No Country for Nuance


*Originally posted on the Dawn Blog, posting the unedited version here:

As yet another political crisis brews in Pakistan, political discussion and arguments steam through it.

Emotions are high, and arguments equally heated and intense.

It is often assumed to be the case among Pakistanis that any existing political support must encompass all aspects of a party regardless of personal agreement or disagreement. In other words, support has to be uncritical or it doesn’t fit the definition. If figure, institution or idea has to be supported, all that comprises them has to be backed; and whoever or whatever is to be opposed, must have the hate whole.

This is no country for nuance.

However, the problem is not limited to Pakistan, as Turkish writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol writes on Al-Monitor regarding the discourse on Erdogan in the country:

As Bekir Agirdir, the director of a polling company and a political commentator, noted, it has become impossible to reasonably discuss even Istanbul’s water problem, because Erdogan supporters will deny it, whereas Erdogan opponents will exaggerate it.

With the political turmoil pitting PTI right against the PML-N, any argument seems to define opposition to Imran Khan’s politics as ‘Noora’ support for Nawaz Sharif; and any support for PML-N, the institution of government and the state as support for a corrupt Pakistan. Any acknowledgement of Asif Zardari’s political genius and success of Machiavellian politics is taken as jiyala praise for PPP’s lacklustre performance.

Independent political opinions or thoughts are now refused to be seen without suspicion of political affiliation and loyalty lurking beneath to dictate them; and allegiance is expected to be, as aforementioned, complete, uncritical and whole.

Similarly, the dichotomy of discourse has monstrously grown to swallow all civility.

The bitter and brash assertion and argument of opinions has taken over discussions and conversations completely with derogatory words among which are jahil, noora, noony, anti-Pakistan and beghairat. Relations are publicly souring on social-media platforms and in lounges and drawing rooms, as respect is being trampled by charged political self-righteousness.

Any support for a party must be based on solid, logical reasons and if it indulges in socially, ethically or politically reprehensible pursuits; it must be condemned. Pakistan’s interest, not personality cults, must direct party support.

But in the current atmosphere no word against the holy saints of Raiwind and Bani Gala is brooked.

Social media-user and activist Meera Ceder pertinently points out:

‘Blind following or blind allegiance to anything makes one truly blind. I hate the fact that everything is seen from a black and white lens. Everything is an either or and if you choose to condemn two wrongs then you are “clearly” taking sides. Not everything can or should be seen in binaries.’

It is either this or that, with us or against us, black or white. Binaries are the order of the day.

Socially, any sign of broad-mindedness that challenges redundant conservatism on issues such as female education, attire, careers is characterised as ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ with negative connotations. Religiously, General Zia’s toxic legacy of Islamization reigns as people consider any interpretation of Islam apart from their own to be heretical. This has been a polarisation that has had bloody effects by physical demonstration in the form of terror groups and extremism having slaughtered 50,000 Pakistanis till now.

The ideological textbook propaganda found in Pak Studies on the creation of Pakistan, its culture and religion does also not help by its distortions of history and the truth. These have been so well-indoctrinated by now that they not only, unfortunately, shape much of Pakistani national and political discourse even today, but any attempt to challenge them is undermined, ignored or thrown to the bin of numerous Pakistani pejoratives that include liberal-fascist, anti-Pakistan, RAW agent etc.

All of this spells our penchant for polarisation.

Polarisation is not merely a disappointing national phenomenon, it is a dangerous one. After all, it is polarisation which breeds intolerance and a parochial mentality by shunning debate and discussion. Being cut off from debate and a diverse range of different and dissimilar views has the effect of intellectual insulation and isolation; plus a lack of respect for opposing opinions. This creates a hostile, suffocating environment for all people to be heard, understood and respect. This might explain why many segments of the nation such as the Baloch, the Pashtuns, and the religious minorities et al are misunderstood. They are either never heard, lent an ear to be heard or their voices are hushed.

Debate, civil argument and discussion are keys to a more pluralistic, open, tolerant society; and the very heart of democracy itself, which is why polarisation is the cancer at the heart of Pakistan.

As the state transitions through challenges, so must the people by developing a pluralistic rather than a polarising environment, discourse and attitude – if Pakistan is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

5 comments on “No Country for Nuance

  1. rehanud1975 says:

    The problem with History is that it penned by the ones who were victorious . It is not just a matter of a few text books. The text books, after all. rely on various sources. It is these “sources” that need to be dealt with. And the word “Propaganda” is very vague. What is “Fact” for one person might be “Propaganda” for another. Also , it is interesting to note that most of the purported ‘propaganda’ has usually to do something with Islam. Whether it is related to Muhammad Bin Qasim ( the most cited example of propaganda) or Jihad ( the least understood and most hated concept ) , the so-called propaganda has Islam has a common denominator.

    What we need to do is provide our children with access to more and more books and material that gives wider and broader views of history. And we need to improve our reading habits as well. If we have issues with propaganda , then we need to counter the propaganda with logic and rationale. There is no reason to think that “liberals” and “Secularists” are not engaged in Propaganda themselves. That is what my ability to reason tells me ; not to believe anything that is being continually repeated.

    I am sorry for such a lengthy post but I have been reading about this “Propaganda” theory for quite a while now and thought I would contribute a bit to what is my opinion about this Secularist conspiracy theory where evil, shadowy forces are busy in Propaganda to kill inquiring minds.

  2. Waheed Mazhar says:

    I like your analysis. The polarization reflected in PTI and PAT supporters, to some extent, is the result of their leaders extreme position and rhetoric. I understand that the media and ideological textbook propaganda has also played its role in creating a “with us” or “against us” sentiment among the people. However, the thing that surprises me is, what difference does a better education has made on Mr. Imran Khan? He read in the best institutions of the world and is no better than his supporters so far the temperament and quality of discourse is concerned. I would like to make it absolutely clear that I have no doubt on the good intentions of Mr. Khan, and I appreciate his concern for the masses and patriotism as well, but the kind of language, temperament and discourse he has initiated is something I am unable to reconcile with his stature and education.

  3. Mahmood Malik says:

    There is beauty in diversity. Man is given mind. Everyone thinks in his or her own way. How anyone else can control one’s feelings and thought? Man is born free. How someone may bind him/her in shackles? Yes, you may bind someone with shackles of love,sincerity and affection. This bond of love won’t break easily. But any changes on the basis of force and coercion don’t last long.

    How rightly is said, “Swords may win territories but not hearts.” Man’s conscience requires freedom of thought and belief. Why force someone to agree to our point of view? This is bigotry.

    Islam stands for freedom of thought and belief. “No coercion in matters of faith”. “Your faith for you and mine for me”. Holy Prophet (pbuh) entered into covenant of peace with people of other faiths in Madina. He was ever prepared to enter into truces of peace with any people willing to do so.

    European Convention of Human Rights ensures freedom of thought, conscience and religion. UN Declaration of Human Rights provides for freedom of speech, expression and religion. Pakistan Constitution provides for these fundamental human rights. But still in our homeland, these rights are denied.

    Hafsa sahib does well in highlighting what is wrong and to speak the truth. Best wishes for her for successes in her efforts in providing enlightenment on this and similar other important topics for human dignity and equality.

  4. Satish Kumar Dogra says:

    Excellent article! Polarisation can sometimes be the result of genuine conviction in one’s point of view, but then such conviction does not drive one to violence and one is ready to change one’s view when confronted with a more convincing view. A shlokah in the Hindu holy book Srimad Bhagwad Geeta says, “Utruth never is, Truth never isn’t” The implication is, our holding a certain belief is not going to change Truth from what it is. So, if we stick to a falsehood, it is our failure.

    Let me give an interesting link for a news about a man much maligned by his detractors and held in high esteem by millions of Indians:

  5. Jahangir Jamal says:

    We need to understand that dissecting the situation is of no use. There is nothing exceptional about Imran or anyone against the status quo. People want anyone who promises jobs, housing, food, security. Currently there are only people Qadri and Imran who have not been tried before. This is the only redeeming quality. And I personally wish that Adeerus Ghayan’s novel The Scriptwriter turns out to be real and free us from this azab.

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