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Smokers’ Corner: Crown of thorns

Published May 27, 2012 12:00am


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In countries like Pakistan where democracy wasn’t allowed to properly take root, there is always the threat of it becoming a backdoor for mobs of not very democratic people who exhibit the audacity to actually start making use of democratic principles, especially freedom of speech.

And the irony of it all is that on most occasions than not, they use this principle to attack democracy itself! And when countered in this respect, they express exasperation and anger, pleading that they have a democratic right to express their opinion — even if that opinion is usually about lionising the benefits of authoritarian rule over a democratic one.

Does, can (or should) democracy really tolerate such brouhaha? No. I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel across many European democracies in the last seven years or so and there I discovered that in these countries democratic principles come attached with an important condition.

It is about demonstrating a sturdy sense of responsibility, no matter what spectrum of political thought one comes from.

For example, a fascist individual or party will be taken to task if they preach hatred, bigotry or racism; but at the same time the person or the outfit will be largely tolerated if they decide to run for an election and take their agendas before the voters or in parliament.

The beauty of parliamentary democracy is bound to make a voice of hatred (if elected) eventually (and comparatively speaking) soften its stance. Otherwise it will expose it as a voice that was no more than a populist part of the lunatic fringe no matter how demagogic it may have sounded outside the parliament.

In Pakistan where democracy has always had to struggle to hold its ground in the face of both direct and indirect military interventions, we also have to keep an eye on the populist civilian advocates of authoritarian rule that (mainly through the mainstream electronic media) have been perhaps the most active exploiters of the whole democratic notion of freedom of speech and expression.

Largely made up of certain TV anchors, conspiracy theorists, politicians and televangelists, many of these have also been able to find applause from the country’s urban middle and upper-middle-class segments.

As mentioned earlier, they may be merrily using the notion of freedom of speech the most in a struggling democracy like Pakistan, but they remain largely demagogic and focussed on attacking democracy — either as an alien ‘Western/ Zionist construct’ or as a system that supposedly promotes chaos and corruption.

What is offered as an alternative by such men and women however, are some rather imaginative Utopian arrangements derived from a largely mythical understanding of Islamic and Pakistani histories in which certain prominent Muslim and Pakistani figureheads are spun into and explained as glorified hate-mongers!

This is then presented as ‘proof’ that Islam (and Pakistan) is historically not compatible with liberal democracy and its principles.

They will quiver passionately on the mini-screen; they will sweat, they will shout, wring their hands and clench their fists, pleading at the top of their voices the meaning of ‘patriotism,’ and ‘Islam’ and how both Pakistan and Islam are in danger of being infiltrated and obliterated by evil, enigmatic ‘lobbies’.

Perhaps it is this group of folks that is the most obvious lobby — on most occasions paternally patronised by sympathetic fatherly figures in the country’s largely conservative security agencies.

The truth is, all their pleading and shouting is a clear indication of their fear of liberal democracy and how this democracy can render them (and their intransigent ideas about the country’s social and political course) obsolete.

Nevertheless, such men and women are great software for mainstream 24/7 TV; and something for sections of the urban middle-classes to vent out their frustrations of feeling sandwiched between the democratic political parties and the classes that constitute these parties’ main vote banks.

But thus far these demagogic darlings of social media and TV have little or no popular roots in the figurative masses. But since many of them have become mainstream media mainstays, it has to be asked exactly how much can be tolerated of them and their rhetorical attacks on parliamentarianism, religious tolerance and their habit of turning demagogic fiction into ‘historical fact?’

Of course, they are more than welcome to make use of democratic principles and notions such as freedom of speech while operating outside the hard-fought democratic process, but they should not be allowed to do so without first understanding the all-important aspect of responsibility that inherently comes attached with this democratic notion.

More than the government, I think, the onus lies on TV channels that put them in front of the camera.

These televangelists, ‘security analysts,’ anchors and some politicians remain colourful media and cyberspace personalities.

Interestingly, such ladies and gentlemen have not been able to take root among the so-called masses, but thanks to their media presence they most certainly found a variety of fans amongst certain sections of the urban classes — from fashion designers to former rock stars, to born-again yuppies and businessmen, to young ‘revolutionaries’ who, figuratively speaking, are more impressed by the image of Che Guevara on a coffee cup, than by the man’s legacy as a guerrilla fighter in the hills of Cuba and mountains of Bolivia.

Democratic forces, both within the ruling elite as well as among their on-ground supporters and voters, should exhibit a bit of concern because, in the past, it has been sections of the well-to-do middle and upper-middle classes whose money and leverage were used to drill a destructive wedge in the democratic process.

For ‘national interest’ and the glory of faith, of course.


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Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and 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

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (59) Closed

Farhan May 29, 2012 07:24am
some of your criticisms are right and some wrong. The power one is wrong. We still have surplus generation capacity but we are not utilizing it. Balochistan was a mess long before that. War on terror & Kargil are justified criticism. But what has been given to us by alternative democracy? I think both are evil and none have superiority over another. What matters is through which route good governance can come to country. I have no love lost for democracy now
Ameer May 27, 2012 09:58am
I wonder if NFP will ever stop beating around the bush and talk about problems with the present set-up. And really amusing that he considers this sick sorry excuse of a democracy as real democracy. NFP you remind me more and more of Fox News.
El Cid Jun 10, 2012 11:30am
"Generally violence, detention without charges and corporal punishment are forbidden in a democracy." India, Israel, US don't think so. O'h but the US is a republic...but than so is Pakistan. LOL.
Tariq K Sami May 27, 2012 04:59am
The Western Democracies are merely tools of Imperialistic ambitions abroad. Soon the chicken will come home to roost.
Farina May 27, 2012 05:48am
Very nice Tariq, in just a few words you proved NFP right! It is people like you he is talking about. Parrots who mimic authoritarian ranting bodies exploiting freedom of speech to actually denounce the concept of democracy.
Omer May 27, 2012 05:50am
NFP rant :-)
Tauheed Ahmed May 27, 2012 05:50am
The only chicken that have come to roost are the "freedom fighters" who were going to "liberate Kashmir" and instead have been attacking Pakistan and have killed 40,000 Pakistanis by now. So forget the hollow cliches and face reality.
@AshrafGul May 27, 2012 05:53am
"from fashion designers to former rock stars, to born-again yuppies and businessmen, to young ‘revolutionaries’ who, figuratively speaking, are more impressed by the image of Che Guevara on a coffee cup, than by the man’s legacy as a guerrilla fighter in the hills of Cuba and mountains of Bolivia." Took the words out of my mouth. Excellent piece.
krk May 27, 2012 05:54am
I watched an ARY interview with Musharraf ex president and the anchor One doctor,shouting at maximumum voice as a real expert of democracy. Asking Musharraf how the present not obeying the court orders. Musharraf giving his opinion that the govt should follow the orders of court. The anchor says the govt is destroying the contry and when people lime Musharraf comes to save the country they are mentioned as dictators. I don;t know from where the Dr.anchor comes. He pretends that he is a saviour of democracy. Asking Mush how to obey court order and behave in a constitutional manner. seems funny. Wen I read the article, this ary programme came to my mind.
Abbas F. May 27, 2012 06:43am
Lol. His name is Dr. Danish, the loudest there is this side of Jasmine Mansoor. Amazing, how he was complaining how this government was 'destroying democracy' to a former military dictator. This Danish guy is a classic case of the syndrome NFP is talking about.
Ali S May 27, 2012 07:22am
So only Europeans know how democracies really work? Anything against their ideals is anti-democracy now? I thought the right to disagree was an integral part of democracy. Responsibility and self-censorship should be voluntary and ingrained via education, not fear of consequences (and that goes for both so-called liberals like you AND our reckless media). Besides, Pakistan has hardly seen any uninterrupted democratic rule compared to countries you mention, it's a lot healthier for us to accept these growing pains than to quash them from the get-go and set stage for even greater anti-democracy sentiments than there already are (and many of them are justified based on our elected governments' performances). You often contradict yourself NFP.
Ansari May 27, 2012 07:25am
Well, i seriously doubt your statement as 40,000 muslims in pakistan are killed by american agents and not freedom fighters. Liberal extremists always come up with a defeatist mentality and you are not an exception.
Abbas F. May 27, 2012 07:36am
'Liberal scum' 'Liberal extremist' , amazing. You guys have convoluted these terms to hide behind the facade of honor and empty slogans. Anything critical of what NFP correctly suggests are Utopias constructed with a mythical understanding of faith and nationalism is 'defeatist' mentality'? I think you guys should talk in facts and not in hollow jingoism.
Farina May 27, 2012 07:40am
You got that wrong, Ali. It is those people who are attacking democracy thru freedom of speech who are contradicting themselves, not NFP. He is not asking them to shut-up, even though I wish he was. He's simoly asking them to show a bit more maturity and responsibility while using the democratic concept of freedom of speech.
Akif Syed May 27, 2012 08:34am
With due respect to the right of the writer to put any title to his pieces/ columns, I would like to know from the writer why he has chosen to name his column as "The Smokers' Corner" - especially these days when smoking is no longer considered as "freedom of expression"? Could it possibly be because public smoking is now as abhorred as democracy in Pakistan.
@sheikh69chilli May 27, 2012 08:55am
"I don't like the voice of God-fearing patriotic men and women! they have taken over the mainstream media and pushed sad little creeps into a dark corner. Mommy! make them SHUT UP!!". . Brilliant, as always. . Btw, if I were you I'd seriously think of investing in a ghost writer, because gems like this, "many of these have also been able to find applause from the country’s urban..." are not going to cut it. People might start believing that, God forbid, you are a talentless hack who has been given this space to scribble as a favor to USAID. .
Pradeep May 27, 2012 08:58am
Religion should be left out to individual choice and Government should work out to people benefit and not try to use religion in administration, Military has no mandate in how Government is run, they should be strictly kept in barracks and called only for defending against external threat. Unfortunately none of the above are happening in Pakistan so your quest for modern and developed Pakistan is a mirage. People like NFP are simply not reachable to majority of population, as people are not educated to a standard and ar more happy to believe a conspiracy theory or how great their religion is or how glorious their past is.
zeeshan May 27, 2012 09:06am
what democracy you guys talking about. there is only loot n khasoot nothing else. one day you declare a party Qatil league and the other day same qatil league becomes your collation partner. you don't solve any major issue of the people of Pakistan since last five years.
Cyrus Howell May 27, 2012 10:16am
Pakistan was formed as a Republic, not a pure democracy. If people wish to set up Democracy as a Straw Man and light him on fire nothing can be done about that. Communist China and Communist Russia both had a diet or a peoples congress. Perhaps your TV personalities are simply having a conversation with themselves and not engaging with any other other people. We the people maintain congresses as public forums to work out solutions to problems before the become law. Democracy is about the law of the country, not about ideologies. + Rousseau reasoned the governmental law is concerned with private property and how the wealthy intend to maintain their positions and property. Government is not about what is Man's best path. Government is about what works. Democracies believe governments have social contracts they must keep with the people. They have little interest in what is allowed (in Islam) and what is forbidden. Not so much is forbidden in "a democracy" and that is what crackpots and clerics don't like. Generally violence, detention without charges and corporal punishment are forbidden in a democracy.
k.pervez May 27, 2012 11:06am
Dr Danishs attack on democracy is disgusting and deplorable, he dragged Musharf easily in to this debate to revive the law of necessity. He is conducting his T.V programme in accordence with Tattoo on his back.
sarwar rasool May 27, 2012 11:16am
main stream media is also a total LIE...brought & paid
noman May 27, 2012 12:01pm
any idiot who calls these pakistani/ afghan taliban american agent should say this to their face. before they cut his head off he will know how right he is! get out of this illusion which our agencies wants us to believe, that anybody attacking the pakistani ppl or military is an american agent rather these ppl call the pakistani army as american agents and not the other way around!
Imraan Mehmood May 27, 2012 12:04pm
bla bla bla bla......What are these guys talking about ????
Farhan May 27, 2012 12:28pm
NFP talking about some utopian world in European Democracy. Unlike them we don't care about democracy but about governance. Which so ever model provides better governance, we will go for it. An authoritarian dictator is better than this PPP democracy.
Waleed May 27, 2012 12:55pm
NFP,why not b direct and term khilafat bigot,utopian,blah blah...?
Tara May 27, 2012 01:06pm
Although I am a firm believer that military is by no means a solution, media should repect its limit but same is with the politicians! There should be "some" ethics for politicians as well. But at the sametime I believe that if democracy given chance to continue, most of the "black" policitians will be finally thrown out of system although it can take ages. Educating masses is the only way our system will improve otherwise we can say that in 1947 we got freedom (from the British raj) only for educated and effluents (Bhuttoos, Sharifs, Khans, Zardaris, Chaudharies, Zimidars, Generals, Beurocrates, Industrialists, etc) while the poor and uneducated will continue to be the slaves of those "respected (so called real Pakistani) class. First blow to democracy was in 1971 when a person who should embrase to declare himself as the opposition leader started asking for power sharing from a leader who almost had won double seats in the elections.
NASAH (USA) May 27, 2012 01:15pm
As the tgoes -- the sword raised against the 'enemy' head -- is first raised against your own head.
Mawali May 27, 2012 01:40pm
In a democracy a fascist or a feminist both have an equal chance of representation whether they espouse hatred or violence. The choice is that of the contituancy. In pakistan all you have is demogoguery. No democracy was not interrupted as you say by dictatorship instead, the demogogues of the past and present have through their shahnigans invited the rule of dictators. Then,any honest assesment of the rule of either shows the dictators for the most part have done the most good and the most damage. Islam and democracy are in fact incompatible. Islam, allows for the selection of a public representative but only in theory. There, is not one ioata of eveidence of Islam and its forebearers being elected as a result of a true democratic principles starting with the election of Abu bakr. Then, there is no seperation of religion and state in Islam. Religion is the state and a vice...
Irfan Baloch May 27, 2012 02:19pm
If we remodel these tool factories which we call colleges and universities, and give every body a fair chance to obtain a good quality education. Things just might start to get better. Otherwise these factories will keep churning out these Docters that NFP talks about. And they will keep on Blocking NFP and other comrades like him.
qaswar May 27, 2012 03:02pm
i have never given a serious attention to these tv anchor persons because their agenda is ,to please their real masters i.e.establishment they are cunning ,they know the rule of game.they have done a great damage to this already truth starving society.ask a simple pakistani and he will out class you in a minute,thus allowing you no space for any kind of rationality.-how pathetic!!
Devendra May 27, 2012 03:02pm
My Dear Ali, You are the most closed minded individual I know amongst the commentators of DAWN. But I got to hand it to you. You are consistent......a consistent......
PKG May 27, 2012 03:10pm
Democracy is like a Banyan tree. It starts with a very small seed, even invisible to human eye. It needs to grow against all odds. Once it grows and spreads and spreads with thousands of roots from its branches. Once these branches reach earth, they start supporting the branches and then tree. Then Banyan tree can withstand any storm any draught and stays alive for thousands of years. It needs time and protection to grow in the initial stages, be it a Banyan tree or democracy. I request Pakistani citizens to be patient and look to their eastern neighbour, whenever they start loosing the faith in democracy.
Devendra May 27, 2012 03:11pm
BRAVO!! NFP, you have done it again. Still hoping you would contest for public office.
M.FAAIZ Gilgity May 27, 2012 03:33pm
Just being student of economics,its my opinion that democracy is not workable for the under developing countries like pakistan as democracy always needs a very developed society .
Programmingdrone May 27, 2012 04:03pm
Pakistani democracy suffers from two flaws: 1) De-facto or born leaders of a political party: In other democratic nations, the leader of a party is elected within the party by the use of elections. In Pakistan the leadership is usually handed to the son/daughter/other relative of the party. 2) Term limits: In other democracies, leaders who have served a certain amount of terms of office, are automatically disbarred from getting elected. Compare this to Pakistani democracy, where a leader usually doesnt leave office, until they die.
imran May 27, 2012 04:43pm
If NFP has right to be pro PPP then other journalist should have right to be anti PPP or any other alliances as it is in western countries .Freedom of speech?
Noor Ahmed May 27, 2012 04:44pm
Agreed with Pardeep, Religion and state should be treated as separate. Actually most of the people think that Pakistan was made as a "Muslim state" but it is not so it was made as a "Muslim majority state".
imran May 27, 2012 06:35pm
I thought and felt liberals don't hate but with NFP it is different.
Sudy May 27, 2012 07:08pm
Zeeshan, you are right. This is not democracy but "agenco-cracy". Military security agencies rule the roost in this country and people just foolishly bad mouthing the government. By the way, what major problem of Pakistan has military rulers solved? Or are they only creating them?
Sudy May 27, 2012 07:12pm
I think you should stop being a student of economics and start studying political science!
Ashiq Hussain May 27, 2012 07:32pm
these chickens claim to defeat USSR, and Now America...but couldn't get an inch from India but lost half of Pakistan...and the greatest chicken (Zia) who claimed to defeat USSR lost Siachen to enough of slogans...and smell the coffee.
tuco May 27, 2012 08:19pm
but how can democracy take root when the majority of people believe in sharia and islamic rule ?
Aamir Younis May 27, 2012 08:58pm
If you look like this then everything and everyone is self contradictory, even yourself.
Ali May 27, 2012 11:20pm
Mehwish May 28, 2012 02:01am
in other words, you are telling us not to not to criticize the current govt which according to transparency international has looted and stolen 8500 million rupress of public wealth through corruption and tax evasion in the last 4 years, leaving the poor masses to die from hunger, thirst, poverty , inflation, and load shedding. You want us not to ask zardari to bring back country's looted wealth from his swiss bank accounts, and not question the PM for not obeying supreme court orders. If this is what you want, then sorry to say your defintion of 'democracy' is extremely faulted. Yes, we want democracy but not a sham democracy like this current one. The current media should be appreciated for creating awareness among the masses and educating them on the difference between right and wrong
Farhan May 28, 2012 05:11am
Totally agreed to your stance. NFP is a PPP jiyala.
Farhan May 28, 2012 05:14am
He is right. Read Fareed Zakriya, Democracy does not suit countries with low per capita income and low education. (Illiberal democracy by Fareed Zakriya). This democracy is a recent concept in governance and the sheer number of people killed in wars waged by democracies has surpassed all the historical killings waged by kings and other forms of government. And we in any case do not want zardari type democracy. This is indeed the best revenge from Pakistan
Farhan May 28, 2012 05:18am
Educating massess may not deliver the result. See Sri Lanka. With such a high education, it is being governed by similar scum politicians. If you read John Hookers book about cultures, you would realize that democracy has flourished in those cultures where individualism is held supreme unlike us who are collectivist societies. We tend to vote enmasse on Biradari which is just a reflection of our underlying culture. Some deeper research is needed in this regard. Blaming education is superficial criticism
gp65 May 28, 2012 05:43am
"So only Europeans know how democracies really work? " Well besides the Europeans, Indians have done quite well with democracy, don't you think?
gp65 May 28, 2012 05:44am
US has term limits. England and India do not.
gp65 May 28, 2012 05:47am
At one point India was poorer than Pakistan. Still India persisted with democracy. By giving voice to the unempowered and underprivileged through the vote, the country has maintained its unity despite the diversity. The idea of India has only grown stronger with time and democracy has a lot to do with - wealth has little to do with it.
gp65 May 28, 2012 05:51am
The last authoritarian dictator gave you - the war on terror - Balochistan mess - the power crisis by not adding a single watt of electricity - Kargil The dictator prior to that gave you - Afghan jihad - sectarianism - drug culture and weoponization of your cities - intolerance and radicalized society The dictator before that gave you - 1965 war - roots of country's dismemberment. Do you think that was better?
jk45 May 28, 2012 09:04am
@ gp65: In india, what it seems in not the fact.
Pushtoon May 28, 2012 11:12am
My dear education does not mean to only go to schools and unis but it means bringing real change in the attitudes of the masses. If it does not bring a positive change in the behaviors then we should not call it education at all.
NASAH (USA) May 28, 2012 05:20pm
Democracy is indeed a crown of thorns -- but nobody compelled Mr. Zardari to wear it -- he decided knowingly he did not deserve that undeservingly painful wear -- and we from US implored him not to do so -- instead to work from outside -- but he was the "Man Who Thought He Would Be The King" -- with all the Musharraafian trappings intact -- bestowed upon him. But once those toys were taken away from him -- he turned pensive -- he turned himself, his prime minister and his party into a bunch of -- do nothing static potted plants -- whiling their time just to complete the so called TENURE -- not as a means to move the country forward -- but as the prime PURPOSE for the existence of a inactive passive government eating and drinking the national resources at the tax payers expense. Now one would ask -- what good is that democracy -- what good is that elected government -- and what good is that Tenure a so called government -- that just sits passively and half-dead in Islamabad doing nothing -- no formulations of policies -- no decision making no actions on any decision -- swaying this way that way whichever way the wind is blowing -- letting the country afloat rudderless with no one in-charge. Just waiting to complete -- its good for nothing Tenure -- and then hoping to come back again after the election -- for WHAT -- to go through the same cycle of passive aimless governance - once again? No way.
G.Nabi May 29, 2012 06:15pm
Every day people are being targeted, only 10 days ago a peaceful procession in Karachi was fired upon,12-14 people including women were massacred. When a murder is treated like a minor traffic violation and government fails to protect its citizens, only person like NFP can indulge into ambiguities.
MythBreaker May 30, 2012 08:59am
at no point in history india was poorer than pakistan..what the F are you talking about mate. Infact India was the first to give money to Pakistan immidiately after partition. Get your facts right.
El Cid Jun 10, 2012 10:49am
NFP desires a democracy with himself as Herr Dictator!
El Cid Jun 10, 2012 10:43am
Reasonable...but you did leave out that democracy voted in slavery, and voted out women, among other atrocities.