Contradictions reign supreme – Moral compass malfunction


What do Miley Cyrus and Mumtaz Hussain Qadri have in common? Well, nothing really – except for the fact that theres one particular fellow from Faisalabad who chooses to exhibit his approval for both on Facebook. The man in question works for a software house, was educated at a public university, and apart from Miley Cyrus, enjoys Johnny Depps performance in Pirates of the Caribbean as well as the closer-to-home charm of Katrina Kaifs jawani. At the same time he chooses to display his recognition of Islam as dA bEsT rEligIoN iN dA wUrlD, reaffirmed further with the quote a good Muslim is a good citizen.

It appears from this data that said person has divided his world into two compartments. In one section, there is public acceptance, (or dare I say vocal admiration), of consumable modernity in all its glorious pop culture manifestations. The other section is his ideational realm, which is well stocked with ritualistic exhumations of religious fervor. These two compartments co-exist in a complex, contradiction-ridden relationship – made possible only due to the crass distinction that urban Pakistani society creates between the material realm and the realm of ideas.

The fellow under the microscope was not directly responsible for Salmaan Taseers brutal assassination. In fact, he belongs to the urban educated class – a class that has more often than not taken immense amounts of pride in its apolitical, modern worldview. But calling a spade a spade here, tacit approval, of the murder or vocal support for a murderer and by consequence of an unjust and inhumane law is not too different from the act of pulling the trigger itself. It also shows that the class basic sociology likes to refer to as the paragon of moderation in society, is now hardly moderate.

The trouble for Pakistan is that despite its size, the insistence on its apolitical tag, and its avowed distancing from mainstream politics, this class wields a considerable amount of power in terms of its contribution to public narratives, and subsequently to our societys moral compass. History has taught us that middle classes set the agenda for what passes as discourse in any society. They also provide the breeding ground for a countrys intelligentsia, a group that would eventually control instruments like universities, newspapers, and most importantly, TV channels.

Seeing the kind of reaction that the mainstream media, barring a few notable exceptions, took on Taseers stand on the blasphemy laws issue, it appears that this hypothesis stands true for Pakistan as well. There was a time when the situation was less bleak. There was a time when our mainstream intelligentsia was progressive, critical, and most importantly self-reflective, and engaging all at the same time. There was a time when our popular literature was socially conscious and aware of Pakistans material reality. All this has changed because of both, the deliberate enforcement of political expediency over progressive ideals in mainstream political parties and civil society, and the categorisation of universities as a place to impart tools of obtaining material success for our middle classes.

As a consequence, social praxis is dogged by contradictions, dichotomous realities, bigotry, and worst of all, a complete belief in polemics that are rarely questioned or examined in any depth. It is hard to put a definitive percentage on how much the vacuuming of ideational space was done by the state and how much was it a product of people just backing down themselves. But such statistics, while giving another reason to curse and vent at one particular former ruler, stand largely irrelevant in Pakistan today. We are living in an era where hate-filled opinion doesnt even need to preach and run after volunteers. We live in a time when the discourse space of our intelligentsia has become so insulated, that just the thought of breaching these barriers is daunting.

In the self-reflection that has followed Taseers assassination, the liberal and progressive community has become more aware of both its withdrawn existence, as well as the lack of resonation its ideas have with the rest of the country. There is a combination of class-based and linguistic factors that contribute to cocoon-like behavior, but if there was ever a time and a need for reaching out and taking change inducing steps, it is now.

All policy prescriptions aside, space in universities and colleges needs to be carved up to debate questions of national identity, of theological reasoning, and of political and social ideals. The state has proven its expediency time and time again. Political parties, the PPP included, have proven their expediency on every occasion too. To lobby and vest faith in those who are responsible for this mess in the first place is futile, and hence social engagement needs to start beyond mainstream power brokers. That is the primary task we are faced with today, and success in it is the only way to re-introduce socially conscious moderation on our compass of public morality.

The writer denounces all unjust laws and preaches to the choir at Write to him at [email protected]