A scary uniformity of mind

Published: July 23, 2011

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

Whenever the Pakistani nation becomes united in its thinking, it is punished. The last time it was united in West Pakistan after the 1970 election, the country broke apart. It was like Germans feeling the same way collectively under Hitler, or the Serbs under Milosevic. Nations seem to suffer when their minds become duplicates of a single doctrinal template.

Under democracy, difference in thinking is basic; otherwise there would be no opposition in parliament. French magistrate De Tocqueville, on a tour of a newly freed United States, was put off by most Americans ‘thinking alike’ because he thought it might make the country more despotic than democratic. Under President Bush, America ‘thought alike’ on Iraq despite democracy.

Why is uniformity of mind favoured by the state before it becomes democratic? In fact, the state creates nationalism — another name for thinking the same — either to defend itself or to attack a neighbour. Today, a more wary world calls this uniformity of thinking the ‘national narrative’. The highest form of nationalism is called fascism. The state needs everyone thinking ditto before it fights its ‘just war’.

The ideological state ,too, believes in uniformity of the collective mind. It took no time for European philosophers like Hannah Arendt to diagnose that Nazism and Stalinism were both fascist, although opposed in the battlefield. The Soviet Union installed a political system where there was no opposition to the communist party. Iran, too, has no political parties and no opposition in parliament.

General Ziaul Haq was told by Maulana Zafar Ahmad Ansari, in his Ansari Commission Report, that Pakistan should have no opposition. The 1985 election, therefore, was ‘partyless’ but the parliament that came into being after the election decided it wanted opposition and not ‘uniformity of mind’. When the state becomes shy about regimentation, it raises the flag of ‘unity’. This is the coercive need of a scared or aggressive state.

Pakistan is ‘united’ over its ‘ghairat’, which has been violated by America. This mindset is created by the media which is moulded by state agencies. Writing in Jang (March 28, 2011) Haroon Rasheed stated that the media had been in thrall to governments in the past but was now free — trying to be as balanced as possible. But there were still men inside the media who protected interests of certain parties and agencies, and some were under threat from certain elements that could cause them harm, thus making them fall short of balance.

Urdu expresses Pakistani nationalism much better than English. In renegade English, the national narrative does not read well. The nation is, however, united under anti-Americanism in a world where ideological divides are disappearing because of globalisation and its interdependencies. Where will our ‘uniformity of mind’ take us? The ‘lesser’ (sic!) minds who think of the national economy and not of national honour (ghairat) say the state’s ‘failing’ aspects may be enlarged further.

The Pakistan Army has decided to ‘follow the people’ after the state agencies have funded the uniform mind till it looks menacingly monolithic. The GHQ by the same token has said goodbye to ‘wisdom’, which aims at survival, and has embraced ‘national honour’, which aspires to martyrdom. The Americans are shameless. They have chosen Obama after Bush to roll back the ‘consensus’ over Iraq. We are made of sterner stuff. We will not roll back our India-centrism and its ancillary requirements in Afghanistan.

If we don’t succeed in squashing the alternative view by calling it ‘bought by America’ (pith-thoo), we might survive when ‘uniformity of thought’ brings us close to self-destruction.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2011.

Reader Comments (22)

  • Cynical
    Jul 23, 2011 - 9:54PM

    It’s also called ‘herd mentality’.

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  • Max
    Jul 23, 2011 - 10:04PM

    Fascism, in whatever form it exits, dictates from above and is inherently intolerant. The norms of civil society or human decency have certainly no place in this ideology. The worst one, at least to me, is the religious-nationalistic fascism.

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  • najib moha
    Jul 24, 2011 - 12:19AM

    great piece!!

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  • Ali
    Jul 24, 2011 - 12:57AM

    Interesting to notice the sea change in ‘liberals’ mindset. They were head over heels in love with Soviet Russia and now they leave no stone unturned in praising Uncle Sam. And by the way Mr. Ahmed, please do not couch your words while insulting Urdu media. English press can never be representative of the masses since it is not our language.

    Read Hindi papers if you can before citing the articles of a Gujarati Indian who can’t even read Urdu but had the audacity to write a series of vapid articles on Pakistani mainstream press. Hindi papers, which one must admit are one of the most read/circulated in the world, are full of venom against Pakistan and interestingly enough, against Indian Muslims. But they represent the majority Hindu mindset and one must accept and even respect that. The so-called English language ‘intellectuals’ of Pakistan should also learn to respect the Urdu press. Interestingly enough, many of them can’t even read Urdu given their educational and social backgrounds but have the guts to spew venom whenever they get an opportunity.

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  • Asad
    Jul 24, 2011 - 4:03AM

    Great piece Khalid saab. But I wish you would address how to crack this uniform thinking.

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  • Jim
    Jul 24, 2011 - 5:29AM

    As always, Khaled-saheb is insightful incisive and brilliant.

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  • Truth Seeker
    Jul 24, 2011 - 7:33AM

    What a travesty !
    A nation which is already polarised on the basis of ethnicity/culture/ beliefs/ languages and regions is moving towards another bifurcation of English and Urdu media.
    The author has only stated what one Urdu language columnist has opined. The readers should take a dose of patience, read a distasteful point of view ,because only then they will be able to enjoy and appreciate the taste of their preferred choice.
    To tell you the truth,it will be a dull,dumb and boring world if Haroon Rashid and Khalid Ahmed are writing from the same side of the divide.God allowed Iblis to carry on with his activities to make our struggle for truth more interesting.And He gave us the freedom to choose our God and Iblis.

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  • Jul 24, 2011 - 7:43AM

    Thought provoking. Just a thought – don’t you need this uniformity of thought to achieve your goals effectively and in shortest possible time and at the least cost.

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  • An
    Jul 24, 2011 - 8:21AM

    @ Ali:
    According to you the Hindi press is full of venom against Pakistan and Indian Muslims. I am assuming you know Hindi and have personally read these papers. Please cite which papers, excerpts and how often. Your statement feels like more emotion than fact. One would be hard pressed to believe that the Indian media and secular middle (and it is truly secular – made of all communities, and overwhelmingly huge), would allow such intensity and frequency of hatred against their own. India is not perfect – never claimed to be so – but despite its imperfections, its communities are truly its own. So please cite your verifiable references.Recommend

  • samar
    Jul 24, 2011 - 9:04AM

    spot on!

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  • Talat Haque
    Jul 24, 2011 - 9:32AM

    Agreed ———- thinking for oneself means taking the responsibility for one’s beliefs and actions ……….. it means bearing the consequences ……….. one’s self is a lonely place …………. as opposed to that, following someone else’s beliefs frees one from any kind of responsibility …….. blame nationalism , blame God ……….. much harder to blame yourself!

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  • Jul 24, 2011 - 9:35AM

    It is absolute nonsense to suggest that there is no diversity of opinion in Pakistan. One only needs to watch a couple of popular Geo TV shows…one hosted by Najam Sethi and other by Hamid Mir to see it in full measure.

    Pakistan has always had, and continues to have more than its fair share of Cassandras….and it’s only grown by leaps and bounds with the media revolution that blossomed under a General’s rule from 2000-2008.

    http://www.riazhaq.com/2010/03/newsweek-joins-pakistans-media.html

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  • vickram
    Jul 24, 2011 - 10:17AM

    @Ali:
    This article is about Pakistan and on how you people are bringing your beloved country to disaster by pouring hatred on your largest donor, Uncle Sam. Why do you bring India and Hindi newspapers in this discussion?

    There is a reason for liberals in praising US: without the US billions, you country will go to dogs in no time at all. Your economy is on the brink, and you have been surviving on all these days on US charity. Someone has to bring this fact to light.

    Liberals are aware of this and they want to awaken you from your stupor and they want to point this out to you. They want to tell you this reality: if you fall foul of US and its friends, then, a catastrophe awaits Pakistan in a year’s time.

    Please concentrate of how you are going to salvage your country and your pride before it is too late. Don’t worry about India and about its Hindi and Gujarati press.

    By the way, Indian muslims are feeling overjoyed and happy day by day, praising their forefathers for the wisdom of remaining in India!

    And you won’t find a single INTELLIGENT muslim in India who will say, “I wish my grandparents had migrated to Pak during Partition !”

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  • Jul 24, 2011 - 11:01AM

    @Sajjad Ashraf:
    Uniformity of mind is a bit different than a common goal. Uniformity of mind creates disaster from blind spots, while creating a very single-minded body that pushes forward aggressively without considering the implications of every action as long as they get what you want. The troubles are ignored and pile up until it’s too late. But, if working for a common goal you have enough people of differing knowledge to catch those blind spots before they become too serious for each other so they reach that end goal and make it last. I suppose it’s just a context issue rather than a contradiction.

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  • Jul 24, 2011 - 11:48AM

    @ Vickram: we’re not dependent on US aid, we have faced sanctions before. The best thing for Pakistan would be to stop taking US aid (which is not aid at all, it’s what the Americans have to pay us for fighting their war). And most of the aid goes into the foreign bank accounts of our corrupt politicians.

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  • faraz
    Jul 24, 2011 - 1:09PM

    If people are serious about quami ghairat, they should start paying their taxes but surely they won’t. We just love hollow rhetoric, blaming foreign conspiracies for our misery. It’s not uniformity of mind, it’s just hypocrisy.

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  • P N Eswaran
    Jul 24, 2011 - 5:01PM

    @vickram:
    I agree largely with what you say. But regarding Indian Muslims they certainly may be relieved that their forefather did not migrate to Pakistan (unless he/she is demented) but that does not automatically imply that they are happy in India. An over whelming section of the Indian Muslims entertain a persecuted mentality (leaving apart the enlightened minority).

    For instance, the anti-Sikh riot was far big in magnitude and for far less provocation than the Gujarat riots. The Sikhs have moved on and even elected a Congress government in Punjab but the Muslims still talk of the Gujarat riots and it seems will continue do so indefinitely. Mr. Vastanavi lost his Deoband job for asking the Muslims to move on and for accepting the fact that under Mr. Modi’s governance Muslims have also benefited. I am forced to conclude that Islam encourages its adherents to have an eternal grouse and siege mentality as a justification for war which alone explains why Muslim societies are in constant turmoil .

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  • Khurram
    Jul 24, 2011 - 5:30PM

    “We are made of sterner stuff. We will not roll back our India-centrism and its ancillary requirements in Afghanistan.” This collective hate for India is our ideology, national interest, a reason for our survival and also our achilles’heel. When it comes to stand against India, we are ever ready to go down on our knees Ghairat notwithstanding in front of any other country may it be US, China, KSA.

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  • Max
    Jul 24, 2011 - 6:32PM

    @Sajjad Ashraf Sahib,
    There are two things. Yes! Pakistan needs uniformity of ideas/thoughts to bind the nation together (national cohesion) but it should not come from above. The undercurrents of Pakistani state and society should remain plural so that people can freely interact and articulate their ideas. The state should not play the role of omnipotent sovereign in snubbing the popular aspirations. Believe me Sir, Pakistanis are smart enough to make rational choices but only if given chance.
    Your framework of expediency of time and cost effectiveness (market mechanism) requires availability of several options. Does Pakistan has several available and to pick up one? This scribe is old enough to know the ins and outs of from the earliest days, from PRODA to EBDO, Kala Bagh and Sabaz Baghs, Islamic socialism with a civilian Martial Law administrator, making hawkish claims of popular participation but snubbing the opposition, Islamic zeal and Majlis shurra of one uniformed know-nothing and afterwards it was all free fall for IB, ISI, MI or may I use the metaphor of “Mukhbar State.”

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  • Rana Asghar
    Jul 24, 2011 - 6:33PM

    Good Reading! Million dollar question what has to be done.

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  • vickram
    Jul 24, 2011 - 8:52PM

    @P N Eswaran:
    “An over whelming section of the Indian Muslims entertain a persecuted mentality …”

    This is not new: muslims all over the world – wherever they are – they have this victimhood complex…. This has been there since 7th century and no amount of sops and appeasement can remove this persecution complex….

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  • Mirza
    Jul 25, 2011 - 8:53AM

    You hit the bull’s eye!
    Thanks and regards,
    Mirza

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