Civilisational narcissism

Published: December 25, 2010

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The other day Dr Mubarik Haider was in Islamabad speaking about the thesis of his book Tehzeebi Nargisiyat. Luckily the book, which is written in Urdu and therefore not confined to the English-speaking crowd, talks about the Muslim civilisation and its inability to question itself because of its self-image. In Islamabad, the author spoke about the flawed manner in which we have always read and interpreted our history which itself is one of the major causes of this narcissism.

It was heartening to hear the author not pose as the perfect repository of knowledge. He, in fact, claimed that this was a work in progress and he was open to his theory being questioned. But for a fruitful intellectual engagement, it is necessary for individuals, groups and societies to carry out research and have an enabling environment to do the same. Dr Haider’s secondary thesis was that Muslim societies have failed to do research using scientific methods. Not surprisingly, some of the best works on Islam and the Muslim civilisation has been done abroad and not inside the countries that claim to be part of the Muslim ummah. French scholar Louis Massignon’s work of four volumes on Sufi martyr Mansur Al-Hallaj (c. 858 – March 26, 922) is one of the many examples of the amazing research done so far.

Very recently, I came across a research project in Germany titled “Corpus Coranicum” in which a team of researchers has gotten together and is trying to construct the history of the text of the Quran using sources from the Muslim world. Of course, their only claim is that they are doing it from their own perspective. But then, the larger point is why should we grudge others when we fail to use our own resources to conduct research?

In fact, when it comes to research we are inclined towards wasting those resources because our narcissism does not allow us to explore or extend our intellectual horizons. Despite our claim that the Muslim civilisation has produced some of the best scientists, mathematicians, historians, there is no inquiry into why we ceased the process of scientific research and experimentation.

In Pakistan, which is considered the fortress of the Muslim civilisation, there is little done in the field of education and research. With a focus on quantity versus quality, we keep establishing institutions without producing results. Our fascination with establishing infrastructure means a greater number of universities and research institutions which are not equipped (in terms of manpower) to conduct scientific research.

I can comfortably speak about social sciences in this country which has died because of the lack of trained and capable human resources. Despite our emphasis on producing new doctorates and institutions, most of the work done is of poor quality. The state refuses to understand that good quality research can only be produced when there is an enabling environment. This means independence of academic and research institutions and allowing them to produce work without fear of retribution lest they stray away from the state’s ‘strategic’ perspective.

It’s a shame to see public money going to waste in the shape of numerous research institutions, especially in the capital city. Many have become places to accommodate retired bureaucrats. It is absolutely ludicrous to require security clearance for researchers from military intelligence agencies. This subservience of social science research to the state’s narrow security objectives is awful. Not to mention how the security apparatus has established new think tanks — with the label of ‘private sector’ on them — which only further the work government institutions are already doing.

Managed by people with fake PhDs or those whose main credential is their closeness to the security establishment, even new research centres have turned into mere intellectual ‘safe houses’. The social science departments of public sector universities serve as recruitment centres for foot soldiers. These are young students who move from an unscientific university environment to an equally bad research environment. Good contacts or empathy with the deep state, being a female, having a reasonably good command of English and a mind uneducated in social science methodology are some of the basic criterion for getting a job in these numerous old and new think tanks.

No wonder, we suffer from national and civilisational narcissism.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.

Reader Comments (16)

  • Dec 25, 2010 - 11:33PM

    Signs of insecurity perhaps? Or just overcompensating?Recommend

  • Iqbal+Khan
    Dec 26, 2010 - 12:57AM

    Ms. Ayesha you have correctly exposed what we used to deny every single day in this land of pure !!! Well done and keep up the good work.Recommend

  • Amadeus
    Dec 26, 2010 - 2:03AM

    Spot On.Recommend

  • Shabbir Bukhari
    Dec 26, 2010 - 2:46AM

    Intellectual SAFE HOUSEs, apt comment on the think tanks doing social science research for the security establishment.Recommend

  • Roshan
    Dec 26, 2010 - 2:54AM

    Good analysis of the state of research in our country….Recommend

  • Arifq
    Dec 26, 2010 - 3:03AM

    Keep up the good work, lone voice of sanity.Recommend

  • Khurram
    Dec 26, 2010 - 4:14AM

    Ayesha a timely article and you are always a delight to read. The failure to pursue religio-social research by using scientific methodology to establish the soundnes of an argument or evidence lies behind the scaffolds we have built to hide the truth from others and eventually from from our own selves, it is most likely in our genes that we relish in perpepuating, preserving and feeding on myths and lies for example your line “In Pakistan, which is considered the fortress of the Muslim civilisation” contains more than civilizational narcissism than meets the eye, first of all no body in the Islamic world considers us to be a Citadel of Islamic Civilization or for that matter to be a Nation with a shred of credibility. This is simply a self-given designation which perhaps is the out come of some identity crisis and insecurity that we have been suffereing from since the very inception of our nation. We (most of Islamic nations) need to back track a long distance to begin our journey on the right path. Again, since we are the youngest sibling of Judaism and Christianity it will take some time to for us to muster enough courage to dismantle the scaffolding we have been so faithfully erecting around the truth.Recommend

  • Dec 26, 2010 - 8:58AM

    Ayesha writings have always been thought provoking. While I have reservations about Dr. Mubarak It is true that we as a nation are suffering from false consciousness. Recommend

  • karim......
    Dec 26, 2010 - 9:17AM

    Dr,Ayesha Siddqa u have chosen a very dynamic topic,,,relevant to what is today,s downfall of Muslim society…lacking of research is itself an anti climax of a nation,or any school of thought what soever geographical confinements,,,many people spewing spewing about the general retired Musharraf regime,s educational policies who simply strived and that never lead the nation holding a broad based culture because research which is based on modern scientific tools itself a threat to a military despotic like Musharraf and his general fraternity who are always watching to capture parliamentary authorities with a greedy eye ,,, ,,,it is simply a foolishness to accept his educational measure taken during last decade of his moribund rule….it would have been the bed luck of nation that what soever whosoever just spoke louder about education turn up to be hero,,but whenever a leading scholar condemned the ways we receive education in our institutions is lacking of research…research is actual have a constructive role in societies,,it is mightier enough to bring out what is happening under the ground…and create an environment severely pose a threat to the tricha….mullah-military-any super power attache her hegemony… research is a social indicator of progress and the mu slim societies have taken oath not to touch the research because it calls a dooms day for those who just want to put the people on wrong direction,,,,,Recommend

  • Ahsanullah Mehsud
    Dec 26, 2010 - 9:21AM

    Ayesha.Siddiqa….says

    t’s a shame to see public money going to waste in the shape of numerous research institutions, especially in the capital city. Many have become places to accommodate retired bureaucrats. It is absolutely ludicrous to require security clearance for researchers from military intelligence agencies. This subservience of social science research to the state’s narrow security objectives is awful. Not to mention how the security apparatus has established new think tanks — with the label of ‘private sector’ on them — which only further the work government institutions are already doing.
    Managed by people with fake PhDs or those whose main credential is their closeness to the security establishment, even new research centres have turned into mere intellectual ‘safe houses’. The social science departments of public sector universities serve as recruitment centres for foot soldiers. These are young students who move from an unscientific university environment to an equally bad research environment. Good contacts or empathy with the deep state, being a female, having a reasonably good command of English and a mind uneducated in social science methodology are some of the basic criterion for getting a job in these numerous old and new think tanks.

    i agree wit this lady. She has portrayed an excellent real picture. Recommend

  • White Russian
    Dec 26, 2010 - 9:43AM

    Projects like “Corpus Coranicum” in Islamic world? It would be like digging the grave for our (religion-based ) highly untenable world-view. Ever wonder why clergy starts howling, even at the small hint of rationality, culture and humanism? The answer in my humble opinion is: Intellectual Insecurity. Once the process is started, Islam and Muslims (and clergy) would never be same again.Recommend

  • Hamid Raza
    Dec 26, 2010 - 10:29AM

    One reason for this lack of academic research perhaps is that people like Dr Ayesha who could have inspired a whole generation of keen students, have chosen to use and explore their knowledge and acumen in places other than the departments of social sciences in what she rightly sees as our barren seats of learning. Just imagine the good that would have come out of dissertations and thesis papers she would have supervised or encouraged had she been there. But people make their professional choices with so many things in mind rather than worrying only about research or the lack of it.Recommend

  • ali
    Dec 26, 2010 - 1:28PM

    It’s a shame to see public money going to waste in the shape of numerous research institutions, especially in the capital city. Many have become places to accommodate retired bureaucrats. It is absolutely ludicrous to require security clearance for researchers from military intelligence agencies. This subservience of social science research to the state’s narrow security objectives is awful.

    Really? I didn’t know that. Not doubting what you said but could you tell us more details please?Recommend

  • Afridi
    Dec 26, 2010 - 4:05PM

    Dear Ayesha

    I have been reading and going with your work since 2006. I hope you won’t mind my english owing to my educational background, that I have not had desk until my intermediate studies, and have not had access to computer until 2008, rest I leave at your perception and cognition. What, I always expect from your writing and thought that you are showing high level of pragmatism and practicability. Sorry to say but I have found most of the writer here, and what they depict from their writing is that they are snugged like our elites in their drawing room and bed room and writing about poor, bereaved and ravaged pakistanis particularly FATA people.
    I am writing this because you wrote about our level of thesis and research. You are very write, and off course write about us, students who are their learning stage; I wish you wrote a Little particular, about the level of journalism that we have here, and the so called think thank. I heard once of an novel writer who spend her two year in Heera Mandi, going through all the atrocities that people their are going through, why don’t we have that kind of people, researcher and writer. Again sorry, but I don’t like many of writing made about us (FATA), with out knowing a cent of it, they are just looking at us from the eye of camera.

    I believe, that you would work and recognize this issue too, when you are so brilliant, along with the required volition. I wrote what my heart says, I hope you understand, and that too when I read your article when I just returned from the unfortunate area of FATA.

    Afridi Recommend

  • Asad ullah
    Dec 26, 2010 - 5:57PM

    @Hamid Raza

    I disagree. If Dr. Ayesha was in a sociology department guiding theses, she would be pulling at her hair daily and if she chose to critique theses to any quality standard, her head of dept. would have asked her to leave. I still remember being asked by a major university to perform outside review of a thesis at Master level. The thesis had negligible introduction, no research question and results and discussion had little to do with the conclusion. I reported this to the university citing my inability to pass this student. I learned later that my review was cancelled and was redone by someone else and the student was passed. They did not have the courtesy even to inform me that they had disputed my judgement.

    The reason for little or no research in Pakistan is the lack of an enabling environment and a firm societal belief that there is a difference between knowledge and actions. We being action oriented routinely forgo knowledge.Recommend

  • Raja Arsalan Khan
    Dec 28, 2010 - 10:40PM

    @ Hamid Raza

    Please also keep in mind McCarthyism which is being followed in Pakistan in a vigorous manner. I am in media and know how the “dissenters” are silenced. Will you believe that there is a publishing house where the father of known gangster is more respectable than ……….
    This is Pakistan and Ayesha is precise in citing the Pakistani think-tanks as example.Recommend

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