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The Death of Discourse in Pakistan



By Fahd Husain

November 6, 2014

Winter has returned like a delicious ache. But our senses are dulled to tragedy as we float in a comforting sea of self-delusion. For what else would you call the discourse that defines our national priorities? It is a discourse devoid of substance, lacking in conviction and completely bereft of any moral centre.

Connect the dots. Two Pakistanis are lynched by a mob, beaten, savaged and burnt to death. Procedural silence bellows in the official echo chamber. Then, as always, it fizzles into nothingness. Is the nation aghast? Is the populace outraged? Is the officialdom shamed? Ha!

Connect the dots. Pakistan now boasts 80 per cent of all polio cases in the world. That is a record generations should not be able to live down. Finally, the prime minister calls a meeting to declare valiantly that polio will be eradicated from Pakistan. Really? Woken up Mr Prime Minister? Is the nation aghast? Is the populace outraged? Is the officialdom shamed? Ha!

Connect the dots. Death is feeding on the infants of Thar. The desert is bleeding humanity. The rulers in Karachi still sleep like babies, and smile like them too when looking into the cameras. Life is cheap in Thar. Death is cheaper. Is the nation aghast? Is the populace outraged? Is the officialdom shamed? Ha!

The dots all lead to a singularity: We the people have stopped caring.

Yes, in this day and age, when the media reigns supreme and transparency in affairs of the state is said to be increasing by the day — in this day and age, the debate, the discussion, the discourse we have, it reeks of hypocrisy. It reeks of superficiality. It reeks of dishonesty. It reeks of fear.

Such a discourse whirls around our minds like a vicious cyclone — damaging independent thought and sucking out all originality and morality from the population. Left behind is the debris of shattered convictions and battered beliefs.

Complicated? Not if you think about what you actually think about. As a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, do you still have a moral centre? Can you still distinguish between wrong and right? Are you still capable of getting angry and outraged for all the right reasons? Do you actually believe in anything anymore? And do you have any conviction? A conviction that holds together your entire personal universe; that forms the inner most core of who you are; and that can never ever, ever be compromised. Do you have this conviction? First, we had no national discourse. Then we suddenly had it coming out of our eyes and ears. And now, it seems, we have bludgeoned it into total submission. What you hear, what you see and what you read; most of it does not come from the heart. The media shapes discourse; but what shapes the media. Conviction? A moral centre? A sense of right triumphing over wrong?

Television simplifies complicated stuff. That’s how the medium works. Television also abhors dull and tedious content. That’s how it works. In fact, television is driven by what people want to see or hear not what they should see or hear. The two are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes they are. So TV takes the shortcut. Naturally then, the content is dumbed down. That’s how TV works. The medium plays on its strength — its reach — and leaves alone its weakness — its total lack of depth.

So you the viewer are bombarded with news and views. But this news and these views are tailored to appeal to the least common denominator — that should ideally translate into maximum eyeballs. But that’s not all. Often, this news and these views are tailored to reflect the thinking of various stakeholders. The airwaves then become a virtual bazaar where different merchants sell their wares for profit — monetary or otherwise. There is a deluge of opinion, but a shortage of conviction. Why? Because conviction may not sell. Narrow agendas may, but not conviction that goes against the conveniently conventional wisdom. Connect the dots. There will be a deafening silence on the lynching of two Christians; but a veritable shout-fest over some bruised political egos. It’s fickle, and superficial, and hypocritical. Yes, that’s our national discourse.

And the damage is immense. An entire generation is growing fat on a diet of fast food content. This content buries harsh truths and bitter realities under the soft, fluffy layer of the convenient and popular truth. Like sweeping dust under the carpet, we expertly shovel harsh truths under this layer so we do not have to face up to them. Slowly and gradually, our collective belief system begins to mirror this convenient truth that often smells of lies.

And here’s a brittle fact for you. In a nation of 180 million, there are a few hundred people who participate in this discourse. These thought-commanders comprise media-people, politicians, analysts, columnists and retired officials, who still get to have their voice heard. Content is then bounced between these people like a shuttlecock. The parameters of the national discourse are as narrow or as wide as the circumference of this group. They constitute the echo-chamber of a national thinking that shapes policy, crafts a narrative and establishes the national agenda. And this is the core of our problem. It is the core because the discourse and debate bouncing within this circle is influenced by partisanship, personal agendas, groupthink, political and cultural conformism — and fear. All kinds of fear.

The result is a national drift. Such a drift is a natural consequence of a lack of conviction by all key people, and especially the leader. When convenience replaces conviction, rulers stay silent on lynching of minorities. They betray an utter lack of a moral centre. They betray the absolute and sheer absence of a political spine. And their silence and inaction expose their inability to visualise a future where Pakistan would be a multiethnic, multicultural, pluralistic, progressive and dynamic nation at ease with itself and the world at large. These rulers are unable to visualise a Pakistan that would be known not for its conformism, convenience and cowardice — but for its confidence, conviction and courage. That’s a Pakistan I dream of. Do you?

Fahd Husain is Executive Director News, Express News