This ‘ghairat’ business

Published: February 26, 2011
The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore [email protected]

Ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi echoed many TV anchors when he appealed to ‘qaumi viqar’, (national honour) as he disclosed why he had disagreed with the assertion by the US that the American killer Raymond Davis enjoyed blanket immunity as a diplomat.

This meant that the argument was not only legal. It had to be upheld also, in the face of a superpower, if Pakistan was to retain its honour. Could he have said what he said if Pakistan was not a weak state? In Socratic terms, he wanted the weak state to assert its honour in the face of a hegemon. Honour, it seems, compensates for the feeling of subordination felt by the weak. On the other hand, wisdom seems to conceal weakness through strategies of survival.

Honour is held up by high principle and inflexibility; wisdom is the seeking of a middle ground through a flexible response. Honour is isolationist and non-communicative because of its readiness to fight ‘against all odds’; wisdom is a process of reconciliation and pursuit of agreement through communication. Honour is idealistic; wisdom is pragmatic. The high point of honour is martyrdom; the high point of wisdom is survival.

The above categorisation is a hermetic formulation. In any human condition, there is always a middle ground of intermixture of categories. Examples of honour and wisdom abound in history, including in our Islamic history. The second imam, Hasan, accepted the caliphate of Muawiya in an act of wisdom; the third imam, Husain, defended high principle and opposed the caliphate of Muawiya’s son, Yazid. This was an act of honour culminating in martyrdom.

In his book The End of History, Francis Fukuyama’s heroic ‘first man’ who fought for honour was taken from Plato’s Republic. Socrates explained how defence of honour created great tragedy and elevated man. Socrates himself preferred to die in the cause of high principle when he could have saved his life. Much later, Galileo, facing the Inquisition in Rome, chose to sign the church doctrine that the earth was flat and save his life. That was wisdom.

The great sixth imam, Jafar Sadiq, developed the doctrine of ‘quietism’ and saved Shiism as the ‘faith of the downtrodden’. In today’s vulgar parlance, it can be called a ‘lie low’ policy. This was wisdom, adding a second important but parallel (to martyrdom) strand in Shia thought. Mansur Hallaj could have saved his life when faced with torture in Baghdad but he chose high principle like Socrates and was martyred. Honour is rated higher in national memory than wisdom. Wisdom (hikmat) appears to be the opposite of honour (ghairat).

In their internal behaviour, states have governance in accordance with laws. In international affairs there is no governance. States, therefore, formulate ‘policy’ to engage outside their borders. Inside, it is governance that is needed; outside, it is ‘policy’ that is required. Nationalism, if it lasts, embodies a nation’s sense of honour and, like honour, is related to war and martyrdom.

However, if nationalism stands for honour, the national economy stands for wisdom. If nationalism cannot abide analysis, the economy demands constant analytical review. Because of its fundamental principle of ‘rational choice’, the economic function also brings forth the element of rationality in wisdom.

The economy wants peace at all costs and will countenance no war, just or unjust. It will not function under isolationism which is a characteristic of honour. In this sense, the national economy is a ‘dishonourable’ enterprise. Honour is prized in tribal societies more than in urbanised societies. It is also a trait of the low-literacy populations, mainly, because of its requirement of emotion rather than reason.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (39)

  • G.Khan
    Feb 27, 2011 - 12:13AM

    Mr. Khalid Ahmed , I am glad that you have quoted the Example of the 6th Imam “Jafir-e-Sadiq” and his Policy of “quietism” But perhaps you forgot to remember that it was His Grandfather” Imam Hussain” who chose the way of martydom before Yazid and refused to accept his “Baiyet”. And those who know Ahlulbait, they agree that there had been no policy difference among all 12 Imams. Therefore your logic is flawed in this way that the rule you are defining As “Wisdom” is actually isn’t wisdom IF you apply the same rule in every situation . TRUE WISDOM is the Knowledge to know as to when to adopt the Policy of “Quietism” and When to offer” Martydom”. Do you really think that Imam Hussain, If kept quiet before Yazid and Accepted him and his interpretation of religion as Islam, Would Islam have survived today as Hussain’s baiyat would be Symbolically the baiyat and Approval of Prophet himself of yazid’s Doctrine.?? Recommend

  • Feb 27, 2011 - 1:08AM

    As long as reason is equated with secularism and abhorred, we will likely be guided by our emotions, not reason. Who will pay the price for that…….ask the people sleeping in the green belts surrounding highways in Islamabad (so called “development” and “progress”) whether their honor is restored by a rich Sufi saint-cum poltician drivels in a press conference after he was ousted from office. Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Feb 27, 2011 - 1:21AM

    Our present blasphemy laws are based on temporal notion of misguided ‘honour’. ‘Wisdom’ with its roots firmly in the holy scriptures; would not require any punishment for blasphemy.

    Imaam Abu Hanifa had wisdom and prescribed no worldly punishment for blasphemy. Our contemporary rulers were/are slaves of their misguided honour and legislate/support worldly punishment for blasphemy.

    Wisdom always survives and ultimately undoes misguided ‘honour’. Recommend

  • Truthseeker
    Feb 27, 2011 - 3:48AM

    Well balanced and articulated summary of choices for the Pakistani society.Concept of honour has been inherited from medieval societies, where economics had no role to play.

    ‘Treaty of Hudabiyah’ was disliked by the companions of the prophet(pbuh), who wanted its promulgation on honourable terms, but the wisdom of the founder of Islam won the day, resulting in the fall of Mecca without any fighting. The Holy Book of Islam is called by God as “Quran-ul-Hakeem” or the Book of Wisdom and the word wisdom is used for Quran in a dozen places, whereas word ‘honour’ is used twice and there it needs wisdom to achieve it.
    America used nuclear devices agaist Japan and then helped Japan to become an economic giant without hurting Japanese national pride.China considers Taiwan as its integral part, and without raising the flag of ‘honour and dignity’ has accepted multi billion dollars investment in mainland China. Ideologically Canadians and Americans are poles apart but economically they are the biggest trade partners.

    Once Pakistan becomes a positive economic entity then it will not have to take the refuge of honour and dignity.Because economic strength will ensure the presence of invisible and intangible honour. Recommend

  • pmbm
    Feb 27, 2011 - 9:31AM

    Why can a ‘ghairatmund’ (honorable man) also be an ‘ aqalmund'(wise man)? Apparently not in this writer’s mind.Recommend

  • Feb 27, 2011 - 10:06AM

    Bayghairat Brigade in action.Recommend

  • SharifL
    Feb 27, 2011 - 11:34AM

    I agree with the analysis of Khalid Ahmad about honour in the historical context. But I think we are writing far too many article in relation to Davis case. Courts should decide the immunity of the case and newspapers should concentrate on other important issues. Ghairat (Honour) is more conspicuous in family affairs in Pakistan, because of cultural and religious misconceptions and is accepted in villages as well as large cities. Majority of women are not allowed to leave homes without men and limits to their freedom is conspicuous in all spheres of life. Whereas men can allow themselves all the freedom, honour suddenly creeps up when women want that sort of freedom. Here is South Africa I see many young Pakistani men having a ‘good’ time with local girls as they are more promiscuous. Many are marries back home. I once asked one one such guy if he would also accept if his wife also had such relationship back home. He was apparently shocked at my question, before he said: Listen, in our village women are killed if they dare disobey the religious and cultural laws. I found that statement to reflect one sided, selfish but true to the honour concept prevailing in many societies.
    This attitude is widespread and affects millions of women. Perhaps more should be written about that than Davis case.Recommend

  • drkhataumal
    Feb 27, 2011 - 12:25PM


  • Fawad Ahmed
    Feb 27, 2011 - 1:49PM

    Khaled Ahmed is one of the most well read and pragmatic analyst of Pakistan. I just finished his book Sectarian divide of Pakistan that is quite an eye opener, I would like to send one to Imran khan if someone can force him to read also so he may talk some logic while deliberating on militancy in this region.The way Khaled has explained the phenomenal of “Ghairat” and “wisdom” is certainly only he could have done that. Recommend

  • Palvasha von Hassell
    Feb 27, 2011 - 2:36PM

    Dear me, what an incredibly flat and machine-like world we’d be inhabiting if the author’s brand of “wisdom” were to prevail! A world devoid of the sense of right and wrong, no less. A world unworthy of humans, for why not cleanse the “national” realm of all ethics as well, leaving only the heaven of pragmatism all around us?
    No, no, and Aristotle would agree.Recommend

  • pakpinoy
    Feb 27, 2011 - 6:35PM

    @Palvasha von Hassell:
    How misguided you seem to be! Do you truly equate honor with ethics or right and wrong?? The so-called “honor” most often displayed in Pakistani society has little to do with ethical values or right and wrong. It has everything to do with the human ego, pride and in Pakistan’s case — a feeling of great weakness and humiliation.

    A great proverb states, “Humility comes before honor…” and “Humility is the beginning of Wisdom…” Only weak, defeated and humiliated people defend honor for the sake of honor. The strong, confident and successful have nothing to prove nor defend as the tangible results, successes and strong character speak for themselves.

    A man of character and internal strength has little use for superficial, and yes medieval, pursuits of honor. He is too focused on being a great and successful person, even if he has to be the stronger party and often swallow his pride and ego (Leadership 101), standing up for truth and justice, defending the weak and defenseless, making the world a better place.

    Very unfortunately, the average Pakistani only seeks to defend honor in order to: protect one’s reputation, protect one’s shallow and tender ego, give an illusion of strength to counter the reality of great weakness, gain revenge and retribution for past offenses, etc, etc. All of these reasons are “DIS-honorable” in my book and show the weakness of the society that places higher value on defending such “honor” over truth, honesty, humility and integrity. It’s the blight of the nation.Recommend

  • Syeda
    Feb 27, 2011 - 9:17PM

    The real problem with us is that we know the power of America but we do not know the power of Allah. The weapons in Allah’s arsenal are countless. When He makes a decision to destroy someone or some nation, He creates some visible conditions. People without the understanding of the power of Allah look at the conditions, while the people of understanding look beyond those apparent conditions. This is a big trial from Allah. This is how believers and disbelievers get separated.
    The problem in Pakistan and indeed the whole world is that we think it is wise and pragmatic to submit to America, whose power is visible and not wise and pragmatic to submit to Allah whose power is not visible to the naked eye. The reality is that Allah is still in control today as He was during the time of Pharoan, Quroon and Hamaan. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough Musas to understand this truth. Problems in Pakistan will not go away until they correct this wrong thinking. We are willing to do everything wrong because we think that Allah has no power and all the power is with America and its
    servants. May Allah help us to understand the truth. Ameen.Recommend

  • nakamura
    Feb 27, 2011 - 10:44PM

    Dear Author!. As far as I know, our country was created based upon inspiration of Iqbal. Please explain following verses of him.

    1- Ghairat hai bari cheez jahane tago do mein
    Pehnati hai dervaish ko taje sare dara.

    2- Pani Pani kar gai mugh ka qalandar ki yeh baat
    Tu jhuka jab gair key aage, na tan tera na man

    I f your logic of wisdom is accepted then all the traitors from Mir Jafar to Mir sadiq need to be redeemed and given due respect.Recommend

  • Kesav
    Feb 27, 2011 - 10:45PM

    I am surprised at all this business of ‘honour’.It seems rather one sided.No one seems to discuss the dishonour that the Muslims heap on non muslims,by calling them ‘kafirs’, imposing the ‘jiziya’ tax and treating them as second class citizens.Honour will come to you automatically if you learn to treat others with honour.What is the difficulty in understanding this simple principle?Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Feb 27, 2011 - 11:18PM

    What do you propose – stay beghairat – always!Recommend

  • Sheikh Sarmad
    Feb 27, 2011 - 11:27PM

    Ghairatmant brigade equates wisdom with cowardise…that is the dilemma fo this brigadesRecommend

  • nina
    Feb 27, 2011 - 11:46PM

    200% spot on!! Finally someone comments with great wisdom.
    Most commentors on the tribune appear not to know the power of Allah. If the citizens of Pak put all trust and faith in the power of Almighty Allah, then they would be able to preserve their honour with great wisdom.Recommend

  • Zahid Hussain
    Feb 27, 2011 - 11:49PM

    It is said that knowledge can be acquired but wisdom is a blessing bestowed on someone only by God alone. It is not necessary for a wise man to be educated and an educated person cannot be necessarily wise.

    @ Khalid Sahib, in which category will you place yourself? Educated or wise? An educated person will perhaps weigh justice and relationships in terms of monetary benefit but a wise person weighs justice and relationships in terms of their overall impact on the very moral and ethical foundation of a society. You can not let a criminal go unpunished because you will lose a few pennies or spoil a relationship. Nothing can be more precious than life. Did Hazrat Imam Hussain compromise with Yazid to stay alive? Your answer will decide how wise you are!Recommend

  • Yasir Javvad
    Feb 28, 2011 - 12:37AM

    Dear sir,
    I dont think that there any options left for Sayedna Imam Hussain Alaih Salam. The Arab community was was very divided. If imam would have not chose to Kharuj, he would be assassinated like his father was assissinated. So martyrdom was not a conscious choice.

  • Feb 28, 2011 - 2:42AM

    I wonder what had possessed Churchill to take on Hitler’s immeasurably superior armed forces in 1938? He must have been a very stupid man talking all the time about the British GHAIRAT! Perhaps it’s OK for a relatively weak Britain to sport Ghairat in relation to Germany but all wrong for Pakistanis to do so vis-a-vis the duplicitous and murderous Americans?

    My current blog post deals, in part, with the bay-ghairat people of Pakistan.Recommend

  • zakria
    Feb 28, 2011 - 6:44AM

    Before partition, we were yearing to become ” gairatmund”. After we got a piece of land to rule, we are trying to become bai-gairat.

    acha hai dil key paas rahe pasbene aql
    lekeen kabhi kabhi ise tanha bhi chor de.Recommend

  • summer
    Feb 28, 2011 - 8:20AM

    “i agree with the khaled ahmed .When syed us shuhda imam hussain fought to yazeed it was for survivel of islam but when islam was saved imam jafar sadiq was trying to save the muslims from cruel ummayads and abbasids. at that time there was no threat to islam.
    if there was any threat the imam never ask for quitism.Recommend

  • Arshad Mehmood
    Feb 28, 2011 - 10:54AM

    Dear Khalid Sahib,
    i am delighted to read this piece of wisdom…there are only very few writers like you in pakistan, who speaks sense and instead of provoking people ghariat.. advise them and the policy makers to think rationaly so that we could survive in this world… “ghariat thrills but kills”

    i will request you to kindly write this in urdu as well so that maximum pakistanis can be benefited from your thought….. Recommend

  • Arshad Mehmood
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:15AM

    Dear Mr. Khalid. I am delighted to read this piece of wisdom…you are among very few writers in pakistan who instead of provoking “ghariat” speaks sense and advise the policy makers to think and act rationally..”ghariat thrills but kills” Perhaps for pakistan wisdom is the only way to prosperity and survival….

    sir, kindly write for urdu newspaper as well so that maximum pakistanis can read you and reorganise their thoughts in the light of the wisdom you speaks about…Recommend

  • Anoop
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:27AM

    Look at what you people are debating about. Put your egos aside and just be clear if Davis enjoys Diplomatic Immunity or not. Simple.

    This is what happens when a Country has no morality, no leaders it can look up to. Add to this the dubious reasons for creating this very country and you will understand why Pakistan has turned out the way it has.Recommend

  • Abdullah
    Feb 28, 2011 - 11:40AM

    Quran has greatly emphasises to use the wisdom and has also at the same time asks his followers to sacrifice their most loving belongings. We know the wise personality of Hazrat Luqman and also the Prophet Ebrahim who was ready to sacrifice his very dear son Esmail. So, while talking about teaching of islam it is not at all correct to separate wisdom with the feelings of emotions and honour. Wisdom,emotions and Honour, all are to remain in the ismalic circle and to follow it.
    The family of Holy Prophet(PBUH) is highly regarded and respected among the muslims and even among the non muslims. Their love and affiliation for Holy Prophet(pbuh),Quran and Islam was uncopromised and undebatable. This is not at all suitable to portray that they had different stances while dealing with different rulers. For the sake of just your blog, please do not deduce results of your own will. Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Feb 28, 2011 - 1:14PM

    Be practical. Let’s not talk of “gairat” when President Zardari is asking Kuwait to supply free oil.Recommend

  • Palvasha von Hassell
    Feb 28, 2011 - 4:27PM


    Dear old chap, I’m not talking about “honour”, but about the legal rights and wrongs of the case! The man has definitely not got blanket immunity, if he can be said to have it at all. In which case the Pakistani courts have the right to try him. Anf if a lot of s— hits the fan, so be it. It’s about time it did.
    Try reading before you start delivering your incredibly boring homilies.Recommend

  • Javaid
    Mar 1, 2011 - 1:39AM

    And you also learn something.There is smething called “Mind your own Business’. Just do that. We do no need your precious advice. When we will, We will let you Know. Until then good Bye.Recommend

  • pakpinoy
    Mar 1, 2011 - 1:42AM

    @Palvasha von Hassell:
    My apologies if I misinterpreted your previous point, but my words still stand as relevant to this article and its subsequent comments.

    I would like to know where you are privy to such privileged information so as to know “without question” that RD does not enjoy “blanket immunity”? Do you honestly believe the ISI-infected Pakistani press to have presented unbiased, unadulterated reports on the matter??

    Have you ever been to Pakistan?? I am a foreigner myself, but I lived/worked in Pakistan for 9 years, am fluent in a local language and travel back on business 2-3 times per year. I have a fair understanding of how the “game” is played here.Recommend

  • AHR
    Mar 1, 2011 - 10:19AM

    Wisdom is simply the ability to decide when to stay quiet and when to take a stand. So the comparison of strategies of Imams is flawed. Staying quiet at a time when you should speak and make a difference is not wisdom and every Imam adopted a strategy that was necessitated by the context and time they were in.
    There is nothing wrong in upholding a certain idea of honour, the only issue comes with the misguided notions of honor and very frankly these misguided notions of honor emanate from the tribal and feudal mindset and have made way into the urban centres.
    Secondly, it would be better if we don’t bring in our interpretations of religion to beef up articles. Good work anyways Recommend

  • Anoop
    Mar 1, 2011 - 11:02AM


    Unfortunately being neigbours with Pakistan makes it a little of our business. If Pakistan fails India will have to bear the consequences. We dont want another refugee problem like we faced in 1971.Recommend

  • sajjad
    Mar 1, 2011 - 11:52AM

    One question for who don’t agree with the writer……..what will you do if you become GHAIRATMAND??????
    Last night petrol prices were raised and the this Ghairatmand Qom couldn’t bear that….every TV channel was covering it…no one in this Ghairatmand Qom said that they can go through with it…just imagine if USA along with its allies cut of any kind of relations with Pakistan…..just think over it.Recommend

  • Palvasha von Hassell
    Mar 1, 2011 - 1:09PM


    I AM Pakistani, have lived most of my life in Pakistan, and most certainly know more about that country than you do, believe me!Recommend

  • Mar 1, 2011 - 3:17PM


    The problem with bay-ghairat people is that they fail to see the obvious staring them in the face. The kindest thing that the USA can do to Pakistan is to cut off all so-called “aid”. This is a primary source of corruption, it fuels the greed of Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders and it brings huge numbers of American spies and saboteurs under the guise of “advisers”, the combined effect of which is to smother initiative, enterprise and original thinking of ordinary Pakistanis.

    We can raise far, far more than anything we get thrown into our begging bowl by taxing the rich who pay next to nothing in taxes. For example, according to a report in ‘Jang’ some time ago, Pakistan’s President and Prime Minister, between them, pay just a few thousand rupees per annum in taxes. And that is merely the tip of the tax avoidance iceberg. Please carry out your own research.

    A second rich source of income is the transportation of war supplies through Pakistani territory to the USA’s forces in Afghanistan. It is an open secret that these supplies are not taxed as they should be because of the bribes collected by Pakistani leaders.

    A third huge source of income lies in preventing the plunder of national treasures through raids by corrupt officials: bank scandals, PIA, Pakistan Steel, etc.

    A fourth, potentially the largest, source of income is the untapped riches of Pakistan’s natural resources. Attempts have been made by corrupt “leaders” to sell them off cheaply to foreign companies. Reko Diq is a good example.

    If the Americans will simply stay away and stop interfering in the affairs of Pakistan, I am certain Pakistanis will find a solution to their problems. If all else fails, there could be a revolution against the corrupt rulers. Perhaps it is necessary to shed blood before we are properly cleansed as a nation.

    In short, it is certainly possible to resist INJUSTICE and OPPRESSION while preserving our GHAIRAT.Recommend

  • My Opinion
    Mar 1, 2011 - 11:58PM

    @Shahzaib Khan:
    You took the words out of my mouth.Recommend

  • My Opinion
    Mar 2, 2011 - 12:19AM

    It’s for people like Khaled Ahmed, the American judge presiding over the case of “Aamil Kansi” had said,”Pakistanis would sell their mother for money”.Recommend

  • Amna
    Mar 2, 2011 - 1:43AM

    I really do not think a potential refugee problem is what makes you spend hours of time on a Pakistani site, reading every article, and commenting constantly. Lets be honest a little here, you are obssessed with Pakistan….and this too at a time like this… I wonder how much obsession and hatred you INdians would have if Pakistan was actually doing well, and wasnt facing the challenges it does. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Mar 2, 2011 - 11:13AM


    If you want to flatter yourself by assuming that, go right ahead. I read many country’s newspapers, not just Pakistan. I am not obsessed about all the Countries- Its just that I like reading.

    If you find a flaw in my analysis and you think any of my statements is based on falsehood, then do please point out. Otherwise, accept that I am right, and continue with your life.

    If Pakistan falls and nukes fall into Terrorist hands, they wont bother to attack America which is thousands of miles away but “Kafir” India, which is right next door. That is the scariest scenario possible which might lead to Nuclear Escalation and doom. Knowing Pakistan and observed it closely via Media reports from inside and outside Pakistan, this is definitely possible.Recommend

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