Can passion make a nation rise?

In this era, the road to glory is not too long and requires passion, unity and consistency of efforts

Dr Arif Alvi May 24, 2022
The writer is the President of Pakistasn


“Arif you must stop reading fiction, and learn philosophy,” said my mother taking away Harold Robbin’s novel The Carpetbaggers from my desk while handing me The Republic which is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato about the order and character of a ‘just’ city state.

In a discussion with his young companion Glaucon, Socrates describes that a ‘just’ state must have some form of democracy for good decision-making together with open opportunities for trade including making and selling of goods. Glaucon inquires whether these two things are enough, Socrates states in the negative, that a just state can neither be built nor defended without ‘Thymos’ which in Greek refers to passion. Thus he, around 375 BC, described a tripartite soul, for a complete man and a just state.

More than two millenia later, Francis Fukuyama insists that history has ended, and that two qualities of man — one from his mind and the other from his body — are decisive. Liberal Democracy as a form of government for all nations, and a free market Capitalism for the needs and wants of humankind have won this evolutionary battle.

Samuel Huntington challenged Fukuyama’s bipedal analysis taking it back to Socrates, of a tripartite-soul based history, where identity of religion, language, race, or a shared history are passions that cannot be ignored; hence, there is and will remain a clash of civilizations, the groupings of which will keep on changing in the kaleidoscope of time. Human emotions rather than only bread and butter market economy and democracy shall remain the builder of nations.

The Quran advocates mutual consultation as necessary for governance, and commerce for livelihood. It also gives the identity of an ‘Ummah’, of a people who believe and then defend the society built on those beliefs for a just and fair state.

The human soul is a mix of various ingredients as well as emotions of love, hate and phobias that throw the proverbial spanner in the whole mix of decision-making. This then modulates our lives as individuals, families, tribes and nations.

Today, there is a growing frustration in the world due to the contradictory policies of the West. The Western biases and double-standards can be clearly seen during human catastrophes and crises, such as war and of refugees where humanity is exhibited selectively based on the race, colour and religion. It seems that great powers only pay lip service to the ‘rules based global order’ and resultantly international organizations formed after the 2nd World War, are being bent to safeguard the interests of the West.

In this scenario, I am sure that the people of the world are in dire need for a ‘morality-and-humanity-based world order’, whose force and efficacy does not spring from the barrel of a gun or people of certain religion or race or colour. Where does Pakistan stand in this situation? Will Pakistan rise to lead itself and the Ummah towards a just global order? I am of the strong conviction that it will surely rise to the occasion but not until it becomes economically stronger and builds itself morally, intellectually and technologically. In this era, the road to glory is not too long and requires passion, unity and consistency of efforts.

A country that has emerged from the decadence of the Mughal empire, betrayal from within, and colonial brutality, the lowest in 1857 which William Dalrymple writes about the smell of human blood and flesh was in the air for weeks in the streets of Delhi.

For brevity, from such a catastrophe emerged Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who pushed Muslims towards knowledge, and then Allama Iqbal igniting a sense of self-esteem’ which he calls khudi in the Ummah and Quaid-e-Azam crystalizing us into a geographical nation-state.

A sense of pride in who we are historically, the pan-Islamic vision of Iqbal in his lectures ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ and his phenomenal poetry together with Jinnah’s vision, and an emerging mix of a passionate expression of identity and dignity, all seem to be the perfect ingredients in the cauldron of history for a Pakistan of our dreams.

Today, Pakistan is at a crossroads and passions in our country have been ignited like pent-up steam. We can either properly channel these passions and unite our nation to emerge out of crisis or we can polarize our people and scald and burn ourselves. The choice is ours and responsible leadership matters more than ever. We need to sacrifice to handle the crises facing us, not by the poor alone but by the elite that has been sponging more benefits than is their right. Then we shall build. Guidance can emerge from institutions and political leaders both. Would they actually recognize their role is a question that will be answered soon.

Pakistan since its formation has been continuously debating its identity particularly so after the loss of East Pakistan. The two-nation theory of our founders has now been reinforced after decades by action of Hundutva India. We are challenged even today by the evils of lack of freedoms including that of religion, jobbery, nepotism and corruption that were well highlighted by Jinnah in his speeches.

I equate our 75 years of struggle to that of Hazrat Musa’s nation wandering in the desert for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land. Have we learnt and are close to our envisioned nationhood or are we still in the throes of confusion? Heaven knows, but I see a very visible spark of awakening in the belly of the 5th most populous country in the world.

The crossroads we are finding ourselves in today are God given and such passions that have been ignited in the country are like pent-up steam. Ready to drive a locomotive if we can unite, or scald and burn the already suffering nation, if we polarize ourselves. Crisis itself carries opportunities and is bi-directional, leading towards a fall into an abyss or to take flight into the skies of tomorrow. According to Iqbal,

Tundi-e baad-e mukhalif se na ghabra aye uqab

Ye tou chalti he tujhe ooncha urranay ke liye

The choice is ours and responsible leadership matters more than ever. There is a need to sacrifice as our economy will be stressed, not by the poor alone but the elite that has been sponging more benefits than is their right. Only then we shall build for which guidance can emerge from institutions as well as from a dynamic political leadership.

We must continue our struggle to promote democratic values and establish institutions that incorporate love, compassion, fairness, freedom and equality in society.

Just recognizing human nature and building institutions around it is a Machiavillain approach. The nature of man is good, also greedy, emotional and bad. It is our struggle, and indeed of all religions to establish institutions that incorporate, love, compassion, fairness, freedom and equality in society.

“Did you finish The Republic?” my mother asked me after a month and we discussed ‘logic and reason’ which she wanted to inculcate in the 16 year old’s mind. We never discussed the role of emotions in our decision-making, but if she were alive today she would agree when I tell her that “Amma! Logic and reason alone without passion would make for a very dry, unfulfilled life.”

The time is exactly right today, so let me make an emotional appeal, as without passion the Ummah cannot fulfill its own dream. “Rise my country as the World awaits you and let not the past drag you down.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2022.

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