WH Auden in his tribute to Yeats wrote, “… poetry makes nothing happen”. In contrast to this rather powerless view about poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley makes an equally absolute counter-claim in his essay, In Defence of Poetry when he writes “… Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. I cannot be entirely sure of the view of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa on the matter, however, if one were to hazard a guess he might lean with Shelley on the point, and perhaps, take a particular liking to the phrase “unacknowledged legislator”, which does seem to make itself useful with increasing frequency in Pakistan.
Let me say at the outset, judgment once passed is public property and I endeavour to make my comment “fair”. For those who do not know, I refer to Justice Khosa’s additional note in the Prime Minister’s contempt case. The remarkable thing about the additional note is that no addition is sought to be made, at least not in any legal sense. The legal debate and the appeal would be primarily conducted on the merits of the main judgment, yet the six pages written by Justice Khosa seem to have overshadowed the legal arguments for the time being. Justice Khosa decided to present to us a reloaded version of Khalil Gibran’s “Pity the Nation” and goes on to enumerate the reasons, which make us deserving of quite undiluted pity. There is some ambiguity on the question of whether My Lord is expressing pity at our wretched, depraved state or he wants us to be honourable enough to pity ourselves.
Irony unmistakably lurks here. The poetic composition was done by the Justice while adjudicating a contempt of court matter and makes one wonder if an unfavourable review would make one guilty of the offence of contempt. Remaining on contempt, there are very strong whiffs of contempt for our weak nation. I must confess that I had to fight off the temptation to write my version of “Pity the Nation” on these pages. I decided against this primarily because I did not feel as intimate to Justice Khosa to take that liberty with his work, in any event not as close as My Lord feels himself to Khalil Gibran — and there is always the fear of contempt.
The Supreme Court has the final authority to interpret laws and adjudicate disputes and theoretically could have disqualified the Prime Minister if it saw fit. The judgment of the Supreme Court, once passed, is final and should be unconditionally obeyed by all concerned. However, one needs to assert respectfully, yet firmly, that the Supreme Court is not an arbiter or perhaps, even a source of our societal ethics. I have very high regard for Justice Asif Khosa, yet with respect it needs to be said that the additional note seemed to be a piece of purely political and polemical writing. The literary merits of the judgment are inconsequential as compared to the emotion providing impetus.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with political polemic and a bit of poetry; I am personally particularly prone to this scheme of writing. However there is a vital difference, the Honourable Justice is a sitting judge of the Supreme Court and sworn to being objective and restrained by those parameters.
I suggest everyone reads that judgment, the tenor is that of someone talking at us and not to us. The standard usage of the term “pity” now is that of vaguely looking down at someone and feeling sorry. I say this with the utmost of deference, but we should politely remind the Honourable Justice that we do not like to be talked at or to in this tone of voice. In any event, there is quite a lot of judging in that judgment. Khalil Gibran had poetic licence at his disposal, whereas one expects that the perks, privilege and honour of being one of the highest functionaries in the country, especially the shielding from criticism would entail deferring these poetic impulses up to retirement. In any event, Khalil Gibran’s “Almustafa” is a “prophet” and is talking to his disciples when he bestows upon them the pearls of wisdom cited in the additional note. Hence you would notice that the parallel is not exact.
Justice Khosa is one of the finest judges of the country, and it is worth pondering, what led him to write what he wrote. It is not to “spread despair or despondency” as My Lord says himself, neither can it be ascribed to clumsy vanity. My Lord answers that himself later in the judgment where he says that the Court embodies and executes the will of the people and consequently the verdict of the Court is that of the people and hence in the Marx-Hegel analogy has Montesquieu and separation of power standing on its head. One is compelled to disagree with his Lordship again; they have extraordinary security of tenure because they do not have a public mandate. If the Court disqualifies the Prime Minister he has to go home, there are no two opinions about that; however, we should be able to disagree with him on things like Stalinist Soviet Union (also discussed in the judgment). In any event, reprimanding us all to get our act together is “paternalistic”, especially when there is little room for arguing back. People should at least be allowed the illusion of having the power to elect anyone they want and make their own mistakes, it makes them feel empowered. Do not take that away from us, otherwise to use My Lord’s word, it will be our “collective damnation”.
Given the theme of today is poetry, I would like to end with the words of Lord Byron from the first canto of Don Juan.
“You — Gentlemen! by dint of long seclusion/ From better company, have kept your own
At Keswick, and, through still continued fusion/ Of one another’s minds, at last have grown
To deem as a most logical conclusion/ That Poesy has wreaths for you alone:
There is a narrowness in such a notion,/ Which makes me wish you’d change your lakes for ocean.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2012.
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