There is a genuine fear among some (yes, just some) Pakistanis that their society and state is headed straight to becoming a 21st century model of fascism.
I say the fear is being noted and felt by just some Pakistanis because it seems to most of their compatriots – especially those squirming within the growing, agitated and uptight urban middle-classes – the emergence of such a state and society is actually something to do with abstract concepts like ‘national sovereignty,’ ‘honour’ (ghairat), ‘revolution’ and a ‘positive Pakistan!’
It’s like saying chronic neurosis is a pretty positive thing to have.
Recently in a sharp and pointed article, author and scientist, Pervez Hoodbhoy, clearly alluded to how the Pakistani society and state are showing signs of the kind of myopic mindset that the German society plunged into in the 1920s and 1930s, setting the scene for Hitler and his fascist outfit and mentality to become Germany’s overlords – eventually taking the nation over the brink and towards widespread destruction.
So is the Pakistani society headed in the same direction?
A number of experts and sociologists have drawn some prominent symptoms to look for in figuring out if a particular society is drifting into the clutches of fascism.
Let’s discuss a few in Pakistan’s context:
• Symptom 1: Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist societies/cultures tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
In Pakistan patriotism has been intertwined with the belief in a divine monolithic deity. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a person is singing praises of God or the state. It’s as if both are one and the same. Thus, if you are not all that enthusiastic about singing loud patriotic songs or displaying 50X10 Pakistani flags over your 5X2 office cubical, you are a traitor and/or/thus a kafir.
• Symptom 2: Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe.
Pakistan has enemies. Pakistan has always had enemies. Pakistan will always have enemies. Pakistan is, because it has enemies. Everything that goes wrong in Pakistan is because of its enemies. But Pakistan is also united because of its enemies.
They are: India, US, Israel, Hindu, Jew, Christian, Liberal, Ahmadi, Democrat, Secular, Politician, Ethnic Nationalist, Papua New Guinea – all are enemies.
Pakistan will vanquish them all through its unity until it makes new enemies so the unity can be retained. More enemies, more unity, dig?
And did I tell you Pakistan has enemies?
• Symptom 3: Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorised.
Sometimes it seems the founder of Pakistan was a paternal army general who created the country to look and function like one giant military mess hall where military men are always plotting, eating and shouting out orders to waiters and cooks who are all lowly civilians.
It is the patriotic duty of every Pakistani civilian to work hard so the military can be kept well-fed and continue to win us glorious victories against our many enemies like it’s been doing ever since 1947.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is, of course, anti-Pakistan and must have had some genetic link with the treacherous Bengalis who massacred millions of Pakistani soldiers in 1971.
But thanks to the well-deserved annual budgets sanctioned for defence, we were able to win the 1971 war as well; and it was our gallant army that decided to let go of East Pakistan because the Bengalis were useless and only interested in wrapping rice in banana leaves and killing fish for lunch.
• Symptom 4: Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by media spokespeople and executives who are sympathetic towards certain organs of the state and its interests.
The freedom of media in Pakistan is the freedom to say 2+2=5. Anything else is bad mathematics and not good for national interest. And ratings.
• Symptom 5: Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the state and media over the masses.
First it was the Indians that were coming; then the Soviets; then the Indians again; then the Americans; and now it’s the Indians, Americans, Afghans and maybe even some ex-Soviets who are all conspiring to invade us!
They’ll invade us, make us renounce Islam, dismantle our bomb and make us their slaves! They might even take away your X-box! So think. Actually don’t. Bad for national security.
• Symptom 6: Religion and State are Intertwined
Fascist states and societies tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion.
In Pakistan people are always gauging if a politician or a show-biz celebrity is a ‘good Muslim’, whereas the politicians and the celebrities are always trying to prove that they are one.
The whole idea that being a good Muslim can also amount to being a good human being never enters the gauging and proving exercise because it sounds … errm … a little too ‘secular.’
The state selects choice verses from Islamic text to prove its policies are in line with true faith; the mullah does the same to prove his is the only true faith (and that he deserves a regular slot on TV); the jihadis do this to prove that they kill and maim because it is ordained by God; and the common Pakistani does this to prove that he is not a sucker for religious propaganda but a true and independent minded Muslim – even though his spiritual independence is usually based on what he hears from the state, the mullah, the jihadi and most stimulating of all, from ‘Islamic text messages’ that keep popping up on his cell phone.
So, want to push through or sell anything in Pakistan? Just put the suffix ‘Islamic’ in front of it.
• Symptom 7: Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist societies tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education and academia. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
In Pakistan, many intellectuals and artistes are looked down upon by a lot of pious people.
At times the state and governments have remained quiet when intellectuals and scientists have been denounced for being heretics and western and Indian agents; while artistes are left to ward off cries of obscenity on their own.
Interestingly though, the kind of psychological abuse artistes have gone through in the last 25 years or so has made many of them develop the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.
A number of actors, actresses, playwrights, morning show hosts, designers, pop musicians and even some former models have gone on record spouting nonsense that in essence was actually a sympathetic endorsement of exactly the kind of people that have been taunting and tormenting them!
A reactionary outfit attacks a pop concert, but the pop artiste hurls curses at ‘American imperialism’ and ‘invasion of Indian culture;’ and then comes Ramazan, actors, morning show hosts, singers and even TV chefs suddenly transformed into becoming overnight ‘Islamic scholars’ sharing religious advise along with recipes for chicken chow mein and the ins and outs of gaudy bridal wear.
Of course, none of these idiots dare take the names of those who detest them as obscene, un-Islamic freaks.
Thus, at this point in time, most artistes in Pakistan do not need protection; they need shrinks!
• Symptom 8: Obsession with Crime and Punishment
There is always a lot of talk by Pakistani state institutions and the public about how they would like to hang people this way or that way.
Never mind the fact that some prestigious and ubiquitous state institutions have been overtly involved in all kinds of oppression, corruption and malice, because it is the politician whom the people windup wanting to see at the end of a hangman’s rope.
Pakistanis’ obsession with crime and punishment has reached to such absurd levels that largely it is the punishable culprits who’ve ended up delivering the punishments!
But Pakistanis don’t care; as long as the act of punishment is spectacular enough to trigger their awe and gives them a sense of ‘justice.’
A kills B but it is A who hangs C. Good, at least someone was hanged.
And as far as the politicians are concerned, they haven’t done their dilemma in this respect any good.
They’re also in the habit of trying to capture the punishment obsession of the people by promising to hang their opponents from electric poles – usually upside down (‘mein ussey ulta latka doon ka!’ *applause*).
In Pakistan everybody wants to hang everybody else.
• Symptom 9: Media creates a punching bag for people to vent out their frustrations
The Stockholm Syndrome runs deep in societies on the verge of collapsing into a total state of fascism. In Pakistan fear of extremists has actually made many people sympathise with their tormentors; or instead of blaming the extremists they begin to blame and curse a ready-made punching bag largely constructed by the media.
Here are few examples:
‘Bajur market massacre kills 30, injures 101: Zardari claims responsibility.’
‘Foreign investment falls dramatically in Pakistan. Businessmen blame terror attacks and kidnappings by Zardari.’
‘Bangladesh cricket team cancels tour of Pakistan. Sites security concerns due to threat posed by Zardari.’
‘Zardari beheads 2 Pakistan army soldiers.’
‘People killed in US drone strike were not Zardari. They were civilians,’ says Imran Khan.
*Symptoms based on study done on fascist states and societies by Eric Bochene.
Illustrations by Nadeem. F. Paracha.
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 is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.
He tweets @NadeemfParacha