Patriotism is a powerful sentiment. But not when its logical outcome is a myopia that allows us the intellectual and moral space to ignore depravity in our midst. In the aftermath of the Sialkot lynching, powerful and evocative pieces were written by Fasi Zaka and George Fulton questioning the current state of our moral and social fabric. Given the recent spate of condemnable events in Pakistan such as the inhuman episode of vigilante justice, brutal killings of minorities and the subsequent silence of large segments of society, they wrote pieces designed to shock our sensibilities in the hopes of creating much needed national soul-searching.
What they got instead was the label of cynical, unpatriotic and most damningly, the pasting of scarlet letters that spell ‘western liberal’ on to their writings. Deconstructing evil is a mark of civilisation, and those who refute self-criticism in the face of man-made tragedy are complicit in the worst kind of self-congratulating nationalism. Cynicism might evoke tedium, but rubbishing critical reviews of moral slide is more damaging than the discomfort provoked by the two.
One response to their articles refuted the point they were making by pointing to the fact that we are no better or worse than other parts of humanity — Rwandans committed genocide and Israeli’s regularly throw grenades at boys armed with stones. Genocide and forced occupation are hardly a standard to set for inhumanity, much less cite as justifications for ignoring the rot in our society. Does the barbarity of others justify the atrocities in our backyard? These champions of misplaced Pakistani pride are implicitly urging us to drop moral standards to an even lower common denominator of human decency than we currently tolerate. That is hardly a place we should aspire to be.
After pointing out that we are not alone in the world in our brutality; a laundry-list of our selflessness, hospitality and charitable impulses is trotted out to block out the existence of violence and bigotry in our midst. There is no doubt that Pakistanis are resilient and generous people. The selfless and untiring contributions of citizens to relief activities in the face of national disasters are not only commendable but inspirational. So let’s pat ourselves on the back for that, but then what? Living in a state of delusional self-congratulation is hardly the way to rid our society of perilous ills such as bigotry, intolerance and extremism. Ridding ourselves of those requires people like Fasi and George pointing out our faults so that we can work on fixing them.
But no, once the unthinking patriots are done listing our virtues, they end with pigeon-holing all self -critical voices as “liberals”. I can only hope they understand that the demonisation of liberalism is a further invitation to one of its many alternatives so ubiquitous already: orthodoxy. Didn’t we get enough of that during the Zia years and are we still not reeling from the consequences of that ultra- rightist, downright extremist regime?
So dear Mahreen Aziz Khan, don’t take the focus away from much needed introspection for the sake of scoring popularity points. Let George and Fasi rant — at least they make us think. You make us feel good but do little to help us achieve even an iota of betterment in society. You condemn “liberals” but fail to provide viable alternatives. I, personally, am not ready for the opposite. Political labels like conservative and liberal may mean very different things in civilised societies. In countries where the slide from conservative to dogmatic to extremist has spawned many faces of orthodoxy, I am still rooting for self-criticism. I’d rather take rude and shocking essays that induce much-needed introspection in the hope of generating solutions, instead of you patting us on the back, telling us it’s ok to continue with the status quo. Our collective aversion to criticism prevents us from taking serious stock of our national condition and working to fix it. So please stop feeding this dangerous aversion and let the process of public criticism and introspection begin – only from sustained national introspection will solutions for a better Pakistan emerge.
Published in The Express Tribune September 4th, 2010.
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