By Ebad Ahmed
October 13, 2014
Since its inception, Pakistan has remained a conservative country, where religion played a mammoth role in shaping politics, redefining policies and most important of all, enforcing particular narratives in society.
Nonetheless, despite conservatism dominating intellectual discourse, there has existed a significant liberal minority which exercised its right to speak and write openly and put across its points of view.
However, this tiny space for liberals in Pakistan has been shrinking more and more of late; reflecting an alarming trend toward far-right politics of a jealous nature which shuns any opportunity to question itself.
It makes you think, why are liberalism and Pakistan in a state of chronic conflict? And more importantly, why are liberal ideas considered deviant by society at large?
The bone of contention lies within those who have wielded power in the country which directly or indirectly, has been manoeuvred by forces within the state apparatus using a narrative of securing itself against outside aggression when in fact they harboured dangerous ambitions and tinkered with national institutions to fulfil those ambitions. Apart from the times of Ayub and Musharraf, the ideal citizen for the state was an India-hating religious conservative and was more security-obsessed than development-oriented.
All this is contrary to liberal values.
Education was used as a tool to achieve the targets. For decades, the nation's educational institutions have been promoting a hyper-religio-nationalist mindset based on insecurity against the neighbour India and with a huge inclination towards utopian Pan-Islamism.
Thus, when a fourth grader's social sciences textbook introduces him to sub-continental history through "India's evil designs against Pakistan" and establishes as unwavering truth that certain state institutions are always right no matter what the Constitution advocates, it shouldn't surprise one to see the same student later react with fuming outrage against the idea of normalising ties with the neighbouring country. It would not just be abnormal for him, it would be a heresy. The call for revisiting Pakistan's security-centrism would be treacherous and advocating secular values an attack on the Islamic Republic.
When critical thinking is not appreciated, diversity is not recognised and a specific narrative is enforced generation after generation with additional support from the mass media, it is only natural that nations would end up precisely where we are today.
Liberal ideas become a synonym for heresy, and truth becomes Truth – just one single interpretation of events, the discretion over which lies only with the state – be it Nazriya-i-Pakistan, the controversial 8th Amendment, the 2nd Amendment or the military's influence within the state, that “Truth” cannot be challenged.
Pakistanis must tell themselves that though conservatism is acceptable, far-right extremism is not.
The opposition of liberalism is more structural than anything else. The state wanted it, and soon they got it by exploiting conservatism and taking it to a whole new level.
And has Pakistan, as a result, been better off in the long run?
The fact that the state is still fighting extremists suggests not.