Living in Denialistan
Why on earth do columnists need to criticize the West and its culture when the discussion is about Pakistan? The answer is simple: because the “West” is demonised by many.
This blog is in response to an article, The liberal lynch mob written by Mahreen Aziz Khan published recently in The Express Tribune. It will not only focus on this article itself but will mostly critically analyze the mindset behind such viewpoints and briefly look at the message in other such related articles for example Get another passport written by the famous Flotilla Hulk.
Recently a horrifying video of a crowd watching a mob brutally killing two brothers in Sialkot has sparked mass demonstrations in Pakistan. The video, widely broadcasted on Pakistani TV channels, shows a lynch mob taking turns to savagely beat two boys with sticks, metal rods drawing blood from them before dragging and hanging their dead bodies from a nearby pole. Perhaps just as shocking was that none of the dozens of people including police officials watching tried to stop the ferocious attack. The scenes have outraged Pakistanis all over the country challenging how society could submissively watch the killings without intervening.
The new debate
Amid this crisis, a new debate has sparked in Pakistan as to how should one perceives the country. Columnist Fasi Zaka not only condemned the incident but referred to Pakistanis (metaphorically) as ‘human cockroaches’ and concluded that we cannot and will not change unless we rise above all the defenses, excuses and accusations that we give to others and ourselves and take responsibility for our actions. In another hard hitting piece, a Pakistani journalist George Fulton focused on the gruesome nature of the society and highlighted the culture of vigilantism that has been ingrained in the very roots of the country and ever since actively promoted and widely accepted on mass scale within the country.
However there is another interesting point of view which was endorsed by Mahreen Aziz Khan in her article The liberal lynch mob. In this article, she lambasted both Fulton and Zaka’s opinions labelling them as ‘western liberals’ and concluded that the norms of our society are not very different from those of the western. more developed nations and that what happened in Sialkot was not as out of the ordinary as portrayed by the media.
Mahreen Khan’s article does not come as a surprise as I have been reading these viewpoints for a long time now. Basically this has always been the reaction of analysts who either live in a mode of denial or deliberately choose not to scrutinize the loopholes in their society for the sake of their misperceived patriotism, false pride and nationalism. They guard the political-military elite of Pakistan and have been one of the biggest impediments in the democratic process by always possessing a soft corner towards the Pakistan army and its political supporters. They are the ones who choose only to criticize Pakistan’s current President Asif Ali Zardari (popularly known as the source of all problems in the country) by demanding him to donate his entire wealth to compensate the flood victims and maintain their silence on the £10bn empire operating within the country that runs several industrial and manufacturing conglomerates (from cement to cornflakes), owns 12m acres of public land and controls one-third of all heavy manufacturing and approximately 7 per cent of all private assets. Welcome to the Pakistan Army ladies and gentlemen.
What is a western liberal?
In her article Khan used the phrase ‘western liberal’ at least twice. In Pakistan, this is a common term used to label any critic who points out either the caustic realities of the society or who invokes self introspection instead of blaming the West, Israel or India. This term takes a different form depending on who the user is. Some refer to it as liberal fascists, liberal fanatics or atheists and sometimes it takes a more blatant form such as Kafir, Hindu agent, Jew or Qadiani. These terms are used to describe those people who often:
- Challenge the popular opinion among the masses and take a stand for their views and have the guts to reach a rational conclusion on their own.
- Challenges the distorted version of history widely accepted in the country and demands a truthful reformation of the history books taught in the Pakistani classrooms.
- Highlights the importance of science and research and demand the country’s authorities to allocate a substantial part of budget towards this sector.
- Promote religious harmony and tolerance by demanding equal rights for Ahmadis and other minorities.
- Call for abandoning nuclear weapons and transparency towards nuclear wastes and challenge the “first use” nuclear doctrine of the Pakistan Army.
- Challenge religious orthodoxy and extremism, Taliban, and promote freedom of speech, race, religion, gender and Ideology.
- Promote the democratic political process instead of taking patronage under the military oligarchy.
- Point out other regions of the world as well (such as Balochistan, Darfur, and Xinanjiang) where Muslims are fighting for freedom instead of just playing the usual Palestinian, Iraqi and Kashmiri card
Here I am not going to defend or further analyse this term but instead I will examine why this specific term was used by Mahreen Khan when the criticism or self-loathing by Fasi Zaka and George Fulton involved Pakistan alone?
Where does the term ‘West’ come from?
The term ‘West’ used by Mahreen Khan was basically to offset the impact of the dilapidated condition of Pakistan highlighted by both Fasi and George by diverting attention through highlighting similar incidents in other regions mainly in the West, Israel and India. Basically according to this mindset, we should not introspect and work towards seeking constructive feedback of our deeds and instead find similar faults of other nations and indirectly justify ourselves.
The basic strategy is to mention the names of these three regions in order to fuel the revulsion that already exists in Pakistan against them and to discredit the other argument not by presenting valid arguments but by presenting excuses. For example, whenever there is a bomb blast in a mosque or shrine in Pakistan where the Taliban accept responsibility for it, firstly it is not accepted by this mindset and secondly even if it is grudgingly accepted, it is incorrectly and indirectly justified by presenting a case where America is bombing Iraq and parts of Pakistan, killing innocent civilians.
In simple words, this Mahreen Khan Mindset looks at every problem in Pakistani society in this context.
As a point of illustration, on the issue of dealings with the minorities in the country, this mindset believes:
So what if Pakistani institutions have been highly unsuccessful in protecting its minorities? Look at India (the typical Gujrat 2002 story), Palestine issue, and American invasion in Iraq etc’. ‘See the magnitude of violence they have been promoting!
By presenting this comparative-analysis- excuse which is often out of context, this mindset justifies the weaknesses of its own society and dismisses any criticism directed against their country’s institutions. Eventually the critics are labelled as traitors, Liberal fascists or Western Liberals – as can also be seen in Mahreen Khan’s article.
Mahreen then says:
These columnists (Fasi Zaka & George Fulton) would not dare to write in such sadistic terms about western cultures. No, they only prey on the weak – pure lynch mob mentality – developing nations like Pakistan, battered by natural catastrophe, war and poverty.
Criticism is good
My first basic question to Khan is this - Why on earth do these columnists need to criticize the West and its culture when the discussion is about Pakistan in the first place? The answer is simple: because the “West” is despised by the masses in Pakistan so it has always been the requirement of Mahreen Khan type mindset to mention them in order to overshadow the Pakistani domestic problems.
According to the writer, one should never criticize a third world country like Pakistan – battered by natural catastrophes, war and poverty.
Why can’t I criticize my country when I know that it is us who are responsible (due to our collective acts) for the natural catastrophes, war and the poverty?
Admittedly, it is a norm of our society to blame God, global warming, India or America for catastrophe but in reality it is the Pakistanis themselves who are mostly responsible for these floods because of their mismanagement of the Indus river, the role of the timber mafia in denudation of the vast forests, and the appalling situation of National Disaster Management Authority.
In the same article, Mahreen Khan has promptly responded to the Maula Jatt example given in “Don’t act surprised” by giving an American alternate of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre example promoting once again a comparative analysis as highlighted by Fulton in “Don’t act surprised Part 2.” Yet, instead of acknowledging the culture of vigilante justice bred in our state, the Mahreen mindset spends hours Googling similar examples in only those regions which are despised by the masses in Pakistan example India, Israel and America. ( No China).
A river in Egypt
These Pakistanis live in a mode of denial completely ignoring the murderous vigilante culture which has been promoted in their society. The people prefer to make their own law rather than following any set rules of law. This utter disregard for law gives way to even more mayhem thus resulting in today’s daily acts of terrorism, looting, raping and murders.
This latest Sialkot tragedy is one of the countless incidents that has erupted like a hyper active volcano. How many Christians and Ahmadis have been victimised at the hands of these people? Other such instances include the Gojra incident and the Sangla incident. Read any report of Pakistan Human Rights Commission and notice how many Ahmadis, Christians and other minorities have been brutally victimised through such people. Does anyone even remember the famous incident which took place in 1995 in which Dr. Sajjad Farooq was beaten to death on false apostasy charges by people outside a police station in Gujranwala? Even the mosques and the ruling Islamic ulemas have always been supportive of such incidents.
How can one forget the pseudo scholar by the name of Dr Amir Liaquat (followed by masses) publically endorse the murder of an Ahmadi? (Notice the increase in the killings of Ahmadis immediately after this public legitimisation) How can one forget the late dogmatic Dr Israr Ahmed (followed by the masses) who endorsed the killings of both Ahmadis and apostates? How can we ignore the fatwa of a powerful radical cleric known as Mufti Rafi Usmani on Geo News for mobilizing a mob to kill Salman Rushdie?
As I am writing, a gun battle between the Chang and Khan groups over a 30-rupee loan left four brothers dead in Gulshan-e-Khair Muhammad Hyderabad. Recently, a teenage girl was gang raped by a feudal tribal council as it was recommended by the Jirga (the increasingly popular Imran Khan’s Insaaf Mechanism) purporting that justice can only be served by the rule of “an eye for an eye.”
We love vigilantes
This barbarous, merciless, homicidal and bloodthirsty approach is not only limited to rural or tribal areas in Pakistan but it is somewhat pervasive in urban areas among the educated families as well.
For example, quite recently mass hysteria has been created in Pakistan after three Pakistani cricketers were exposed for spot fixing in a sting operation by a British tabloid.
Look at our reactions as shown on Pakistani TV channels:
One of the major consensus among the public as shown on various channels is that the cricketers deserve the same fate the brothers who were brutally murdered in Sialkot. The icing on the cake is that even educated sportsman such as Amir Sohail came on ‘Super eye show’ (August 29th 2010) on Geo Super channel and recommended a “Sialkot type” punishment for the Pakistani cricketers.
A top Pakistani banker and a friend of popular television anchor Mubashir Luqmaan again recommended the same punishment.
Look at the Facebook status of Ahmed Qureshi:
Pakistani cricket players chose to be a part of corruption. Where is the supervisory mechanism over the players? My take is: Hang the ********. This country’s politicians and managers can’t give justice and can’t stop corruption. Burn the corrupt, I say. Make them an example, and start with all the corrupt all the way to the top. (Source Facebook Ahmed Qureshi’s Official Page)
Notice the terms “Hang the ********” and “Burn the corrupt”; it reminds me of similar terms used by the lynching mob in Sialkot during their revenge against those ill-fated boys.
In his article “Acts of Ghairat Abdul Qadeer Khan not only legitimies the philosophy of vigilante justice but also instigates the public to take justice in their own hands by giving certain relevant examples.
Above all what about the glorified vigilantism, savagery and barbarity in relation to imperialist invaders (Bin Qasim, Ghaznavi, Ghauri and Babar) that the masses in Pakistan study in their crooked history?
This is the real Pakistan where national heroes encourage vigilante justice and have themselves been living examples of it. Then why are we surprised when such an incident as the one in Sialkot happens?
The real Pakistan has been dominated mainly throughout its history by illiteracy, conspiracy theories, corruption, political instability, military interferences, terrorism and poverty. A country where leaders openly justify on national TV that their involvement in corruption is acceptable, by employing the same tactics as those employed by the likes of Mahreen Khan. According to them, it is justified to delve in some corruption because another person belonging to X party is also involved in corruption. Hence, there was nothing wrong with this equation. But the truth of the matter simply put is that two wrongs do not make one right.
Yes Pakistan has positive qualities too as does every other country to more or less some extent. In fact every individual has some positive qualities alongside the negative ones. But what defines you as a good person/ country are the overriding qualities—the good ones or the bad. In other words, the important thing is what prevails over you. For instance, an active child molester also donates some money to a school as charity on a monthly basis. The money he donates will be overpowered by the indecent acts towards children. The same goes for Pakistan whose negative qualities have tipped its scales towards being not only a failed state but a rogue state.
This is not the Pakistan which was envisioned by its founders. It has now instead become ‘Denialistan’ whose citizens do not accept their shortcomings and- if they are faced with no other choice but to accept their faults- are quick to justify them by pointing out similar failings of other states. Who similar to lambs, follow mindlessly what is fed into their brains through the variety of mediums present in the society (such as the military elite, the Ulema and other influential personalities who are idolised by the masses). Just like lambs do not use their minds before following its leader, the vast majority of us blindly follow these figures of influence without applying our brains to what is being said/ asked of us. Moreover those who dare to introspect are condemned as “western liberals” who ought to ‘Get another passport’.
I would like to end this by dedicating the following quote to this denial brigade of Denialistan:
“Sometimes reality has a way of sneaking up and biting us in the ass. And when the dam bursts, all you can do is swim. The world of pretend is a cage, not a cocoon. We can only lie to ourselves for so long. We are tired, we are scared. Denying it doesn’t change the truth. Sooner or later we have to put aside our denial and face the world. Head on, guns blazing. De Nile. It’s not just a river in Egypt, it’s a freakin’ ocean. So how do you keep from drowning in it?” (By Meredith Grey)
If we keep denying ourselves the right to critically self-analyse, willingly turning a blind eye to the blatant causes of the problem, the potential within us to improve and tackle these deeply ingrained issues will be utterly wasted.
This post was originally published in an extended form here.