Jinnah was like you and me. He was drawn from the professional classes. He received his higher education from abroad. He views were fairly liberal and progressive for a man of his time and his Urdu was horrendous. He also indulged in some distinctly haram vices. In other words, he was a fully paid up member of the English speaking elite. As I say, just like you and me. (Apologies to my readers who don’t consider themselves a part of the English elite. But this paper couldn’t exude more of an elitist demeanour if it wore an OGS [Old Grammarians Society] uniform whilst pontificating on Jean Paul Sartre and smoking a cigarette in Espresso.) However, that’s where the similarity ends.
Jinnah was aware of the enormous privileges that his wealth and education had placed upon him. He was conscious of the great responsibility that such privileges brought. It was his patriarchal duty to give back to his people. Despite his linguistic shortcomings, Jinnah was still a leader to his people. We are not. Nor have we been for a very long time. The English liberal ‘elite’ — and remember this was very much Jinnah’s social milieu — has abdicated all responsibility to govern in the past 60 years.
Despite enjoying similar levels of wealth and education, we no longer believe it is our duty as the brightest and most privileged in society to contribute to its development. Now it is our duty to get a foreign passport and our responsibility to land a job in a multinational abroad. Politically we are an irrelevance. This column and paper are inconsequential in fundamentally changing how this country is governed. We can sign up to Facebook petitions, write numerous blogs, and hold as many candlelit vigils as we like, but until we engage with our fellow countrymen we are just twisting in the wind.
But we don’t engage. The English language has created a linguistic Berlin Wall between us and the rest of the country. We remain cosseted inside our bubble. Not wishing to connect with the riff raff and bun kebabs on the other side of the bridge. Instead we have ceded political space to a reactionary, conservative, military, feudal and religious nexus. Tolerating this because, in turn, they have left us alone. They have allowed us freedoms that the rest of the country doesn’t have. Freedom to get obscenely wealthy. Freedom to party every weekend. Freedom to dress how we like. But these freedoms come at a price. And that price is our continued, complicit silence. A Faustian pact if ever there was one. It’s as if one day someone collectively told us, ‘We’ll let you do what you want, on condition that you leave the running of the country to us.’
There are some exceptions. Asma Jahanghir and Imran Khan have made valiant attempts to involve themselves with the national dialogue. But they are the exception, not the rule. In Karachi, we are especially politically apathetic and parochial. Here amongst the refined elite the word ‘party’ only stands for one thing — and it’s not prefaced with the word ‘political’.
But why should we change? The status quo is comfortable and has made us rich. But if we don’t, one day populist anger will turn on us. We can’t continue benefiting from this country whilst giving little in return. Just ask the white farmers in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
But we do contribute! We are the wealth and job creators, you may be shouting by now. If we were to leave this country would become another Afghanistan. Yes, you are right. But logical argument won’t protect you when the disparity between rich and poor becomes so great that a popular revolution is ignited. We need to contribute to the political debate. We need to get our hands dirty to create a fairer, more equitable and just society. To protect our own futures if for nothing else. And for that to happen we need to engage in the political process. And why not? As they say, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. At the moment we are most definitely part of the problem.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 16th, 2010.