Just as individuals are judged and respected for their character and other achievements so do nations, whereas we seldom engage in a serious discussion about it at the national level. A country’s image however remains a common topic and several attempts by successive governments have been made to improve it. But the image is merely a reflection of how our people judge their leaders and the world asses the country’s overall performance. Irrespective of this consideration it is important to realise that unless the nation gives national character the attention and importance it deserves, we would continue to flounder. Because good character is a functional requirement of a progressive and stable society. Only those nations progress consistently where character and conduct of leaders at large remains unblemished and the society accords to it the highest priority. As soon as any lapse or unlawful act on the part of leaders comes to surface, demands of resignation or leave of absence become imperative until the proceedings and investigation remain in progress. The Scandinavian and some European countries are generally rated to be on the top with their leaders and the society having a high level of integrity. Their economies are faring relatively better, crime rate is low, and politics is less confrontational. These are also the most stable countries and rated for higher quality of life.
It should be a matter of concern that there are hardly a few contemporary leaders among Muslim countries that one could consider them as inspirational or exemplary. It is not that we are devoid of talent or there is dearth of leadership in the Muslim world but when the system is warped and democratic culture is weak it is rare that quality leaders will emerge.
Leaders are supposed to be dedicated to the cause and ideals of fair systems and expected to promote the right values. These in turn over a period become the shared values of the nation. People with shared values come together as they unite naturally. In this the lead has to come from the top — the PM, head of political parties, members of parliament, senior bureaucrats, military commanders, top businessmen, judges, legal luminaries, vice-chancellors of universities, etcetera. How many of them one could look up to for inspiration apart from a few exceptions? And the irony is those who are above board the system fails to recognise and give them their due. These weaknesses continue to keep pulling the nation down. We have to question ourselves: what sort of nation do we want to be? Are certain values not fundamental for a society? Can nations achieve long-term gains and stability without a sound moral foundation? Are we conscious how much we have drifted course from what once we inspired collectively to be? Even such common values as speaking the truth or accepting undue favours may not be that common. It would be an exception if any of the leaders would be thinking on those lines. And for the public — preoccupied with basic necessities of life and struggling to exist — these issues remain extraneous though they would be the major beneficiaries of the change. The way certain extremist rightist groups, like the TTP, are asserting their influence and the government is giving in to them and certain politicians despite their blemished record continue to get elected are a reflection of this slide.
There is of course a debate that has gone on for decades as to who determines what exactly the values should be. In a changing global scenario, with rapid progress in technology and mixing of cultures and all the mobility that modern world facilitates, perception of value acquires a certain degree of flexibility. But fundamentals do not change. And as Barack Obama in one of his earlier books The Audacity of Hope rightly points out “the standards and principles that the majority of Americans deem important in their lives, and in the life of the country, should be the heart of our politics, the cornerstone of any meaningful debate about budgets and projects, regulations and policies.”
Most of the values are common among different societies, cultures and religions, but every country according to its beliefs and priorities adopts these.
For us it is important that we keep stressing upon individual and collective freedom. This may be taken for granted by mature Western democracies but for countries like ours it always remains under threat.
One may wonder why we do not understand the value of adopting practices that have benefited other societies. Perhaps resistance from those in power for very narrow personal gains are the overriding factor.
Many Muslim countries do emphasise on moral values and even have strict ethical code of conduct but implementation of it is weak. The problem is that most being monarchies or one-man rule, the checks and balances come into play where interests converge and perpetuates their rule. They are autocratic and rule with a heavy hand and have to lean on major powers — US, Russia — for survival. Their societies have not experienced freedom so even if — through protests and mass uprisings — political governments have been formed, as in Egypt and Tunisia, these did not last long and failed to make an impact. Instilling the correct values in this type of a political environment is not easy. Countries like Syria and Libya are trapped under the heavy hand of the rulers. In such a repressive environment the values that are to be cherished are trampled. The Taliban have adopted their version of moral values in which the women are the worst sufferers and find themselves internationally isolated.
Pakistan for multiple reasons including lack of seriously adhering to correct values has been falling behind in major areas of development and creating a stable society. Our image as a nation too has suffered badly and this hurts our collective ego. Whereas the people are capable and inclined toward adhering to the right values for they know this will create a fairer and a just environment.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2021.
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