A society at war with itself
The professional Muslim Ulema of Pakistan have influenced our thinking so much that we see everything in religious terms. We keep a keen record of “atrocities against Muslims” but we ignore the enemy within who hides behind Islam. Earlier, we used to see two centres of evil: India and Israel but with time they have increased to include America and Europe. Iran is rapidly moving away because of our growing sectarianism and it is hard to name any real friend – Saudi Arabia and China are our ‘friends’ only in the sense that they are not enemies. They have excellent relations with our enemies and do not support us in our disputes with India and America, or in our red-hot anger against Israel.
We strongly believe that in our 65 years of national life, we have been attacked five times by India, once by Russia, that we are “spiritually” fighting America for the last 12 years, that we fought our East Wing and lost it because of Indian aggression which the world supported because of the bias established by Indian propaganda. We believe that we were always on the right side, that we were persecuted.
It was always hard for us to ask: are we really so innocent and so persecuted? Why does the world hate us? All these 65 years we have been teaching our students that one billion Hindus hate us because they are bigoted and jealous of our merit. It has been considered unpatriotic to ask why we failed to befriend them in 700 years.
War is a tragedy but we refuse to see that a society at war with itself is an abomination. We love to talk of “we”, but we are “we” only in hate against “others”; when it comes to sacrifice or service, everyone is an individual.
War is a tragedy because it tries to achieve an objective through use of force and destruction. Even when it ends in one’s victory, it does not end; it sows the seeds of future wars because those who are vanquished and disgraced never forget the wounds of defeat. Their collective memory passes to posterity generation after generation and nourishes the desire to avenge. Our subcontinent remained in a state of war for centuries between the Muslims kings and a resisting India. A narrow class of Muslim victors in India won prosperity and power but the large Indian population suffered the tragedy of defeat and suffering for all these centuries, while Muslim masses had no share of victory except vain pride and widespread ignorance. This history of war has left an aching scar on both sides of our people. It is partially, if not wholly, responsible for the lingering misery of our masses on both sides. Although for several reasons we in Pakistan refuse to see, the fact is that India started its recovery only after 1947, Bangladesh only after 1971 while we have yet to start.
As a result of this war, Muslims remained a medieval-minded crowd for centuries, taking pride in their ability to wield the sword, until the Aligarh University movement of modern learning started some change. But we, in Pakistan, never questioned our Civilizational Narcissism which keeps breeding new tragedies of paranoia and chaos. The legacy of centuries of war never leaves us. Both the nations have spent, since 1947, trillions annually on meaninglessly large armies and arms-building, keeping their masses in misery, stupor and barren hate. The total resources spent by both amount to a sum that could have brought us to modern European levels of life and learning, had we spent them productively.
War is a tragedy but a society at war with itself and everything around, with no objective and no remorse is more than a tragedy; it is a total disaster. Our society with its special mindset is at war with itself and the world, with other religions and its own religious diversity. It is in a state of schizophrenia passing into paranoia. The roots of this mindset lie in our narcissism, in our self image of righteousness. We do not take criticism and never feel sorry for our wrongs. A semi-educated boy can start yelling at you if you point out a mistake.
It is a depressing state of affairs. Many sensitive patriots have lost all hope that health can be restored. Ever since 1947, the nation has been moving down the slope. Each period has left us more frustrated and hopeless. Every time we discover that standards have fallen further. But that is not how human societies should move in this age of immense opportunity.
It is right to reject what was wrong in the past but it is not right to predict that the wrong will continue forever. Admitted that it is our special ability as humans that we conduct mass destruction; this special ability is a tragic aspect of our mind but that same mind is capable of science, wisdom, tolerance and inclusiveness. We can perhaps halt destruction by practicing and preaching critical thinking with humility. Human societies all around us are growing and developing. Why can’t our land of disaster outgrow its roots? And do we have an option other than trying?
Listen to this in Urdu
The author is a renowned Pakistani intellectual. His urdu books Tehzeebi Nargisyat and Mubaalghe, Mughaalte are widely regarded as the revival of critical thinking and free inquiry in Urdu non-fiction.
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