Dissent, intolerance & paranoia

There are huge threats and challenges faced by this small country I call my home

Farrukh Khan Pitafi August 12, 2016
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi

Anger and paranoia are redefining our societies. It is funny how dissent, when not addressed in time, can feed on ignorance and morph into this ugly monster that imperils lives and everything precious about them. In the Arab world, this phenomenon has acquired lifethreatening proportions. In the UK, it had led to Brexit. Elsewhere, when it simmers below the surface it gives birth to a plethora of unforeseen and unpleasant surprises. Case in point, Trump.

There are other important stories meriting attention. Most important among them is that of Iran. Today, Iran is still struggling to get rid of the sanctions it has endured for years. There is an obvious lesson for the Iranian state about avoiding decisions that make the lives of its citizens difficult. Has this lesson been learnt? I am not sure. Still,it is very obvious. But there is another deeper lesson here for all in the realm of realpolitik. It is not known to many that the world community was largely ignorant of advances of Iran’s nuclear programme when Iranian opposition groups presented pictures and evidence of the programme to the intelligence community abroad. And that evidence changed everything. So what is the deeper lesson here? Never push your opponents and the dissenters in your society against the wall. After prolonged and never-ending persecution, these parties took the extreme step and the result was unending agony for the common man on the street.

Since in Pakistan the failure to acknowledge and accommodate dissent cost us East Pakistan, you would think that we have learnt the lesson. But apparently not. In the past one-and-a-half decade, the fight against a faceless, heartless enemy has led to trauma that has given space to people who exploit paranoia and distrust. As a result, conspiracy theories have grown beyond imagination. And today Pakistani society is deeply divided. Sadly, this is not an informed, opinionated divide. It is based on hearsay and the simple-minded demonisation of your opponents.

Consider this. How easy it was for the opposition parties in Pakistan to believe that the elections were rigged. When Imran Khan staged his four-month long sit-in in Islamabad, there was apparently no dearth of believers in this cause. But what happened then of these theories? Where is the tape of the so-called paintees puncture? What happened to the evidence of systematic rigging? Likewise, there is this incredible hate of democratic institutions and processes. If something untoward happens, it has to be the fault of them, the politicians. But why this hate? Is it because people are sick or tired of old names and dynasties? Considering the alternatives that are available, the answer has to be a resounding  ‘no’. Then why?

In recent interactions with many of my media friends, it dawned on me that the breed that you call anchors firmly believe that their worldview and perceived truth is the absolute truth. They decide what faith is, what the Constitution is, what is fair and what is foul. And given that these absolutists are mostly from a specific class and a few easily identified regions, their understanding of the world around them is based on a few stereotypes and Google searches. It all comes down to this. You have to work hard to unite a fractured nation. There are huge threats and challenges faced by this small country I call my home. We cannot afford an all-pervasive environment of paranoia and intrigue. A state that expects absolute loyalty and honesty from its subjects has to first earn their trust by coming clean on basic issues. The ambiguity that you often witness when ridiculous claims are made on television, when people like Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Asma Jahangir and countless others are declared enemies of the country in broad daylight just based on disagreement with their views, is enough to tell you how badly broken everything is. The issue here is of the endless demonisation of dissent. You may not agree with them (on many things, nor do I) but at least respect their right to exist. The day we learn that words and opinions can never be as devastating as bullets and bombs, we will take the first step to dismantle the infrastructure of hate and extremism in the country. On this Independence Day, this is the least we can do — build a culture of tolerance.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2016.

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J.Niaz | 5 years ago | Reply @Feroz: Agree fully. Well argued.
Toti calling | 5 years ago | Reply @Gulchand Mehta: You are missing a point. My comment was meant to be ironic. Read it again.
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