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Pity the nation that pities itself


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A TELEVISION show doesn’t fulfil the pious code of clerics, and out come statements expressing sorrow at the death of the Quaid’s Pakistan.

One man claims he can run a car on water and consequently Pakistanis on the whole are condemned as inhabitants of the age of jahiliya. When an honourable judge seeks to reflect on the state of the nation, he chooses to lace his prose with reasons why Pakistanis should pity themselves.

This is where the debate is stuck on the 65th anniversary of Independence. The rest is tit-for-tat.

It is the Rohingyas who occupy the minds of Pakistanis right now. Brutal taunts have flown in the direction of those who are lumped together as liberals over their ‘failure’ to condemn violence against Muslims in Myanmar.

‘Drones cannot be written against. Taliban are the villains. The West is the role model, and your paymasters do not allow you to condemn the killing of persecuted Muslims…’ So goes the refrain of the ‘right-wingers’ or the ‘Islamists’.

These ‘conservatives’, when they are not rallying for the Rohingyas, must typically appear to be defending the petition against televised ‘vulgarity’.

They are the spokesmen who are forever asked to elaborate ‘Taliban Khan’s’ ideology and they could be occasionally forced to justify the battles the Supreme Court declares on the government — a government which has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of its detractors not simply because of its failure to deliver but because of its unpardonable sins.

Those who are happy to own the loose liberal title, have, in turn, retorted against their critics with passion.

‘If Rohingyas are so worthy of sympathy,’ the liberals ask their rival countrymen, ‘what stops you from standing up when Shias are killed in Pakistan? What stops you from condemning the murderous Taliban or from accepting Hindus as equal Pakistani citizens and persuading them to not cross over to India? Why can’t you speak out against the hypocrisy in the country, even when the religion you never tire of flaunting tells you to reject hypocrites of all types? Why isn’t the mullah’s decency pricked by the humiliation of women in the streets of Muzaffargarh?’

It is only after they have completed the ritual of lambasting their rivals that the liberals are able to do what they could have done promptly and without any prior qualifications: condemn the cleansing going on wherever.

With all its tones, undertones and nuances, the discussion about the Rohingyas is a simple example of the strong biases that have come to define the thinking of Pakistanis. The discourse has been held hostage by a long taunt and its long riposte. There is no framework for debate.

Worse, the effort for finding a framework is stalled — if mostly by faith, sometimes also by a passionate indifference to what is seen, more than a socially evolved expression, as an imposed ‘religious explanation’. What takes place here is mutual score-settling, not debate.

For a debate to take shape, the various Pakistans will first have to recognise each other as homegrown realities and shun their escapes in ridiculing the other.

For the moment, the sides remain immersed in the effort to paint the other as foreign to the Pakistani land. Just as liberals are condemned by their vocal rivals as a western implant ill-suited to the local soil, fundamentalism or religious militancy is routinely, and dangerously, dismissed as an outside invasion.

It is as if fundamentalism — or westernisation for that matter — will disappear the moment the foreign connections are cut.

This will never happen since what may have once been foreign we have long adopted as our own. The foreign has taken deep roots locally. There is little use taking refuge in times when religious sects happily coexisted — if ever there were such times. There can be no going back to the pure indigenous model of life — if such a model was ever possible or it ever existed. The labels must be dropped and evolving Pakistani realities seen in all their ‘good’ and ‘bad’ colours in the interest of a dialogue that rises above mere name-calling.

Now this may sound preposterous to the followers of extreme labels. To some liberal friends, including the truly liberal and the more tolerant, it may be tantamount to bowing to the extremists — in the manner of the repeated surrenders against the Taliban and the deal with Fazlullah in Swat.

Far from it. It is about the interaction among people this side of militants and about the unbridled use of one formula, a typical response for all situations.

The issue is whether Pakistanis in general have the ability to come out of the convenient mode where all they are required to do is to typecast — by belief or by applying the logical formula.

They are free to go to their chosen forum but they must also be free from the compulsions of demonising or ridiculing everyone else and every other lifestyle. Never has a reminder about this basic rule been as needed as it is today.

The divergent schools do have one thing in common, though. When it comes to mourning the country that could have been, each one of us can be equally sweeping in our denouncement of the nation.

The mullah is offended by the naive inquiry because in his book, unlike that of Bulleh Shah, a person is either ‘Musa’ or ‘Firaun’.

The enlightened teacher is too frustrated by the circumstances to let the ‘water car’ pass with a gentle reminder about the existing laws of physics. He feels compelled to offer the final word on science. The anger in judgments passed on the nation has just the opposite effect: it demoralises.

Pity the people who can do no more than ridicule. Pity the nation that pities itself.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

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

Comments (15) Closed

KKRoberts Aug 14, 2012 11:19am
If Rohingyas are a very sensitive issue, why Syria is not!!??
shiva sundar Aug 14, 2012 05:06am
have you heard the saying,what you sow is what you reap,so apt for pakistan.the nation was born in turmoil and by division of a soverign state,the lessons were not learnt and another nation was born.the saga continues,all the ills and all the good is caused by religion ,so you beleive,but humanity is biggest of all religions. the day this belief percolates amongst the masses,new crop will be sown and the harvest will be a sound nation by the people,of the people ,for the people. FOR YOUR SAKE AND NOT FOR GOD'S SAKE BE HUMANS FIRST.
Zeta Aug 14, 2012 05:36am
Excellent Article. I see Pakistanis are overly critical of themselves far beyond what you can call healthy criticism. We need to take pride of being Pakistan, IN being a citizen of Pakistan too while being analysing ourselves. We do have our flaws tell me which nation doesn't. If Nigerians are involved in massive internet scam, i dont see Nigerians condemning there selves every now and then. We need to correct ourselves and only inform others and not force your views upon others. Thats all
Sure Kant Aug 14, 2012 05:39am
"This will never happen since what may have once been foreign we have long adopted as our own." Profound. All these fundamentalists must introspect. Islam was once a "foreign" religion that the people of the subcontinent accepted, willingly or otherwise. Now we are trying to prove Pakistani Muslims have Arab ancestry!!! Why are subcontinental Muslims bowing to the "foreigner" Arabs, who consider us "lowly" and "Hindis"?
Someone Aug 14, 2012 05:58am
This piece seemingly started out just like the typical discourse that it talks about, taunting/ridiculing the other side. However, i do agree with your arguments. The real debate does get lost in the nuances. Which is a shame, many columns, even those by "so called" (perhaps I'm indulging in the sin as well) intellectuals starts out with wit and sarcasm. But then it also ends there! Adding nothing to the debate, just showing off how good they can be at ridiculing the opposing argument. Intellectual debates should be based on facts and arguments, they should not sound like men heckling in the square trying to gather a bigger crowd around them. Only by discussing and arguing over the problems we face, and hashing out possible solutions can we hope to tackle them. Sure arguments can get heated and passionate, but should always rely on reason. Rumi says - Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.
Falcon Aug 14, 2012 09:55am
Well you said it. I think every nation has its faults and Pakistan has very grave ones. But I haven't come across a nation that loathes itself so much. Most of us don't even realize that they don't have an ideological position of their own but are mere reactionaries and counter-reactionaries. We have to accept each other for who we are. That also means that we have to own our past, our present, and our future without blaming each other for the problems we are in. Nothing less will do.
Raoul Ciao Aug 14, 2012 07:56am
a debate b etween conservatives and liberals would be welcome Mr Rehman, though methinks your article smacks of "I tilt to conservatives". However in a nation where a liberal Governor is gunned down openly and there is lack of retribution against conservatively influenced murderers of ministers etc., it is a little far fethched. I think the current round has been soundly won by the conservatives in Pakistan. The liberals are just what they seem to be - mere spectator chatter classes, as the awaam is firmly sold on conservatism ddue to the strong cultural link between political Islam and religion and political workings in Pakistan today.
Gerry D'Cunha Aug 14, 2012 09:31am
I fully agree with your excellent thoughts to the Pakistani nation.
Cyrus Howell Aug 14, 2012 02:21pm
Everyone is inferior to the Arab.
amal Aug 14, 2012 04:00pm
Ali Sadozai Aug 14, 2012 04:04pm
mazhar Aug 14, 2012 07:10pm
Point about ridiculing every thing is good one. About water kit, it would have been some what useful to analyze if so called inventor was really trying to just use fraudulent methods to make money or it was their lack of knowledge which make them believe they had some thing worthwhile. They may not have fully comprehended laws of thermodynamics but it would still be worth while to fully analyze what they actually did, they said, they have spend quite a bit of time on it. Instead of ridiculing them real scientific analysis of their work would have been positive message to these Youngman and others would be inventors. All the scientist who were part of this story, both for and against were just trying to prove how big a scientist they are, i wonder what they have done in their carrier when they had billions of rupees in their budget. Mazhar
aaa Aug 14, 2012 09:51pm
really well said.
Syed Aug 15, 2012 12:23am
Ordinary Pakistanis are very hard working, if given proper direction through education and saved from mullaism they can put their country to a respectful position. The problem lies with our selfish semi literate leadership. Their hold is very stong, they have highjacked democracy. Unfortunately they are backed by West.
M. Khan Aug 15, 2012 08:45am
Simple: Double standards... If a Muslim kills Muslim, no problem; if a non-Muslims stares at Muslim, carve his eyes out! We have simply forgotten the true message of Islam: value of human life. God save us!