By Nadeem F. Paracha
21 Feb 2014
Sixty-six years old and suffering from a crippling identity crisis. Sixty-six years old and still requiring hoards of people to continue knee-jerking their way across a number of hyperbolic patriotic clichés and chants. This is Pakistan.
Ours is a country with an economic, political and military elite and an awkward but growing urban middle class that is still playing out a redundant fantasy, a flight of fancy that sees Pakistan as some monolithic and one-dimensional construct where everyone can be conveniently pigeonholed within a single concept of faith, language and patriotism.
Many dictators, terrorists and ethnic and sectarian fragmentations later, the retarded evolution of this country has given birth to a generation of young, urban Pakistanis who have lost the capability to look through things like hypocrisy and deceit.
This generation is doggedly sceptical about ideas and issues that may not be furnishing their concepts of patriotism, faith and morality, but it becomes equally gullible and mindlessly drawn to believing unsubstantiated claims if they reinforce what it likes, loves or follows.
This is a generation that was born and raised in the post-Cold War world, a world where communism had been defeated and in which a mixture of unabashed consumerism and the resurgence of faith collaborated to turn everything, from entertainment to information to faith itself into an industry.
It began as a post-Cold-War industry squarely catering to a highly depoliticised market of young people in a scenario in which the state was eroding; and where politicians had begun to delegate much of their roles to multinational corporations, to the NGOs and to a new set of preachers who have turned religion into a media-savvy enterprise.
Faith and capitalism came together to celebrate the fall of communism and socialism.
But communism’s defeat and the end of the Cold War did not solve problems like poverty, economic disparity, despotism, etc.
The defeat and the resultant triumph of the anti-left capitalist-faith coalition did however give the post-Cold War generations a chance to enjoy (on credit) services and products that were almost unattainable by most from the generations before.
To enjoy these without feeling too guilty, the same triumphant system of post-Cold War capitalism also constructed attractive valves through which young hip consumers, neo-yuppies and aspiring new bourgeoisies could escape into the spiritual realm.
Here fast-talking corporate gurus would tell them how to balance hefty profit-making with ‘corporate responsibility’, and where slick men and women of faith would (basically) explain to their ever-growing audiences how to enjoy the fruits of brand-waving consumerism with a set of spiritual lingo and rituals that would help keep them connected to God.
All this took place mostly after 1995. A sham democracy manipulated by the military from behind the scene that had turned politicians into punching bags for whatever put a spanner in Pakistan’s economic progress. This scenario also saw the new urban generation consider democracy as a corrupt hindrance in their growth as an economic force.
Though millions of young people suddenly became aware of the corrupt ways of politicians, ironically the same millions could not figure out the scams they were being burdened with in the name of plastic money by the banks.
Neither was this generation willing to ask that simple question: if politicians were siphoning off millions of rupees, weren’t these still only a fraction of what the military got by way of military aid, jobs, industries and, of course, the largest chunk of the country’s budget?
Then came our own nuclear device, the clandestine and expensive making of which our leaders had boasted about earlier and we were ready to eat grass for. But it was certainly neither the elite nor the middle class that were chewing this figurative grass. It was the majority, the so-called masses.
Alas, the coming together of neo-capitalism intertwined with market and media savvy strands of religion only managed to instil confusion in the youth. This confusion, instead of lashing out against the artificiality and dichotomies found in the new ways of economics and spirituality, buckled under the weight of a narrative constructed by the drivers of the new arrangement.
Those who had benefited most from the setup – the military, the slick religious preachers and capitalists – with the help of ‘corporate gurus’ and Seth-owned private media, began to invoke God and honour and pride (Ghairat) against those whom they considered to be enemies of the middle, the country and religion (read the middle-class).
These ‘enemies’ were politicians advocating democracy – they became labelled as ‘corrupt (not that many of them weren’t).
Enemies also included the last bastions of liberalism or the shrinking left-leaning journalism (who suddenly became ‘liberal fascists’) and certain Islamic scholars who, unlike the political-religious groups patronised by the military and the traders, spoke more about the benevolent, tolerant and democratic aspects of Islam instead of hatred in the name of faith and so-called ‘Shariah.’.
The glaring dark irony surrounding even the most modern members of the new generation is that they have ended up equating the availability of all the goodies of the corporate and consumerist setup that they have become addicted to with a projected belief that suggests that a ‘moderate’ authoritarian political setup coupled with an identity-defining (and largely convoluted) version of Islam, are what will make Pakistan a more sovereign and proud state.
It’s a collective delusion that amidst the destruction and brutality let loose by the extremists, sees many among us feeling out for ‘positive vibes’ and thinking, as if the issues facing Pakistan were an outcome of negative energy being emitted by the cynics and the sceptics.
Instead of freeing oneself from damaging dogmas, these dogmas have become ways to free oneself from the strain of thinking beyond what the media, market and preachers tell one to think.