The tyranny of certitude

The social space to debate is reducing rapidly. It is no longer brave but stupid to stand up and speak for truth.

Ayesha Siddiqa May 14, 2014
The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.

The Senate recently passed a bill that seeks to punish anyone desecrating a grave with a life sentence. The news came as a great relief because with all the good friends, acquaintances and committed people around dying at quite a fast pace, one is, at least, relieved that the state will do something to protect them in their death even if they couldn’t be protected in their lives. This means security is guaranteed for Rashid Rehman, Dr Faisal Manzoor and many others who fell victim to faceless and brute violence.

This must be counted as a great piece of legislation at a time when the state has totally failed to protect its citizens. People have turned into numbers with each falling body amassing greater fear meant to put locks on tongues of the living. Recent investigations by the police of a murder last year proved that a doctor was killed because of his liberal views. Similar was Rashid Rehman’s sin that he tried to provide justice even to the one accused of committing the biggest sin in a Muslim society. But justice requires not punishing someone until proven guilty.

Like me, others who have a broader vision of justice must also view the above law graciously as the only possibility in a place that is fast turning into a tyranny of certitude. The situation is going to get worse, especially as Pakistan no longer remains a frontline state. As the world withdraws from the region and we no longer have an arbiter, the situation will become even more bleak. Patronage-based polities and their societies have a hard time agreeing on someone as a neutral arbiter amongst themselves. They tend to solve their issues by going to a neutral arbiter, who may not necessarily be just but marginally or entirely neutral to the conflict between various stakeholders and so can adjudicate better. Once upon a time, the US, for example, played that role and so civil society stakeholders could go and seek intervention for their personal safety. I am not making an argument for prolonged American presence in the region but stating certain facts about how an arbiter would operate in the country. Now, there is no arbiter that has similar connections in the larger civil society. The Saudis have a select clientele and the Chinese are not interested.

This means that the state and its partners could terrorise people even more without any intervention from any arbiter. Doesn’t sound too good considering that the fear factor reduces the ability of the society to stand up on its own and negotiate with the state. Every person terrorised or killed reduces the capacity of others — who have the sense to judge that a lot of brutality is taking place in the name of religious ideology — to speak up and protest. People nervously glance at one another to check how many would now have the courage to stand up and protest.

The social space to debate is reducing rapidly. It is no longer brave but stupid to stand up and speak for truth. One doesn’t know who will come to slaughter you. Given the circumstances, a lot of people, who have the capacity and can afford to leave the country, will do so. No one is bothered about brain drain. Actually, this doesn’t mean that all educated people will be leaving the country. It is just that thinking people who have a heart to feel misery would not be there any more. We will have many degree holders but with no heart and soul.

Should we worry? Perhaps not, but to save our minds we could copy the Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasneem Aslam, who was quick in allaying fears of those worried about the repercussion of the WHO warning against Pakistan as a country ridden with polio as nothing but a recommendation. This gave an impression that the order may not be implemented. Perhaps, we have to learn like Ms Aslam not to bother. After all, what does it take to blame everyone but you? It is common to hear people talk about all the violence in the country being a foreign conspiracy. Muslims do not kill one another. Sadly, the more history books that I read, the more I get confused about this perception. We and our ancestors have been part of different civilisations that we were required to serve and thus use violence in the process of defending the interests of the powerful and ourselves. But why even think about our own errors when we can blame it on others.

Many state functionaries believe that restrictions due to polio vaccination are indeed the work of some foreign agency. It can at best be blamed on a foreign agent like Shakeel Afridi. Surely, those that started propagating against polio vaccination much before Afridi went searching for bin Laden must be absolved in having any part in the propaganda because our state functionaries will not remember that history.

Let’s imagine we are in the process of creating a new history by turning religious ideology into a tool of suppression or victimising people. Just read the news of the police registering a case against over 60 lawyers for blasphemy. They were protesting against a policeman named after the Second Caliph (RA). Surely, none of the protestors even thought of insulting the Caliph (RA) but what do you do if the parents of the policeman named him so. Perhaps, the original sin lies with them. However, people may think of this only when they will recover from a state of panic regarding what they have actually done. I am sure many protesters must be cursing themselves on doing so. Progressively, you do not even have to prove blasphemy charges. All you need to do is say the word blasphemy and people will be happy to lynch and slaughter.

We have turned the corner with our transformation from a simple tyranny of corruption and incompetence to that of certitude. We will define our own faith and then punish others who don’t agree or believe in what we lay down as matter of faith and conviction.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2014.

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Fawad Manzoor | 7 years ago | Reply

This is a cruel country. Individuals who have served their community are targeted and killed. People are still not realizing the extent of what is coming to hit them in their face in near future if they dont take a stand. Thank you Dr. Ayesha for mentioning my brother Dr. Faisal Manzoor in your column.

Parvez | 7 years ago | Reply

@Shahbaz Asif Tahir: 18 others do not think like you in denial will not help.

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