This article is in response to Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy’s piece titled “Let us become — proudly — bayghairat” published in this newspaper on May 6. The writer believes that dangerous appeals to honour — an anachronistic concept originating from herding societies — have historically made nations pave the way for their own doom. But modern nations, with beliefs in reason and science, are able to make more practical decisions that ensure their progress and well-being.
It is contradicting that the examples Dr Hoodbhoy gives to justify the dangerous ‘tribal’ notion of honour are of the most modern societies of their times. Nazi Germany was vastly industrialised and urbanised with a very high literacy rate and a thriving civil society. The Germans were no bunch of herders existing in the pre-Newtonian era. In fact, in Nazi Germany, so firm was the faith in science that the system of racial eugenics, designed for justifying the superiority of the Aryan race and achieving racial purity, was promulgated under the garb of ‘scientific truth’. Similarly, Japan was one of the earliest nations to modernise and prior to WWII, had undisputedly become a ‘mass society’ with strongly rooted modern values of individualism, materialism and efficiency.
So, why is it that such modern nations deliberately treaded the path of ruin because of their supposedly ‘backward’ notion of honour? It might be easier for Zaid Hamid and Imran Khan to rouse the gullible ‘traditional’ masses of Pakistan by invoking their ghairat but why did such a strategy work so effectively in the most literate and developed of nations?
Even if we accept Dr Hoodbhoy’s viewpoint, his examples imply that human values won’t suddenly disappear as traditional societies transition into modern ones. Ideas like honour, love, and jealousy reflect the essence of humanity but are often relegated to the domain of sentimentality and irrationality by science. And they will not just be supplanted by rational cost-benefit considerations as we move away from what Dr Hoodbhoy terms tribalism.
Moreover, Dr Hoodbhoy appears to discount the possibility that a distinction between empty talk of sacred norms, like honour, by manipulative politicians and their actual strategic motives can exist. Deducing by his logic, then, the US intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq during the new millennium not for strategic interests but for the sake of bestowing freedom and liberty to the local population. And more than a decade later, we are perfectly aware of the rampant destruction of life and property that American presence has inflicted on both countries — all of which befell, according to Dr Hoodbhoy’s rationale, at the behest of normative considerations.
So, if the nuclear physicist is quick to curse honour for giving nations the pain of war, will he also denounce liberal values of liberty and freedom —‘fruits of the modern world’— for such rampant devastation and death? But alas! In today’s age, when writers often consider modernity an elixir, it’s rather easy to blame traditional notions like honour and religion for causing widespread suffering. Yet, to do the same for liberal values is considered absurd. For the lack of a convincing argument to do otherwise, I will hang onto my ghairat — at least, for now.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.