initially are now denying the very existence of the virus and accusing doctors of telling lies and killing people with lethal injections. By bringing up the ‘lives vs livelihood’ debate, the prime minister also took the focus away from the urgency of the matter. As a result, the common man no longer believes what the specialists say.

Given our dilapidated health delivery system, people have often been forced to depend on quacks whose drips and injections have seemingly brought them relief from pain. So they believe the quacks whom they trust. That is the basis of credibility.

Our rulers are afraid of teaching our children to think critically.

This trust deficit is the direct offshoot of the politicisation of life in Pakistan. For decades, leaders have fed us on lies so much that we have been left with no faith in them.

Just a week after Dr Salahuddin’s article was published, the prime minister made one of his rare appearances in the National Assembly. He had a lot to say, mainly about his ‘achievements’. He also expressed his desire to see parliament functioning and holding debates on national issues. Well said, Mr Prime Minister, that is what all of us want. But soon after Mr Khan finished speaking, he walked away without waiting to hear the leaders of the opposition parties. There could be no meaningful discussion on the role of the army in politics or why the status of ‘shaheed’ was bestowed on Osama bin Laden. Would that instil trust in people in a parliamentary democracy? The prime minister and his henchmen are giving the wrong message.

It is just not democracy itself that is losing the trust of the people, but implicitly anyone who is an expert in his field finds he is being doubted.

This is what I mean when I speak of lack of trust. How can this challenge be met? The only determining factor that can mitigate the negative impact of our culture of perfidy is enlightened and modern education that allows freedom of thought and encourages the quest for the truth. Unfortunately, education too has become a victim of political deceit and mendacity. So much was promised over the decades and so little has been delivered. Hence the prime minister’s credibility is in danger when he speaks of the ‘single national curriculum’ that is expected to make Pakistan an educated country.

Education that is not doctrinaire and orthodox creates awareness, encourages research and thus facilitates people’s understanding of all issues. It also equips youth with the tools that enable them to ascertain the truth about a variety of issues ranging in the present context from the coronavirus to parliamentary democracy and the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Unfortunately, it is this awareness and understanding that the powers that be are seeking to deny our children. The rulers want the youth to have enough literacy and numeracy to make them serve as mere cogs in the wheels of the economy, and no more. Our rulers are afraid of teaching our children to think critically or ask uncomfortable questions. Since ideologising the curricula achieves this best, the first step has been taken.

Even before the new curriculum was announced, the Punjab Assembly adopted the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board Amendment Bill on June 9. This has come as a dire warning of what awaits our children. It prohibits any institution from prescribing a book — the categories are so defined that they include virtually all subjects — that has not been approved by the Muttahida Ulema Board Punjab. This is a ruse to ideologise education even further.

Forget the dream of giving students a good education and the country a bright future.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2020

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