By Marvi Sirmed
June 09, 2015
When a populace is generally kept in the dark about the choices a state makes and is regularly and abundantly provided with heavy doses of religiosity and xenophobic nationalism over the course of decades, it becomes easier – almost effortless – for the state to manufacture a public opinion of its own choice on anything under the sun. This manufactured public opinion can be built around issues having little relevance to the lives of the ‘public’ that demonstrates that opinion for the sole advantage of the state. We have several examples of it. The most recent being the Memogate saga.
A favourable public opinion is critical for a state for the purpose of governing successfully. Shakespeare called it the ‘Mistress of Success’ as quoted by Hans Speier, the American sociologist of German origin, in his 1950 paper. For John Locke the law of public opinion and reputation was the superior most of his three basic laws to which humans are subjected to. The other two were the divine law and the civil law.
So, there are some policy objectives that need to be met and there are different ways to get to those superior national goals. If a state has a national goal of fighting the war of its dominance or of equality with much more formidable and bigger neighbours, it would make use of various tactics available at hand. In our case, the state in all its wisdom thought it far better strategy to partially outsource its defence and completely subcontract all efforts to meet its quest for regional balance of power. States normally have no qualms using its own people having a social contract with it (that in our case is hardly honoured anyway) but no formal contract for carrying our defence or security responsibilities.
Where would these people come from and why would they agree to give in all their basic rights of dignified life, education, health and other rightful amenities the state is bound to provide? Above all, why would they be ready to put their and their families’ lives at risk? That can happen only if they are bound by the faith and the ideology – a certain ideology that goes in harmony with the faith. And how would that become possible? Here comes Shakespeare’s Mistress of Success and Pascal’s Queen of the World – the public opinion!
And how would the public opinion be built? Of course with various weapons at hand. This is not 16th century England where coffee houses were the only forums for building opinion. We have media and mosque at our disposal. Mix it with the education system and we would get an excellent ripe crop ready in just a decade. Do it for five to six consecutive decades and there would hardly remain any irritant dissenting segments in the society.
So we have media. We have mosque. We have schools, colleges and universities. Looking at how the youngsters from political parties proved useful in the Pakistan Movement and then in the movement against Ahmadis, the movement against Ayub Khan, and then the Nizam-e-Mustafa Movement, it was but logical to establish or patronise such political parties that could provide effective forums for building certain public opinion, but also the ‘manpower’ that could demonstrate that opinion whenever it might be important to do so.
Not to forget an important institution that would be extremely valuable in not only providing that ‘manpower’ for making a show of a particular ‘public opinion’, but would also produce crop after crop of foot soldiers to conduct the battles outsourced to them from time to time. The Madrasas. And thus we saw a focus on Madrasas in 1980s, which took sudden upward surge during the reign of ‘enlightened moderation’ of General Pervez Musharraf in 2000s.
Those who are acting surprised on how Saad Aziz suddenly emerged from the so-called ‘modern’ educational institutions, are conveniently forgetting how systematically all kinds of educational institutions have been the recipients of continued ideological doses since 1980s. How Jama’at-e-Islami remained the only political entity to run its student wing (Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba) in college and university campuses. Within few years yesterday’s students became today’s teachers, doctors, engineers, journalists, businessmen, traders, journalists, intellectuals, writers, politicians, policemen, recruits of armed forces, etc. Fast forward three decades and you have several generations of people dominating practically all walks of life with their particular ideology.
It’s the same ideology that ended up making Dr. Munawwar Hassan, the head of long favoured Jama’at-e-Islami, say radical things against Pakistan Army. It’s the same ideology that is at play when religious organisations gathered thousands against the military government when the latter took action against Lal Masjid, a mosque cum den of militants as it proved in 2007 when armed resistance was offered by its inmates against Pakistan Army. It is at play when former army generals, leaders of religious parties, members of banned outfits and even proclaimed offenders get together and form a Difa-e-Pakistan Council that calls out all those the state considers its enemies, whenever the need be.
It is at play when Ahmadis and Shia Muslims are killed with impunity and the perpetrators not only roam free but also get unlimited space to propagate their narrative. It is at play when thousands of Madrassa students are amassed in federal capital on one call of Hafiz Saeed, the head of the banned terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The same strategy is at play when this head of terrorist organisation is to be re-constructed as messiah and is provided with open playing field to work on humanitarian causes. A positive public opinion is built around a terrorist’s humanitarian face and his xenophobic narrative is constructed in public mind as his sacred love for the country. It is at play when men and women from tribal areas are kept devoid of education, exposure, opportunities, rule of law and even the day-to-day governance, so their generations could be used as fodder for a state’s ambitions.
It is at play when media houses are made to vie for being most ‘patriotic’, while the term is defined strictly by how much one toes the policies of one certain institution of the state. It is at play when no inclusive thought is allowed in academic curricula. Whenever there is one, the entire crop that we sowed from Madrasas and other institutions referred above, is moved into action in order to make a strong statement of ‘public opinion’ to reject and shun any such thought. Inclusivity is the enemy in such a state. Pluralism is dangerous for the goals set by such a state. Freedom of thought and of expression is poisonous for it. Dissent is lethal. A populace having power of reason and of analytical thought is disastrous for such a state. Media, the pulpit of the mosque, the seat of learning in the Madrasa, the lecture theatres in colleges and universities, the political alliances created for the sole purpose of ‘difa-e-Pakistan’ – the defence of Pakistan – all become weapons of mass instruction.
No amount of ‘commitment’ shown by the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff in their speeches for eradicating terrorism is going to help in countering this menace if these weapons are not transformed into avenues of building a cohesive, pluralistic, inclusive and secular national discourse.
Marvi Sirmed is an Islamabad based freelance columnist. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter