Our “Aversion” to Introspection

1 Sep

Patriotism is a powerful sentiment. But not when its logical outcome is a myopia that allows us the intellectual and moral space to ignore depravity in our midst. In the aftermath of the Sialkot lynching, powerful and evocative pieces were written by Fasi Zaka and George Fulton questioning the current state of our moral and social fabric. Given the recent spate of condemnable events in our society such as the inhuman episode of vigilante justice, the brutal killings of minorities and the subsequent silence of large segments of our society, the authors wrote pieces designed to shock our sensibilities in the hopes of creating much needed national soul searching.

What they got instead was the label of reactionary, cynical, unpatriotic and most damningly, the pasting of scarlet letters that spell “western liberal” on to their writings. This is a dangerous slope to be on. Deconstructing evil is a mark of civilisation, and those who refute self-criticism in the face of man-made tragedy are complicit in the worst kind of self-congratulating nationalism. Hand-wringing or cynicism may well evoke tedium, but rubbishing critical reviews of moral slide is way more damaging than the discomfort provoked by George and Fasi.

One response to the writings of these two author’s points to the fact that we are no better or worse than other parts of humanity – the Rwandans committed genocide and the Israeli’s regularly throw grenades at boys armed with stones. Does raising the bar on barbarity justify all that under-performs in its dark shadow? Genocide and forced occupation are hardly a standard to set for inhumanity, much less cite as justifications for ignoring the rot in our society. Does the barbarity of other parts of the world justify the atrocities in our backyard? These champions of misplaced Pakistani pride are actually urging us to drop moral standards to an even lower common denominator of human decency than we currently tolerate for policing our social conscience. This is hardly a place we should aspire to be.

After its been pointed out that we are not alone in the world in our brutality; a laundry-list of our selflessness, hospitality and charitable impulses is trotted out to block out the existence of violence and bigotry in our midst. There is no doubt that Pakistanis are resilient and generous people. The selfless and untiring contributions of average citizens to relief activities in the face of national disasters are not only commendable but inspirational. So let’s pat ourselves on the back for that, but then what? Living in a state of delusional self-congratulation and celebration is hardly the way to right the wrongs in our society and rid it of perilous ills such as bigotry, intolerance and extremism. Ridding ourselves of those requires people like Fasi and George pointing out our faults so that we can work on fixing them.

But no, once the unthinking patriots are done listing our virtues, they end with pigeon-holing all self -critical voices in Pakistan as liberals.  I can only hope they understand that the demonization of liberalism is a further invitation to one of its many alternatives so ubiquiotous already: orthody. Didn’t we get enough of that during the Zia years and are we still not reeling from the consequences of that ultra- rightist, downright extremist regime?

So dear Mahreen Aziz Khan, don’t take the focus away from much needed introspection for the sake of scoring popularity points. Let George and Fasi rant – at least they make us think. You make us feel good and tell us we are great as a nation, but do little to help us achieve even an iota of betterment in society. You ask for the lynching of liberals but fail to provide viable alternatives. I, personally, am not ready for the opposite. Political labels like conservative and liberal may mean very different things in civilised societies.In countries where the slide from conservative to dogmatic to extremist has spawned many faces of orthodoxy, I am still out there rooting for self criticism. I’d rather take the rude and shocking essays of George and Fasi and try and ponder over how to fix what’s broken in Pakistan. I’d rather have people induce much needed introspection in the hope of generating solutions, instead of you patting us on the back, telling us it’s ok to invest in the status quo.  Our collective aversion to criticism prevents us from taking serious stock of our national condition and working to fix it. So please stop feeding this dangerous aversion and let the process of public criticism and introspection begin – only from sustained national introspection will solutions for a better Pakistan emerge.

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4 Responses to “Our “Aversion” to Introspection”

  1. Sameea September 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Fasi Zaka was telling a crowd they were vermin so that they would feel appropriately ashamed by a gruesome miscarriage of justice. Thing is, they were already ashamed–I doubt you’d find anyone less than outraged at what had happened– and that’s where the issue comes from.

    Allusions to the Rwandan genocide, the holocaust, Apartheid etc aren’t a justification for the behavior of the mob we’ve been seeing recently, and I doubt it’s the bar we’ve set for ourselves. This is a reaction of a people who responded diligently to a natural disaster that left one out of every four of their countrymen affected, who felt outrage and shock at the levels of lawlessness a police force could stand by and watch, and who had thereafter been called nothing less than vermin for things they not only had no part in, but were outraged at.

    Introspection is still definitely always the need of the hour, and his piece seemed to elicit a response opposite to that. Is there then a problem with his technique or us? For sure we should be mature enough to understand that maybe theres swiftian love disguised under his supposed disgust in the use of his metaphor that we need to go deeper than be shocked to figure out what went wrong and how to stop it from ever happening again.

    But maybe writers should also be careful to gauge a response to an incident before using metaphors that might be ill placed. I still think it is. I don’t think, for all our flaws, that vermin is what we should be attributed to to bring out the best in us, to shame us into feeling an outrage we’ve already been dealing with intensely.

  2. sabizak September 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Goodun!

  3. sulemanwrites September 6, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more … !!!

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