By Nadeem F. Paracha
In April 2007, one of my favourite cousins who was then a student at the prestigious LUMS in Lahore visited me on the evening of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s “historic” procession in Lahore (during the Lawyers Movement). She said she was joining many of her colleagues who were already at the event.
Knowing my past as a former student activist, she was taken aback when I told her I’m not all enthusiastic about the commotion.
Responding to my lukewarm reception to her youthful idea of “bringing a revolution,” she said the principle behind the tumult is vital.
“What principle?” I asked.
“Justice and democracy,” she said.
“But you don’t even vote!” I smirked. “90 per cent of the middle-class people I’ve heard passionately supporting the cause of the CJP (who was fired by the Musharraf dictatorship on corruption charges), have never bothered to vote. What democracy are you talking about?”
However, I did add that she should go to the rally to learn.
“Learn what?” She asked.
“Learn how the most vivacious leaders are better at hijacking movements than they are at initiating revolutions,” I replied.
“So why were you guys so gung ho about Benazir Bhutto in the 1980s?” She asked.
“Because Benazir inherently represented so many sides that were a natural anathema to whatever Zia’s dictatorship stood for” I said. “First of all, in an era of Hudood laws, chauvinism and mullah politicians, she was a woman; an educated and outspoken woman. Benazir shone brightly like the country’s finest hope for a democratic system.”
“So you guys weren’t expecting a revolution then?”
“Absolutely not!” I laughed. “We learned a long time ago that a revolution in Pakistan can only achieve two things: One, it will most probably initiate the breaking up of the country and second, even if launched by the so-called liberal and democratic forces, it is bound to be hijacked by the religious right. Just like this lawyers’ movement of yours.”
Thinking that her once revolutionary cousin had tumbled over to the “other side,” she complained that apathy was not the solution.
“Apathy?” I asked. “I think compared to your lot I am still the real revolutionary!”
“Really?” Came a cold response.
“Yes, I am!” I announced. “In a country where religion is a destructive weapon in the hands of everyone ranging from the mullahs, jihadis, feudal lords, and politicians all the way to paranoid husbands, office colleagues and one’s own grandparents, it is a revolutionary act to advocate and work for the complete separation of religion and politics. It is a revolutionary act to decide to hold back one’s emotions and refuse to jump on bandwagons driven by so-called “forces of justice” most of whom are the Machiavellian back-bone of various disparaging reactionary manoeuvres.”
Getting no more than puzzled silence from her, I continued: “It is a revolutionary act deciding not to chase herds followed by television cameras and excitable reporters who fall just short of joining in all the sloganeering instead of merely reporting!”
“Nice speech,” she finally responded. “So is that what you think my generation is doing … following a mob?”
“A privileged mob, mind you.” I replied.
“So,” my cousin sighed. “You’ve decided to support Musharraf instead?”
“Absolutely not!” I protested. “I will still vote for the party I have voted for since 1988.”
“The Pakistan People’s Party, right?”
“Yes, you can say that,” I confessed. “And maybe even the MQM.”
“You know,” said my cousin, rolling her eyes, “You used to be fun.”
“Fun? Why should I be fun when I can have fun watching a tremendous black comedy unfolding on my television screen?”
“Oh, so now you’re also against the freedom of the media?” My cousin groaned.
I laughed: “You really believe all this extensive coverage about the CJP rallies and the Lawyers Movement has a noble motive on the part of the media?”
She was to the point: “Yes!”
“This coverage is simply about the channels being driven by market forces. Market forces now populated by a bludgeoning urban middle-class with the ever growing powers of consumption. It is these middle-classes who seem to be the most excited about this event. So how can the media ignore an event that is so dear to an important section of the market? Believe me the so-called masses have nothing to do with this tamaashaa!”
“That’s just your point of view,” my cousin shot back.
“It sure is,” said I. “But it is a point of view constructed after talking to my plumber, my neighbour’s driver and my cigarette wallah. Had I just been talking to people of my own class, most probably I too would have been shouting slogans at that CJP rally!”
“Is this what happens to revolutionaries?” My cousin asked. “Do they eventually become cynical like you?”
“Not cynical,” I said. “Most of them just stop becoming disposable fodder for scrupulous ideologues; or worse, mere entertainment and FUN for a bored generation.”
Disappointed, my cousin took leave. The next morning she SMSed me saying she finally did go to the rally. I asked her how the experience was.
She was to the point: “It was fun!”
Well, my point too. And as the Supreme Court and other courts (‘liberated’ by that glorious Lawyers Movement’) today obsess about Prime Ministers not writing a letter; or TV channels telecasting ‘obscene’ shows; or parliamentarians changing the ‘Islamic’ clauses of the constitution; or why the police are holding known terrorists ‘without evidence’, the point is, it is still ‘fun.’
Like grown-ups playing a fantasy game called Justicetopia – a game for which one has to let go of a boring impediment called reality. And actual justice.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com