‘Fake liberal’ and ‘Liberal fascists’ are two terms that it is clear upon even the most basic examination cannot be used interchangeably and are probably on the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. The first suggests a feigned adherence to the ideals of liberalism and hence the individual undertaking this fraudulent posture is not really a liberal, whereas the second suggests an excessively strong commitment to those ideals bordering on fascism so as to allowing no dissent and the individual is “too much of a liberal”. Of course, a combination could be argued where an imposter is also a zealot so as to justify the employment of a new term ‘fake liberal fascist’ (that usage would come with an additional peril of whether the fakeness applies only to the ‘liberal’ part or does it extend it to the ‘fascist’ portion as well). I know this might be getting tedious and is perhaps, even semantic nitpicking. However, the fact that these two terms are used as frequently as they are and often perfectly interchangeably highlights that we have become so crude in our sneers that we have abandoned all commitment to language and reason in their formulation.
“The word Fascism,” Orwell wrote, “has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.” As an admission, I have been guilty in the past of using the term rather loosely and I shouldn’t have, nevertheless the term ‘Fascism’ has its use in Pakistan today. When Shias are periodically off-loaded from buses lined up and shot dead on public highways, the term ‘Fascism’ unmistakably lurks. A murderous cult with clear and public visions of a master race/sect is conducting “genocide” of one set of citizens; the term is useful in its full historical accuracy. So when those engaged in one-upmanship use terms like ‘liberal fascists’ they do not only expose their lack of knowledge of language or critical thinking faculties, infinitely significantly, they soften and make commonplace a word of the utmost condemnation and horror, similar to ‘genocide’ (which I can now claim to use with awareness in this context).
However, those having a flair for using these absurd, meaningless terms are exactly the sorts who find the emphasis on “Shia” killing and an 11-year-old Christian girl suffering from Down’s syndrome charged with blasphemy a bit too much and an attempt to detract from the “real issues”. This is nonsense of the most sinister and malicious kind. No issue is more real than murder and witch-hunt. Twenty-two Shias killed for their sectarian beliefs is not the same as the same numbered killed in a highway robbery or even by dengue fever. All loss of innocent life is to be condoled, yet not all funerals require the same mourning or outrage. Those who are being hunted and murdered in this country deserve our immediate attention and in Pakistan, there cannot be enough of it right now. Hindus are being persecuted so as to make them leave the country, the nation’s premier atomic scientist is allowed to come on television and spew hatred against the Ahmadis — this I say, with no hesitation, deserves the same if not more attention than the power crisis. The silly idea that when one speaks about an issue she ignores all others, if accepted, would make it impossible to speak on any issue.
Being a liberal or a conservative is no badge of pride. William Hazlitt in his essay on Edmund Burke wrote: “It has always been with me, a test of the sense and candour of anyone belonging to the opposite party, whether he allowed Burke to be a great man.” Whatever the flaws in Pakistan’s liberal community are (there are admittedly many), the opposition also falls considerably short of the Burkean ideal (with some rare exceptions). Oddly enough most people want themselves to be portrayed as the “real” liberals as if there is something inherently wrong with being a ‘conservative’ or a ‘centrist’.
The neat classifications of ideological divisions are from a different lexicon meant to cater to different times. Our challenges right now are elemental, even primitive and require more clarity. To condemn the murder of Shias, the persecution of the Christian girl and the barbaric nihilism of the suicide fanatics does not allow for shallow nuance. Silence on the issue, attempting to change the topic or worse, criminal rationalisation is not “conservative” or “anti-liberal” etc, actually it is no political thought; it is terrorist apology at best and probably complicity.
Differences on the strategy for “our” war on terror are valid and often helpful and so are the objections to drone attacks. Yet, using this and the drawing of false moral equivalences to explain or rationalise the theocratic fascist (another term that I am sure will stand the test of historical verification) assault on our society by the religious fundamentalists is malevolent and masochistic. The supposedly youthful anti-imperialist drawing inspiration from the once great Professor Noam Chomsky and the suicide bomber are in unspoken and perhaps, unknowing agreement here.
To speak against this murder and mayhem means to expose oneself to the charge of ignoring the power crisis, inflation, unemployment, Muslims in trouble in random parts of the world, in short a “government apologist”. A charge, I will gladly embrace as opposed to being a mouthpiece and a tool (even if unwittingly) of homicidal fanatics bombing our schools, hospitals and mosques.
Morality ordinarily has a very little place in political views, however, if “liberalism” is taken as per the maybe simplistic definition of its enthusiastic opponents as creating too much of a fuss over the murder of minorities, Shias and suicide bombings etc., then it becomes a question of morality and even humanity. As we progress, I am sure that we will evolve our own definition of what being ‘liberal’ or a ‘conservative’ entails in our political and economic sphere but I hope we will never see (or perhaps, more accurately cease to see) the day when insidious justifications of murder of innocent civilians by terrorists are treated with any credibility or respectability.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2012.