Pakistan’s most recent sensation is a young law student by the name of Zohair Toru, an enthusiastic, but somewhat muddled follower of Imran Khan, who had the good fortune, last Friday in Islamabad, to be interviewed by a television channel while protesting the release of Raymond Davis.
Fashionably coiffed with a semi-beehive hairdo, reminiscent of the lead singers of The B-52s, the main thrust of Mr Toru’s complaint was that as somebody trying to improve Pakistani society, he didn’t deserve to be pushed around by the police. Or as he plaintively wailed, “Police humai maray gi to inquilaab kaisey aye ga?”
In the cosy little world of Pakistan’s intellectual vanguard (also known as the 50 people who talk to each other on Twitter), Mr Toru’s complaints have been much derided. His original interview has been widely circulated as has indeed his second interview in which the anchor told him, “Beta, cameray mein dekho. Achay lagtay ho; hero marka.” The gist of the chatter is that Mr Toru is a vapid, empty-headed, mummy-daddy type who doesn’t realise that life is hard, that revolution is harder, that power flows from the barrel of a gun and that burger-babies like him should concentrate on their hairstyles and leave the heavy lifting to people who have read their Gramsci.
With all due respect to the beret-wearing poli-sci types, I think there is more to the story. Yes, Mr Toru is fantastically ignorant. Yes, he is deeply innocent of the realities of power. And yes, any revolution is going to be a long time a coming if it is dependent on people like him. But there are things to celebrate about this narrative as well.
First, let us first celebrate the fact that well-meaning, English-medium burger babies have been so roused from the depths of their traditional apathy that they are actually taking to the streets. Given the attention paid by Mr Toru to his personal appearance, not to mention his general unfamiliarity with the Urdu language, it does not seem as if he is part of the starving masses of Pakistan. In fact, given his age and general appearance, one could be forgiven for assuming that Mr Toru is more likely to be found sprawled on a couch with a PS3 controller in his hands than protesting on the streets. If Imran Khan has succeeded in penetrating the adamantine shell of apathy and indifference, which normally shields the wealthier individuals in this country, then more power to him. I don’t agree with much of what the PTI has to say — for example, their decision to join a great left-of-centre coalition while simultaneously spewing semi-jihadist rubbish — but, in this particular regard, the great Khan is entitled to take a bow. Bravo, sir.
Second, I think it is worth celebrating the fact that our burger-babies do not feel that it is appropriate for the police to push around non-violent protesters. This argument is so beautifully innocent, so perfectly divorced from all prior history and past experiences that one feels much like the fabled Grinch in taking a contrary view. However, the point here is not what is true, but what is believed to be true. I can argue now, and forever, that the colonial police was conceived back in 1861, as a paramilitary force tasked with thrashing the natives into submission (and that it has held true to its original conception). However, the point here is that stereotypes are self-reinforcing. If my concept of the police is of a bunch of thugs, then I will accept their thuggery with greater equanimity than if I conceive of them as public servants. Mr Toru may be historically, politically and factually wrong in his views of what the police in Pakistan can actually do. But he is historically, politically and factually right in demanding a police force which does not shove around non-violent protesters like him.
The final point in this regard is that we need more innocents in politics. I know that politics is inherently a dirty business. I also know that in Pakistan, it is a particularly dirty business. But if Pakistani politics is ever to become less of a straightforward extortion racket, it will be because idealistic people actually stick around and get involved in the mechanics of governance. Mr Toru may or may not be one of those who stick around. But, somebody like him eventually will. And we will all be the better for it.
(The views present in the article by the writer are not those of his firm).
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2011.