Borrowed revolutions

Published: October 29, 2011
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The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co 
in Lahore 
saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

One of the most famous stories about the dazzling and indomitable Emma Goldman is when, at a party meeting, she was dancing wildly and a comrade attempted to restrain her by saying that her merriment was hurting the cause and betraying their posture of a serious revolutionary movement. Her response to this petty, puritanical, self-righteousness has become somewhat of a classic; apparently she responded by saying, “If I can’t dance, I am not coming to your revolution.” This is what youth and revolutions are supposed to be; pugnaciously creative and madly independent. Not in Pakistan, where they seem to be like the rest of the country; tired, bored and borrowed.

Revolutions and resistances are tough business, so here in Pakistan we have opted for the easier path of attempting to plagiarise other people’s revolutions. When the Arab Spring was in full bloom, there began talk of a similar Pakistani spring. A few of the inspired revolutionaries even attempted to have a roundabout in Gulberg, Lahore to be named ‘Tahrir Square’, conveniently ignoring that we did not have demagogues ruling over us for decades and hence had no parallel with the valiant struggles undertaken by the revolutionaries in the Arab Spring. As far as naming a roundabout ‘Tahrir Square’ is concerned, that is not only a geometric absurdity; it is also plain lazy and unimaginative. The significance of that square is not the name but rather the fact that it was a victorious battleground for millions subjugated by tyranny and repression. A monument in Lahore would not have any of these connotations.

Then, Anna Hazare became the new emblematic face of a revolution and we heard a lot of talk about whether Pakistan does or does not need Anna Hazare, about Pakistani Anna Hazares etc. The yearning for an Anna Hazare was repeatedly voiced without understanding or addressing the basic fact that it was an anti-democratic movement consumed by a ‘holier than thou’ mindset and perhaps, most significantly, that it operated in the context of local Indian politics. The stance of Anna Hazare of opposing corruption was simple to the point of being banal and hence is easy to admire for the uninitiated. Here again, the desire was of taking the template of a revolution and just filling in some of our peculiar features and, voila, we have got ourselves a ready-made, easy to use revolution.

The latest fad is the mindless mimicking of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement itself is probably the most potent grass-root movement to emanate from within the United States after the 1960s and 70s Woodstock era. Recently, I have seen calls for Occupy Islamabad and Occupy Lahore. Surely, they are not infuriated by the home mortgage crisis in Pakistan. They just want to take the ride and be part of a global bash, as long as it lasts. Substituting the word ‘capitalist’ with the word ‘feudal’ will not make any of these movements indigenous, home-grown Pakistani resistances.

I understand the argument that I am probably taking these particular examples a bit too seriously, since they are just the ideas of a few Pakistani, urban middle-class youth feeling productive and politically conscientious. I agree, but still one is entitled to be very disappointed at this display of cliché and plagiarism, especially by the young and energetic. Another interesting aspect is that the same youthful, would-be-Che Guevaras detest (or worse, are unaware of) almost every resistance which is native, for e.g., the Baloch struggle for justice and fairness. How about an ‘unoccupy Balochistan’ movement or ‘stop killing the Hazara’ movement? Admittedly, it does not have the same catchy ring to it and will probably not be too popular on Facebook. Franz Fanon, in his masterpiece The Wretched of the Earth, writes about how in the first stage the colonised man will manifest aggression against his own people. While he will take any level of indignation and humiliation from the master or the policeman, at the slightest perceivably hostile glance from his brother, he will reach for his knife. It is probably our hangover with colonialism, or at least that is what I hope it is, as opposed to a general dullness.

Most of those who were teary-eyed on the demise of Steve Jobs are unable to understand the genuine grief and feeling of vacuum following the departure of Begum Nusrat Bhutto. She resisted Ziaul Haq with iron conviction, which emanated from within and which was our own special struggle in the face of a theocratic, repressive tyrant. Similarly, some people have woken up to the idea that the Gaddafi stadium should now be renamed. The bizarre logic of this is fascinating; for those who think that he was a demagogue, my question is: have they come to this realisation after witnessing his nauseating, indecent death, or do they only want monuments being named after living and thriving dictators?

My principal motivation here is not to undermine the foreign movements I quote or the learning value that they might impart — all of them have some merit, some considerably more than others — but to emphasise that the first step of a resistance is identifying the fight. We cannot have anyone else identify the battle we ought to be fighting in our stead. Revolutions essentially do not have boilerplates and the few that do are not worth the effort. The ‘Revolution for dummies’ model is condescending and insulting to those movements that we cheaply seek to replicate and, more importantly, to us. Homicidal religious fanaticism, corruption and bad governance are problems that need to be fought and fought consistently. However, as these problems have arisen from within, so will their solutions. Those who are delusional or dishonest enough to blame everything on Indian, Zionist or American conspiracies are exactly the people who will go around the world looking for answers. I would rather have the youth stop marching to a distant alien and start dancing to their own revolution.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2011. 

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Parvez
    Oct 29, 2011 - 11:42PM

    Thought provoking as always. The revolutions you talk about all have a defined base, either harsh dictatorships or developed democratic systems. We are neither, our system has never been allowed to develop and as a result the people are confused. At best they are looking for guidance and at worst resign themselves to whatever fate awaits. The tragedy or for a select few, the beauty is that this state of affairs is by design and not default.

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  • Qadri Fanboy
    Oct 30, 2011 - 12:23AM

    Solid column and insightful diagnosis sir. Thanks. I’m certain the usual deluge of ‘liberal Western puppet’ insults will be forthcoming. How about a ‘Chill out on the blasphemy accusations’ rally? No takers?

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  • Ayesha
    Oct 30, 2011 - 1:41AM

    Excellent write up I hope the pseudo revolutionaries wake up before it is too late.

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  • John B
    Oct 30, 2011 - 1:54AM

    Once there was a man called ZA Bhutto who became a Pakistani and Pakistan managed to kill him.

    For a revolution to happen a nation should have a identifiable character in its fiber that should resonate with all. It takes centuries of cultural amalgamation for the character to skim to the surface.

    What is Pakistan’s national character that brings people together?

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  • Cynical
    Oct 30, 2011 - 2:17AM

    Brilliantly put.Hope it reaches the target audience.
    Can’t help quoting the last paragraph.(in part)
    “My principal motivation here is not to undermine the foreign movements I quote or the learning value that they might impart — all of them have some merit, some considerably more than others — but to emphasise that the first step of a resistance is identifying the fight………. However, as these problems have arisen from within, so will their solutions. Those who are delusional or dishonest enough to blame everything on Indian, Zionist or American conspiracies are exactly the people who will go around the world looking for answers.”

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  • ukmuslim
    Oct 30, 2011 - 2:22AM

    movements or revolutions need a cause of concern of common people. in pakistan there are a number of 21st century problems like true democracy, honest rulers, transparent administration, health, economy, education, well being of people. but most of people’s heart and mind are fully occupied with religion. so in my opinion, readers of ET or Dawn will have their own movement through their op-eds, opinions and FB pages. Unfortunately, in pakistan it can not be converted into mass movement.

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  • Hain
    Oct 30, 2011 - 4:35AM

    “conveniently ignoring that we did not have demagogues ruling over us for decades ”
    You gotta be kidding me.
    Also, a bad and unwittingly contradictory use of the French revolutionary’s findings. Agree with the conclusion though; indigenous movements have to be directed towards the identification and solution of real indigenous problems, the causes of which sometimes do and donot differ from previous examples around the world. The reason they donot differ is because of the similarity of the institutional and power context in which they exist.

    Also, an anti feudal struggle would be indigenous enough for me, since it would try to address a real problem. Dont really see a reason for it not being so just because it is caused immediately after one which was against capitalists and thus in the initial formulation may have been inspired by it or worst, may have copied its language with the only originality being the introduction of a small word “feudal”. It would still be real for me.. Anywho.

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  • Max
    Oct 30, 2011 - 7:37AM

    I agree with the author (an enlightened and well-read gentleman) that revolutions cannot be cooked in a kitchen, or cloned in a research lab. These have to develop in intellectual hang-outs, then ferment within the society, and slowly evolve as a smoke-swirls. Pakistan unfortunately does not have the symptoms of any such developments.
    Pakistan exhibits its dissatisfaction but finds asylum in religious dogma and that is the main cause of delayed mass discontentment. Revolutions are/have to be inclusive and secular in nature.

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  • zalim singh
    Oct 30, 2011 - 8:26AM

    to be fair to Pakistan, no revolution can hold strong. except maybe Islamic.

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  • Arifq
    Oct 30, 2011 - 9:35AM

    Brilliant! Can we add “Stop these Suicide bombings”, “stop harassing and killing minorities”, “bring Jinnah’sPakistan back”. Thanks

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  • Truthful Mole
    Oct 30, 2011 - 9:58AM

    Well-written Mr Ijaz. Pakistanis need to start dancing to their own tune.

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  • Zubair Faisal Abasi
    Oct 30, 2011 - 10:08AM

    Very good arguments and this is how we should learn to identify our own problems and respond to them rather than getting right wisdom from somewhere and put in a wrong place.

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  • Feroz
    Oct 30, 2011 - 10:30AM

    Saroop Ijaz is an intellectual giant in an era of self serving pygmies. The ability to read the tea leaves and the development of a process of lateral thinking as expounded by Edward De Bono, makes his articles a joy to read. For a reader there should always be a message he can take and often lack of clarity in thought and mental confusion manifests itself in the contents. That a human mind can rise above the din and confusion created by vested interests is itself an achievement, to challenge a fictitious but popular ideological narrative shows real courage.
    Keep up the good work, Brother !

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  • Oct 30, 2011 - 11:47AM

    yes, yes, yes, yes. one size CAN’T fit all!

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  • Pradeep
    Oct 30, 2011 - 1:24PM

    The yearning for an Anna Hazare was repeatedly voiced without understanding or addressing the basic fact that it was an anti-democratic movement consumed by a ‘holier than thou’ mindset

    Amen. This is something my countrymen simply do not understand. If Anna Hazare and his team are truly incorruptible, they should start a political party.

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  • Israr
    Oct 30, 2011 - 1:37PM

    I condemn their killing and its completely inhumane. First of all they are refuges, They they are enjoying the rights of local people without any domicile. They are coming through illegal way on jobs and in business. I don’t know who gave them Pakistani nationality. The Quetta situation has worsened because of them and on of their terrorist was caught in a Masjid trying to kill the Imam of the Masjid. if we want to bring peace in Quetta, we shall again send them back to Afghanistan where they belong.

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  • goggi
    Oct 30, 2011 - 1:56PM

    Pakistan is a synonymous of “borrowed identities!” The Arab World or Shri Anna Hazare are very “authentic” in their cultural identities. Whereas Pakistanis in their worn out Arab, Iranian or colonial slavery shoes are constantly on the run from their own shadow………

    On my way home from the school, I very often went inside the Lahore museum and was fascinated from the statues of meditating Buddha of Gandhara culture. The day I read the Heart Sutra, “Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness”, I found myself.

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  • Mumbaikar
    Oct 30, 2011 - 6:01PM

    Pakistan is way ahead of the Arab societies in evolution. There is nothing to look and learn from there. The Arab spring will soon give way to Islamist theocracies like Iran and then will come the getting rid of religion leading to a secular democracy. Pakistan is almost there. Arab regimes (dictatorships) -> Iran -> Pakistan -> secular democracy. That is the progression I see.

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