By Irfan Husain
August 30, 2014
DURING Lahore’s recent lockdown due to the Qadri-led protests, a desperate mother with a very ill child was reported as saying: “If my son dies because I couldn’t get him to the hospital, I will accuse Nawaz Sharif of killing him on Judgement Day.”
Had I been present, my response would have been: “Lady, don’t wait that long.”
Nawaz Sharif, like all politicians, is unconcerned about what happens in the next life. If all his critics were to defer their complaints to the hereafter, he would be a happy man. Indeed, our elites are allowed to get away literally with murder because of what I call the God’s will syndrome.
If, for instance, a child dies in hospital because of professional negligence or incompetence, nurses and doctors are let off the hook by parents who draw solace from the mantra “Allah Ki Marzi”, or “it is God’s will”. This immediately passes on responsibility to the Supreme Authority, allowing all concerned from the hospital management downwards to shrug their shoulders, look upwards to heaven, and move on.
We are too fatalistic a people to insist on delivery of services.
In such an environment of buck passing, nothing improves. There is no incentive for doctors to examine what went wrong and make improvements to ensure such mistakes are not repeated. As a result, other patients suffer.
In most Western countries, doctors protect themselves from malpractice suits by buying insurance. If they are sued for negligence or incompetence by angry patients, their premium goes up. And if they put forward the ‘God’s will’ defence, the judge will throw the book at them, and it won’t be the Bible.
True, this pushes up medical costs, especially in litigious countries like the US, but it also gives doctors an incentive to provide better care. In other walks of life as well, we are too fatalistic a people to insist on delivery of services: when bureaucrats are lazy, incompetent or corrupt, those who depend on their signing a document are willing to humbly await their decision instead of demanding they get on with it.
Indeed, the systemic delays built into our administrative machinery are a function of our passivity. When we depend on the Maker for a solution to all our problems, we surrender our power as citizens, and hope for better times in the next life when our patience in the face of adversity will be rewarded.
This fatalism is what has permitted our elites to prosper at the cost of the underprivileged. And to further deflect criticism, our ruling class often invokes the ‘hidden hand’ to explain away failures. This is a secular version of the ‘God’s will’ gambit: if a distant power like the US or a neighbouring enemy like India is behind some recent debacle, how can our rulers be blamed?
Of course there are times when anger has pushed people to take action: witness the fury over repeated and extended power cuts in the summer. Or, indeed, the Imran Khan-Qadri circus in Islamabad. But usually, these explosions are short-lived, and are followed by an anticlimactic return to the status quo.
No activity is without an element of the blame game. If a controversial umpiring decision has cost Pakistan a cricket match, there is muttering about a conspiracy. If the Indus floods the plains, then a new American technology known as Haarp has caused excessive rains. These conspiracy theories are not restricted to Pakistan: a Google search for 9/11 conspiracies will get literally hundreds of thousands of hits.
This refusal to face failure and learn from it has ensured that we remain locked in a perpetual cycle of denial. Others, too, try and blame others for their mistakes, but by invoking God, we leave no room for discussion and analysis. After all, how can mere men question His will?
This assumes, of course, that God has not given us the gift of free will and the power to shape our own future. And if this life is only a brief transition to eternity, then it’s pointless doing anything to improve the world.
It is true that turning to God in times of distress is cathartic. If we think a loved one could have been saved with better medical care, it makes the loss that much harder to bear. But by absolving the human agent of God’s will of any responsibility, we are only perpetuating a rotten system.
So is there any middle ground between passive acceptance and violent protest? In other countries, internal checks and laws protect citizens, but here, those in power tend to protect each other while our judiciary is too inefficient to enforce accountability. And as our recent past shows, a proactive and publicity-hungry judiciary has tended to take on purely political cases. Our media is locked into a 24/7 cycle that discourages it from playing its role of watchdog.