By Maria Sartaj
An old man hollered while flipping through news channels, “Forget about Turkey, Lekin Pakistan Mein Toh, Masha Allah, Lagna Chahiye,” (But in Pakistan, Masha Allah, it should be imposed). I am certain that he meant martial law, but I’m also pretty sure that many common Pakistanis would breathe a sigh of relief, and exclaim Subhan Allah (glory be to God) if an army take-over happens in the near future. Perhaps that is why the coup attempt in Turkey was so passionately discussed here. Many citizens have always, secretly or openly, preferred a military dictatorship over Pakistani-styled democracy, one that is forever riddled with corruption, inflation and lethargic bureaucracy. And in Pakistan, people steadfastly hold on to their ideology, hardly exploring other avenues, and that is just how it goes for most people.
Labelling someone a mullah (religious scholar) is a tactic to denigrate that intellectuals have long indulged in. I too have an aversion to extreme right-wingers linking everything to religion, and thereby suffocating most discourses, but lately I have noticed how equally adamant and unrelenting Pakistani liberals can be in their egoistic fight with the political right. In the end, it is the country that is losing its steam to hold any constructive dialogue; the underbelly of Pakistan has clear demarcated lines, its “libtards” against its mullahs, libtard being the name given to leftists by their online haters.
So, is Pakistan facing an internal class war, with its upper crust wanting to steer it one way, and those with religion as their only asset refusing to step out of their comfort zone? And how open-minded are these Desi (local) liberals anyway, the ones who champion the cause of human rights and freedom? There isn’t a simple answer to these questions, but now more than ever, a certain section of society needs to step up and be more vocal. The centrists or the moderate-minded folks, who have been meticulously blending Deen (religion) and Dunya (world), in whatever proportions in their lives, need to be seen and heard. In this battle of extremists, the pseudo-liberal versus the in-your-face-Muslim, someone needs to bring in a sense of balance.
Last week, we saw many liberal journalists push their career agendas to the west by using Qandeel Baloch’s murder as a stepping-stone. This is no commentary on the gruesome murder of the social media sensation but on the nature of the attitude adopted towards her by those with the power of the pen and readership. Qandeel was regularly mocked by many esteemed columnists and analysts on their social media pages; perhaps it was her poor English or her wannabe dance moves that made them look down on her condescendingly. Upon her death, the same writers changed colours like a chameleon, and wrote loving obituaries for Qandeel, analysing her every move as a feminist stride toward freedom for women by using terminology that would be easily decoded by their western readers. In essence, almost every column on Baloch ended up having similar content and professional motive: it was devoid of genuine feelings for this victim of honour killing. Suddenly, they all seem to have understood Qandeel because the world is watching us.
There is no denying that Pakistan is in a shambles, morally and socially, but embellishing its destruction and presenting it self-righteously to an international audience is a bit of an insincere act. Pakistan is a newsworthy nation at the moment; it is mainly the terrible news from the country that attracts eyeballs from overseas, and local English publications have been consistently pandering to this narrative on their websites.
Another area where the liberals seem to unite is in their immense dislike for Imran Khan. The man just has to breathe for them to start rolling their eyes. They pick on him mostly for his good-Taliban-bad-Taliban narrative, but deny him any appreciation even when he earns it. It seems like every problem that Pakistan has faced in the last 68 years is thanks to Khan and his policies. The die-hard critics of Khan, very often, turn a blind eye toward the misdeeds of other political parties and their leaders.
In the recent past we have all participated in a lot of mullah-bashing, and have come to a consensus that the mind can often become a polluted and rigid place of functioning when exposed to only one type of thinking. Why shouldn’t the same rules be applicable to the left-leaning people? A lot of these headstrong liberals appear to be out of touch with the pulse of their people, and lost in bookish western concepts.
So why not drop these old and jaded left, right, centre political affiliation tags? What Pakistan desperately needs is more independent thinkers. Forthcoming people who will usher in new ideas and negotiate better roles between faith, culture and free will. Pakistan needs people who are not too chauvinistic in their political ideology, and have the courage to call a spade a spade, even if they spot it in their own domain. For now it is radicalism on both ends. The only difference being that one side speaks and works in English, hence earning more brownie points, oops, Gora (white) points for themselves.
Maria Sartaj is a freelance columnist with a degree in Cultural Studies and a passion for social observation, especially all things South Asian