As we rejoice today on the 66th birth anniversary of our nation, it is customary as well on this occasion to do some soul searching, some introspection and some self-analysis. It is always a mixed kind of experience to go through the pluses and minuses of the past, and see their imprints on the present. A plethora of questions comes to mind: what went right, what went wrong? How and why did we reach where we are today? Why are we being called a failed nation or one in the process of failing? Are we really facing, what are called, existential threats? Even, why Pakistan? And why not?
The impression one gets from all the talk about the innumerable problems that beset Pakistan today is of a sailless ship trapped in a stormy sea and being tossed around by onrushing waves from all directions. The conventional wisdom all through these years has been that once democracy is allowed to take roots, everything would fall in place and the will and the votes of the people would extricate the nation from the bottomless pit it is sliding into. But midway through the transition to this comfort zone — democracy — forces from within have started rejecting at gunpoint, the system of one person one vote because in their obscurantist wisdom, there is no place for modernity in Islam.
The mainstream political parties, which have the biggest stakes in democracy and should be extremely worried at the ongoing blood-letting, seem to have chosen not to confront the forces that are challenging the very writ of the state and its Constitution. Instead, they have been following a policy of appeasement, abandoning the defenceless masses at the mercy of gun-toting hordes. A minuscule but vibrant part of our media has, however, kept a window open for those, who dare to challenge the forces that murder and maim with full impunity in the name of Islam. And over the last several years, a number of good books, both in English and Urdu, written by Pakistani and foreign political thinkers and sociologists, have also appeared, which effectively counter the obscurantist propaganda being mounted by the hate-mongers.
One of the latest additions to this not-so-long a list of cerebral books on Pakistan appeared just about the time the May 11 elections results were being announced. It is an extensively researched book with lots of authentic statistics and a weighty bibliography. The book — What’s wrong with Pakistan? — covers almost every aspect of Pakistan right from its very genesis. It is divided in six parts and has 34 chapters. And believe me, every chapter is a book in itself but the author, Babar Ayaz, a veteran journalist and my former colleague in Dawn, has done justice to every issue he chose to dissect and discuss in the book, spread over no more than 347 pages. He has asked many searching, and at times, very disturbing questions and some of his answers are as disturbing and some are highly disquieting. One gets the feeling that he has written the book with foreign readers in mind, but there are many aspects discussed in the narrative, which would perhaps, be totally new and shocking to even Pakistanis, especially those who have had the misfortune of being exposed to only that version of our history that one finds in our school and college textbooks.
On page 318, he remarks: But the worrying point is that there is little debate in Pakistan on why religious extremism is violent and then he lists five highly relevant questions that he says should be debated and explored by social scientists. 1) Is religious extremism a new phenomenon or was it embedded in the Pakistan movement in undivided India? 2) Is religious extremism spreading and strengthening in Pakistan? 3) Does it (religious extremism) appear to be expanding because religious extremists are using terrorist tactics to achieve their ideological goals? 4) What external and internal factors have sharpened the contradiction between religious extremists and modernists? 5) And is the contradiction between religious extremism and modernity specific to Muslim societies, or are other major religions also inflicted with this malaise? The answers he gives are both stimulating and vexing.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2013.
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