The liberal truth vs the established tradition

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Post-colonial societies look at themselves through the eyes of their colonisers. Looking at oneself through the eyes of the other, is one of the worst ways to live. It is a sign of unending discontent, and eternal confusion. Some consider it progress, while others believe it is retrogressive. But this love and hate relationship has one thing in common, it revolves around the nostalgic pains and pleasures of the past. Men and women, groups and societies, living in this constant void, remain immature children for eternity.

Pakistan is no exception to the rule. Emulating British values, by accepting or criticising them, keeps us within the same orbit of blindness forever. We either appreciate the West or are we try to negate it through our actions. Independence from the Raj ensured our freedom as a geographic entity, but it never gave us the positive patterns for progress. The problem is pervasive among the educated class of Pakistan, but it has also gotten into the uneducated masses of the country through education, the system of governance, and the media. The emergence of social media has aggravated the problem due to the rise of citizen journalism.

Borrowed patterns of self-assurance are never useful in the process of social integration and nation building. Independence does not come through geographical segregation alone. It needs proactive and decisive decision making on the part of the people to achieve an identity. If we look at our actions after Independence there is no genuine thought process in sight that could be seen as the dawn of a nation’s identity. Adjustment of colonial laws into post-colonial Pakistan, the establishment of elections and other state institutions without any change in the education system, are just a couple of examples to show how simplistic our approach to freedom was. Remaining oblivious to the fact that the price of democracy is eternal vigilance, Pakistan never started its move towards a free socio-cultural fabric.

Its media kept a hostile stance towards the power wielders without understanding the nature of power structures. Speaking truth in the face of power is brave, but not knowing where power lies is stupid. This had cost the media dearly within the very first decade of Pakistan’s existence. It focused on the individuals and institutions on a micro level, but never took a full toll of the power structures and its dynamics.

Independence does not come through geographical segregation alone. It needs proactive and decisive decision making on the part of the people to achieve an identity

Being left leaning and progressive was fine, but challenging the cultural fabric in the name of change has given the power structure the much needed excuse to clamp down on media with impunity, while blaming them of being dangerous for the very nationhood of the country. The rebellious outbursts of urban intelligentsia did win individuals and liberal groups a lot of applause from their peers and from international observers. But these small victories ended in the long-term defeat of liberal thought among the masses in Pakistan.

Liberalism, initiated by the left leaning progressives in the country, could not fight the traditionally entrenched powers of status quo. Every passing day weakens the liberal fabric of the country. One can blame it on the conservative conspiracy, but the truth is that the conservatives are not to be blamed alone. The conservative frames always have an appeal in society. It is the new, the unknown, the progressives that need to remain on their toes to develop a space for themselves. Pakistan is no exception. A society suffering from high levels of poverty, inequality, lack of education, health and hazard issues cannot change though speech alone.

Change needed affirmative action. There is a need to get involved in addressing the real problems of the people. Poetry, prose, and fiction is good, but people don’t see anyone coming to them to practice what they preach. This gap between the liberal intelligentsia and the masses has given the power wielders of the country the chance to blame them for all the moral ills of society. Since they were never there to defend themselves through action, the people bound by tradition bound sided with the ruling structure.

The problem with this approach is not simply historical, it is a recurring malaise. Liberal thought without corresponding action in terms of public service will always lose to the ruling classes in the society. We might begin witnessing increasing intolerance towards liberal opinion, if the progressive and positive thinking individuals and groups cannot strategise their effort. Truth is nothing fixed or eternal. All people have their own ways of discovering it. We cannot sit atop the blessed mountain and look down upon people, blaming them for not accepting wisdom. We need to come down, sacrifice our vanity, and speak to the people in the language they understand best. This is the right way to speak truth in the face of power. If this is not possible, it would be better leave the battlefield to those who can fight a better battle.

The writer holds a PhD from the institute of KMW, University of Leipzig, Germany. He has had a long career as a working journalist and trainer. Currently, he is professor of Journalism at the University of Peshawar. He can be reached at altaafkhan@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, October 19th 2017.

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