The things we say

Let's begin the dissection of our favourite political clichés!

Nadir Hassan August 14, 2011

1. Common man -
The British rock band, Pulp, came up with the unforgettable lyric, “I wanna live like common people, I wanna do whatever common people do.” The song is told from the point of view of a spoiled, rich girl who wants a taste of the dirty, low life. That is exactly how condescending the privileged class in Pakistan sounds whenever it start explaining how its preferred policy choice is the most superior because it will help the “common man”, whoever he is.
Serial offender: Editorial writers at English-language newspapers

2. Miscreants
When any person of sane mind hears the word “miscreant”, he immediately thinks of a pickpocket, mugger or some other petty criminal. In Pakistan, we know better. A miscreant is a hardened terrorist, someone who would gladly blow up hundreds of people in one go.
Serial offender: ISPR spokesmen trying to play down just how many terrorists we are actually breeding.

3. Hidden/third hand
Pakistan is quite simple to understand once you know one basic fact: nothing is ever anyone’s fault. If there is violence in Karachi, the Party That Must Not Be Named had nothing to do with it. A suicide bomber was obviously sent by some foreign country, preferably one whose inhabitants are white/uncircumcised/big-nosed (any one of the three will do). A ‘hidden’ and a ‘third’ hand are almost, but not quite the same. When there are two obvious candidates to blame then a third hand was involved; if multiple parties are involved in a fight then the hand is hidden.
Serial offender: Interior Minister Rehman Malik at the site of a violent attack.

4. Mafia
Occasionally, it is possible to blame something other than a non-existent hand for a problem. This is where the mafias come in. A high-rise tower is shoddily built? Obviously the land mafia (or builder’s mafia; it’s hard to keep track of the mafioso) is to blame. Worried about the environment? Lash out against the timber mafia. Disturbed that you only have Pepsi and Coke to choose from? There must be a cold drink mafia you can take to court.
Serial offender: NGOs needing to maintain an appropriate level of outrage to keep the donor money pouring in.

5. Establishment
No one knows quite what it is, but we are all sure that the establishment is evil incarnate. Its membership is amorphous and can include generals, civil servants, politicians, feudals and industrialists. Basically the establishment is anyone we don’t like at any given time.
Serial offender: Politicians who want to be a part of this mysterious Skull and Bones-like organisation but aren’t invited in.

6. Defeating the Taliban
This is one cliché that would be welcomed if it were actually uttered by those who are tasked with defeating the Taliban. Instead it is used to describe the activities of fashion designers, fiction writers, truck artists and transgender s. Basically, any person going about their daily business is actually stealthily and subversively putting a bullet through the head of a dangerous militant.
Serial offender: Western journalists who need lofty reasons to gawk at pretty girls at fashion shows.

7. Jinnah’s Pakistan
How unrealistic a nation are we that we need to invoke a past that never existed to call for a future we can never attain? Jinnah’s Pakistan is that utopia where Muslims and Hindus lived side-by-side in perfect solidarity, East Pakistan wasn’t blasted out of existence and the mullahs still wish we were a part of India. Never mind the slaughter accompanying Direct Action Day and the language controversy. We were a flawed nation even before we existed and are even more flawed now. Deal with it.
Serial offender: Op-ed columnists and talk show hosts who have to burp out the same wistful piece/show every August 14.

8. Apex court
You would think a court that already has the prefix ‘supreme’ attached to it wouldn’t need another moniker. Yet, invariably we will see mentions of the apex court in the newspaper. Curiously no one feels the need to call high courts “median courts” and district courts “nadir courts”.
Serial offender: Court reporters who are sick and tired of writing Supreme Court in every damn piece of theirs.

9. Roti, Kapra, Makan
It isn’t the excess usage so much as the magical powers attached to this phrase that makes it such a tiresome cliché. One would think that simply uttering these three little words swept Zulfikar Ali Bhutto into power. Here’s a little history lesson: every demagogue who has ever craved power from Lenin to Jacob on ‘Lost’ has promised people the basic necessities.
Serial offender: The Bhutto dynasty, but only every few years when they are on the hustings.

10. Enlightened moderation
Here’s another one of those clichés that would never have become a cliché in the first place if we had just ignored it. During one of his periodic verbal outbursts, Pervez Musharraf concocted this oxy-moronic phrase to describe his vision for Pakistan (at least he didn’t say he wanted to recreate Jinnah’s Pakistan). Then, everyone decided to sarcastically deploy enlightened moderation as a laugh line whenever Musharraf came up in conversation. Soon it became inescapable.
Serial offender: Sneering Musharraf critics-cum-wanna be comedians

11. Sanctity of the constitution
Pakistan has gifted itself more constitutions than Henry VIII gave himself wives. So which constitution exactly are we sanctifying? Somewhere along the line we decided that the 1973 model was the best one. So long as you don’t count the 18 times we amended it. Or at least most of them. Who knows? We amend our constitution so often it’s hard to keep track.
Serial offender: Judges trying to justify their desire to be legislators

12. Iron hand
Of the Stalin variety, not the Tin Woodman kind. This cliché is deployed to show that strong action is being taken when, in fact, strong words are meant to disguise the complete absence of any action. Surprisingly, the iron hand is yet to rust.
Serial offender: Every two-bit bully in town

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 14th, 2011.


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