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Debating Islam ( 22 May 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Knowledge? Yes Please! Wisdom? No Thank You!

By Mariam Habib

May 19, 2012

There is a new breed of malicious intolerance doing the rounds these days. Forget your ignorantly mulish mullah, the venom spitting doomsday predictor, the self-righteous hypocrite or the arrogant piety-totting hijackers of faith. This time, the worse kind of malice is coming from the intellectual quarters; propagated by the learned and hailed by the emancipated. The fundamental extremists have met their match in the form of the erudite academicians and, my goodness, how they represent both sides of the same mirror; intolerant, arrogant, suspicious and worse by far self-justifying. Hate has made them blind to the fact that their prejudices have turned them into the very thing they abhor with such passion; the two extremes merge at the same point, sharing the same mentality but with converse rhetoric.

There was a time when knowledge was the prerequisite for wisdom, but now it seems that wisdom is wilfully sacrificed at the altar of knowledge. Any view not rational or logical in the eyes of the ‘scholar’ is to be dismissed; any belief not substantiated by evidence is to be discarded; any individual holding on to values based on sentiments is to be ridiculed. Confucius once said: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”, yet somehow today one’s knowledge is inversely related to another’s ignorance. Instead of trying to discover why someone who, perhaps, did not have the same academic opportunities thinks and acts differently, the emphasis is only on condemnation.

In this quest for ‘enlightenment’, nothing is held sacred, for that would be idiotic; nationalism is nothing but fascism, religiosity is the birth of barbarism, empathy a sign of stupidity. What makes this faction much worse than their illiterate counterparts is that these individuals had all the advantages of learning and education, yet they refused to open their hearts with the broadening of their minds and hence refused wisdom in the quest for knowledge.

I have no issues with disagreements; rather I find them indispensible in the quest for an optimal solution for any problem. If the purpose of issue resolution is lost in the diatribe of disparagement then, even if you do prove you are right, you end up being irrelevant. What a waste of intellect!

Excessive nationalism has recently been under attack for being the launching pad for conspiracy theorists; a tool for generating mass paranoia aimed at developing a mindless mob mentality willing to vanquish a perceived enemy whether it be America, Israel, India or all of them combined. Needless to say, the cause of such behaviour might just be that lack of basic necessities of life is overlooked, for that would be so pathetically uncomplicated. What is excessive nationalism, I ask you! Is it the display of national paraphernalia on oneself, chanting of slogans at any or all gatherings or thinking that Pakistan is us and we are Pakistan? These are just adrenaline pumping sentiments that help the common man enjoy a moment of respite in the thought that his everyday struggle to survive means something; for that daily struggle, that refusal to not leave the country come what may, that determined hope of a better tomorrow is nationalism and any excess of it is commendable. Instead of understanding the need for such unifying sentiments in today’s realities, the intellectuals are quick to tout the impending fascism. Tsk!

Ideals are not destructive, individuals are. Be it religion, patriotism or any other unifying platform, it is how man can misuse it for his own ends that needs to be dealt with, rather than the condemnation of ideals man should aspire to. It is only during trying times that we look for reasons to justify our misery, targets to channelise our resultant hatred, but what needs to be addressed is the cause not the symptom.

There was a deplorable trend of detachment on part of the educated segment of our society in the past towards voting in particular and politics in general. Although high moral values were maintained in spirit active involvement was almost non-existent. Recently, that status quo has shifted not only for women, but also for our youth. One would think that this, perhaps, is one of the biggest positive changes in our society till, of course, you get another lesson from your enlightened intellectual. Apparently, housewives in the political arena are not only undesirable, but also destructive considering their mental capacity can only assimilate the latest fashion trends and the rising prices of groceries. Furthermore, if you happen to be young and have an active Facebook account you have just joined the ranks of the irrational, illogical, ill-informed hippie crowd and, therefore, can only serve as a detriment to yourself and others, what to say of your country. Is affiliation to a party not consistent with one’s belief system the reason for such prejudice? Do I really have to say ‘look at the bigger picture’ to put an end to such ‘witty’ terms such as the PTI trolls etc. Isn’t criticism simply boorish if not constructive?

The justification is that at least some have the gumption to say things others are too timid or too ignorant to highlight. I am all for that if at the end of all that is wrong, there is emphasis on how to put it right; the empathy to understand the viewpoint of others, the ability to talk to others in terms they can relate to, the satisfaction of seeing even one individual become a better human being because of what you said or did. Otherwise all your knowledge, all your learning serves only to ruffle a few feathers and elicit a few laughs - a feat quite easily achieved by the court jester, who never really found his place amongst the sages of his time.

   The writer is a freelance columnist.