By Zaitoon Malik
January 01, 2015
The Oxford dictionary defines fascism as “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization”. It is a system the world has put measures against since the end of WWII. There are laws that keep it at bay, such as making it illegal to deny the holocaust, of the countries that ban genocide denial, a number were perpetrators themselves.
In this post, I will put forward arguments to prove that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is in fact a fascist state. The argument is twofold; one argument will use Dr. Lawrence Britt’s ‘14 basic characteristic of a fascist regime’ and the other will draw comparisons from George Orwell’s fascist totalitarian state of Oceania from ‘1984’.
Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each. I will show how each is relevant to Pakistan:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
National anthem (in a language no one from the current generation understands today) in school every day during assembly; claiming the creation of this great land was predicted ages ago and in the Quran; claiming manifest destiny and preaching these in school textbooks.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
What we did in Bangladesh was nothing short of genocide – something we still refuse to recognise. And are we allowed to discuss or even label the ongoing genocide in Balochistan? Genocides carried out by our own state. Our constitution persecutes the country’s inhabitants by taking away their right to call themselves Muslims. When one applies for a Pakistani passport, one is made to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. 65 years after its inception did Pakistan introduce marriage registration bill for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
If you are an average Pakistani, you have blamed some other more powerful and more cunning, more well-funded foreign hand for the problems this country has faced; Yahoodis, Amreeki, Hindu, Indian, RAW, Mossad, CIA, FBI, Pakhtoon, Baloch. If it isn't a Punjabi Sunni man, you’ve blamed it.
4. Supremacy of the Military
Pakistan’s great military received 30% of the country’s total budget for the year 2014 - over 10 times that of health and education. We are also drilled with the brave acts of our soldier in our school textbooks but never read of a civilian act of bravery. We are to believe without any citation that ours is the best army in the world. Questioning their meddling in the country’s politics is unthinkable. It also reports to no one; Bangladesh and Balochistan being grand examples.
If bin Laden lived less than a kilometre away from cantonment, he simply never existed. And everything is a conspiracy to malign our great nation.
Even if that notion is accepted, why is Abdul Aziz’s madrasa so close to ISI headquarters? How is LeJ allowed to be active in the capital of a province so completely under the control of the army that permission wasn't even asked from the parliament to carry out the Mashkay Operation?
Anyone speaking against the armed forces is quickly labelled a traitor. Even Fatima Jinnah. Regardless of political affiliations, elections and all that, every Pakistani knows deep down, due to some sense of a looming coup around any corner maybe, or due to all the drilling and glorifications in our textbooks, we know boots run this country.
5. Rampant Sexism
I feel lethargic writing an argument for this, because it is brought home to me every day that women, despite giving birth to all of us, are at the bottom of the food chain in this dump. But alright, according to Human Rights Watch, 70 to 90 percent of women and girls have suffered “some sort of abuse”. Mind you, many girls I know don't even recognise abuse. That is how ingrained sexism and misogyny are.
6. Controlled Mass Media
I am somewhat proud of how free our media really is, especially print. But then I think, a bought and/or biased media isn't really a free one. You don't switch channels here, you switch agendas. I have never heard of any channel’s multiple political talk shows questioning the boots that rule. There was also a certain Saleem Shahzad. The news that needs to get to us, never does. We are kept busy with concerts in the capital and petty propaganda.
7. Obsession with National Security
Tell me when was the last time the nation was not concerned with others trying to rob it of its glory and an even more glorious destination. We are all told India will take over the day the army’s budget is lowered, and Hameed Gul’s “9/11 Bahana, Afghanistan Thikana, Pakistan Nishana” is oft repeated with fervour. All to give the military complete legitimacy and power. Fear is the most important tool of propaganda, be it politics, terrorism or religion.
8. Religion and Government Are Intertwined
Let me remind you once again of the poor Ahmadis whose own constitution takes away their rights to self-determination. Our law is stained with religion; the blasphemy law, the president and prime minister are required to be Muslim. Article 227 states that all laws must be in accordance with Islam. Our prime minister and dictators have also been labelled “Ameer-ul-momineen”. Religion and government aren’t intertwined, religion is government here.
9. Corporate Power Is Protected
“The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite” Malik Riaz, Mian Mansha, Jahangir Tareen also only the richest of this country have ever managed to penetrate political and powerful circles e.g. Sharif, Bhutto, Niazi, Leghari, etc.
10. Labour Power Is Suppressed
Labour laws in Pakistan are alright. But the labour class has next to no dignity and no power. Since forever, it has been exploited by feudal lords. Child labour is also a serious issue that is rooted in our system. Our maids, drivers, butlers are rarely given respect and are largely looked upon as sub-humans and not worthy of even sitting next to.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and Arts
The dean of Karachi University Islamic Studies was killed this year. I wonder if justice was even sought. Abdus Salam, our Nobel laureate, died in self-exile. Anyone trying to introduce something even slightly different from the norm is silenced and ostracised, and those that stand up amidst great odds are persecuted, for example Iqbal Masih and Malala Yousafzai.
Let us not forget we disowned Manto, we put Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Ahmed Faraz in jail. There have been multiple fatwas on poets, writers, actresses and actors. Anyone related to the entertainment industry, or the arts, was and is still to a smaller extent considered up for sale; especially the women.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Scores are charged in anti-terrorism courts when they are barely related. “Traitors” are silenced. The establishment defines crime and the establishment punishes. These punishments are carried out within days as opposed to us poor civilians who spend years wasting away in courts.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Must I elaborate on this one? To sum it up, politics (keeping in mind the military is the most powerful and popular political party in the country) in Pakistan is a network of people one way or the other related to each other. And they are all a separate breed from us civilians.
14. Fraudulent Elections
Zia’s referendum. Musharraf’s referendum and 2002 elections. Elections here, I believe, are either complete shams or are manipulated. Both result in ceremonial figure heads with boots on. The best part about our brand of fascism is that there is an entire ruling apparatus for us to view and look towards, the one we view as the government; responsible for ruling and taking action.
Now moving on to Orwell.
Orwell wrote this great book called ‘1984’ in which he predicted the future of 1984’s England as a dystopian, totalitarian and fascist super state of Oceania. I found some striking similarities to present day Pakistan:
Double-think: An important tool of Oceania’s government is double-think: an act of ordinary people accepting two conflicting beliefs. Pakistanis do this when labelling foreign conspiracy i.e. Taliban is RAW. But Imran Khan said they are our “misunderstood brothers” and the Maulvi Abdul Aziz at the mosque supported them. So are Imran Khan and Abdul Aziz also RAW? Of course not they are our saviours and bringers of change.
1. Double-speak: A similar act to double-think, Pakistanis engage in this by coming up with things like “liberal fascists” and “Islamic republic”.
2. “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”: Remember when the Taliban were our little cubs? Or when Pakistan was a buffer against Soviet influence and was America’s BFF? Or when Musharraf called the Taliban his “strategic reserve and I can unleash them in tens of thousands against India when I want”? This was only in 1999. Remember when Pakistan was responsible for the civil war in Afghanistan? When we celebrated atrocities committed by the Taliban?
3. “A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as permanent war”: I think this is the one we’re living. We must remain always at war to not let others take over in order to attain peace.
5. “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves”: Another of the threats of Oceania’s government. This has also happened, no need to be surprised, a lot of us have been cold-shouldered by our families for speaking against the norm of the system well-liked by them. Imran Khan’s Dharna took over Eid-ul-Adha this year. We have left friends because they did not support the same “leader”/dictator or did not like the military. It is all about them.
Those were my arguments and I do strongly believe that Pakistan is a fascist state. It might not be the same for everyone, as a lot of people reading this will be from privileged houses and/or will have never faced maltreatment at the behest of the system.
The fact of the matter is: Pakistan is guilty of genocides, of unrest and terrorism not only in its own land but in neighbouring India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. And it is high time we owned up to it, recognised the terribleness of ourselves, and made it criminal to deny our state’s shortcomings and brutalities.
We must start making it criminal to deny our own genocides. Make it criminal to be a Taliban apologist, ostracise and hold accountable anyone who does not outright call their entire cause terrorism and differentiates between “good” and bad Taliban. We, the privileged, the ones not Shia, Baloch, Pakhtoon, Hazara, Hindu, Ahmadi must begin punishing ourselves and begin penance for all the persecution we have let happen to our brothers and sisters not as fortunate. We must make it criminal to tolerate intolerance.
But obviously, the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it. Something very, very vital yet something that is not happening any time soon. The pain that comes with challenging notions that you have been indoctrinated with and the culture dominant in this country of not tolerating a difference of opinion and labelling anyone questioning the military a “traitor” – this is what fascism here thrives upon.
We must make space for nuance if we are to move on as a nation, this is the only way to beat the system.
Zaitoon Malik is a student, who's a feminist observing and providing critique on culture and politics. She has a keen interest in history.