A world lit by lies

This deliberate policy of lying means that we are stuck in war with no clear idea as to who we are fighting or why.

Feisal Naqvi May 26, 2011

“Lying to the young is wrong.” Or so says the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko in his poem, aptly titled “Lies”.  His advice instead is simple:

They know what you mean.
They are people too.
Tell them the difficulties
can’t be counted,
and let them see

I am reminded of these lines by the current furore over the release of official documents, courtesy of WikiLeaks. What we learn from these documents is that we are being lied to continuously. To take but one example, our governments have been protesting drone strikes ever since they started. But in private, they have been asking for them.

Cynics may say, why the anger? After all, doesn’t every sentient person in Pakistan already know this? The answer to that is no. There is a value to be found in clearly stating the truth which no amount of rationalising can match. More importantly, there is a cost to be paid for lying.

A democracy functions — or is supposed to function — on the basis of a delicate balance of powers. We, the people, nominate representatives who in turn pick a cabinet from among themselves to lead us all. Our leadership is not obligated to consult with us at every stage; or indeed, at any stage. But they are obligated to inform us at regular intervals what they are doing.

The cynical response to this assertion is, why? Nobody is obligated to do a damn thing. So long as people get elected and so long as people get to vote, that’s all that we can ask for.

Let me present two reasons why this position is wrong. The first is theoretical. The second is practical.

At the level of theory, it is not enough for ‘the people’ to be recognised as the ultimate decision-makers (i.e., to be vested with the power to vote people in or out). In order for the right to vote to be meaningful, the people must also be given the opportunity to make an informed choice. If the political apparatus fails in this basic obligation, then the judgment of the people will be like any other uninformed choice and open to challenge.

Let us leave aside the question of theory, though, because once you assume that ‘the people’ need to be informed in order to make a valid choice, it is but a short leap to the conclusion that since ‘the people’ are congenitally stupid, any decision by them can automatically be disregarded.

The bigger problem with lies is that they prevent any sort of connection emerging between the government and the general population.  Lies corrode the spirit and when a country is ruled by liars, the bond that ties the people to the rulers gets frayed. In the case of Pakistan, that bond is tenuous to begin with. In our case, the end result is that no decision of the government has any legitimacy because no decision is ever ratified by the people in clear terms. Instead, all we are left with is a perpetual fog in which anybody can say anything without the fear of being definitively contradicted.

The further consequence of this deliberate policy of lying is that we are stuck in the middle of a war with no clear ideas as to who we are fighting or why. Our biggest media group, for example, is now running a constant stream of op-eds and television advertisements in which the not so-subtle message is that Pakistan has no inherent problem with Islamic militancy and that if we could only muster the courage to part company with the US, all our problems would immediately be solved.

I obviously disagree with this position. But my problem is that neither the government nor the military seems to have the courage to state their convictions. If our government feels that this is not our war, let it say so and let it then also take responsibility for the consequences. Conversely, if this government feels that Islamic militancy is a genuine home-grown threat, let it come forward and say that.  The same goes for drone strikes. Either publicly accept that these strikes happen with the consent of the Pakistan government or stop them. But the fact that the drone strikes are both effective and unpopular does not give the government the right to act like a helpless martyr. (And, pretty please, the idiot who came up with the argument that ‘we can’t stop the drones because they take off from land leased to UAE government’ should be reassigned permanently to dishwashing duties.)

Abraham Lincoln is credited with the saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. That sage bit of wisdom is as valid today as it was then.  We are now decades deep into a war which has killed more than 35,000 Pakistanis.  And while our people continue to die, our rulers remain busy telling one fairy tale after another. This cannot be the right way to proceed.

My father likes to say that “sometimes the wrong decision is better than no decision”. I’ve had trouble understanding that point for many years but it makes perfect sense in this context.

I really hope that this country and its leadership get the courage to make the right decision. I hope that we find the strength to say that there is a cancer within ourselves, that our society has become diseased, and that we are effectively in the middle of a civil war. But this current policy of deliberate misdirection and confusion is worse: In military terms, it is the equivalent of deserting one’s post.

In times gone by, the punishment for desertion was death. Normally, however, it was the deserter who got shot. In our case, though, we are the ones being executed.

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


S Minhaj Zafer | 10 years ago | Reply Mr. Naqvi, Do you really think that we have been fed lies, only these 63 years? Add 1369 years to the total, and then you will comprehend why we have lost the ability to question and bowing our heads down when some high & mighty shoot the load toward US.
SONIA | 10 years ago | Reply Sir y do i sense a hit among media when you say "Our biggest media group, for example, is now running a constant stream of op-eds and television advertisements in which the not so-subtle message is that Pakistan has no inherent problem with Islamic militancy and that if we could only muster the courage to part company with the US, all our problems would immediately be solved." Again a subtle way of confusing an already confused nation:) I think we fail to understand the fine line between what is STRICTLY ISLAMIC and ISLAMIC MILITANCY- and for our personal gains label every STRICTLY ISLAMIC as ISLAMIC MILITANCY!!!
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