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Contempt for reason

December 26, 2012


THE ingredients of the mindset that propels the Pakistani people towards self-destruction have been revealed in a series of events over the past few weeks. The cumulative result of the trends and tendencies now visible more clearly than ever could be a mega-crisis that the enfeebled state is ill-equipped to meet.

The streak of foolishness in this mindset has been fully exposed in the murderous attacks, quite a few of them successful, on health personnel charged with vaccinating children against polio.

Opposition to the anti-polio drive is not unknown in Pakistan. It has not been based on the rejection of the process of vaccination in any form, as maintained by medical systems opposed to allopathic treatment. Nor is it based on an individual’s right to choose any method of cure or even to prefer suffering to a healthy life.

The campaign to administer anti-polio drops to children was first resisted under the pretext that it was a Western conspiracy to cause permanent damage to children’s metabolism. The argument fell through as no concrete evidence could be advanced in support. Then some people tried to invoke belief to resist the anti-polio drive. This gimmick also failed when a good number of scholars declined to back the call to boycott anti-polio measures.

How opposition to a scientific process degenerated into hostility to health workers is hard to comprehend. A health worker merely helps a person avoid falling sick or recover from illness. Those who kill him/ her deprive themselves of the services of a professional who might have extended them help in recovering from a malady or getting their broken bones reset. There can be no greater foolishness than taking a life to imperil the lives of one’s own dear ones.

Besides, a vaccinator has no means to force anyone to adopt precaution against polio or any other affliction. All kinds of people have been able to shut their doors on health workers. Resort to violence to the extent of killing them can only be the work of the worst form of hatred bred by senseless intolerance — another characteristic of our mindset.

The death of Birgitta Elizabeth Almeby, who had been shot at by as yet unidentified criminals in the city that used to be described as the cultural capital of Pakistan, is a stigma on the name of the whole nation. What was her crime? That she abandoned her home and her people in Sweden to devote more than three decades of her life to help the poor youth of Pakistan acquire knowledge and skills and thus attain a decent standard of living?

It is commonly believed that she fell victim to the wave of intolerance created by extremists flying holy standards, which is taking a heavy toll on non-Muslims and any Muslim branded a renegade or heretic. This impression could have been removed if the police had found the culprits and established an alternative theory. At one stage robbery was mentioned as a possible motive behind the ghastly attack on the defenceless woman, as she was carrying a considerable amount of cash. Any responsible administration would have gone flat out to catch the criminals, subject, of course, to the condition that it cared for its reputation at home and abroad. A maddening imperviousness to shame is another characteristic of our mindset.

A man was burnt to death in a Sindh village on the suspicion of desecrating the Holy Quran while in police custody. The wretched man had no one to shelter him on a cold night and had sought the safety of the house of God. In the morning some people found pieces of burnt paper and concluded that the visitor had burnt pages from the Holy Quran. Nobody had seen him burning anything. The police took him into custody but that was not enough to appease the mob whose instinct to kill had been aroused. It got hold of the man and burnt him to death.

The incident once again confirms the freedom that the custodians of the state and people’s faith have allowed everyone; to take the law into one’s own hands and execute anyone suspected of committing an offence related to belief. It also confirms that the police have joined the indoctrinated horde. They will not defend a person in their custody if he is threatened by a mob claiming belief-ordained exemption from obedience to the law, and certainly not if they fear harm to themselves.

At the moment the most common targets of unreasonable intolerance (peaceful and lawful intolerance of gangsters, land grabbers, murderers or coup-makers, et al, is not unreasonable) are democracy, parliament and politics. Thanks to Pakistani politicians’ tradition of considering their political rivals their own and the state’s worst enemies and their failure to retain the masses’ trust, they have made themselves sitting targets for all kinds of authorities, soothsayers, media pundits and arm-chair demagogues. This has emboldened pseudo-religious extremists, feudal sardars and gangs hired and raised by vested interests to target politicians they do not like.

The assassination of Bashir Bilour signals that violence and the threat of violence will be used extensively to create anarchy to an extent that the forthcoming elections cannot be held and some justification is created for a revival of the Ziaul Haq system — a partyless system or one-party rule, involvement of the judiciary and armed forces in political work, and so on. If somehow this objective is not achieved and some kind of election cannot be avoided then violence will be employed to prevent the targeted politicians from holding meetings, undesirable candidates will be forced to stay at home and voters will be told to dare to cast ballots at the risk of their lives.

Populist politics has no relation with reason. Its practitioners make impossible demands on their rivals and make promises that cannot be honoured. This is one of the worst possible assaults on reason on two counts. First, populism puts the minds of the people to sleep. They start waiting for good days as a bounty from spurious miracle-makers and stop playing their role as change-makers. Second, the leaders of populist choruses miss the possibilities of realising that all victories at the cost of reason are illusory and short-lived at best.

There is logic in humankind’s forward march that no anti-reason barrier can check. The state of Pakistan too will flourish only by releasing its people’s faculties for getting out of their crises with the force of reason. The enemies of reason can only delay their emancipation from cant and fantasy; they cannot forever be cheated out of their destiny as rational human beings.