- What makes the people and politics of the USA and Pakistan so similar?
US politics these last few years and very much so the past few days has been all too familiar for us in Pakistan: the violence, the riots, the killings, the police atrocities, irrational attitudes, and the racism. And now, the President’s baseless and unpleasant allegations of fraud (election results as of writing this have not yet been finalized). We in Pakistan are familiar with it all, familiar with the overstatements, with the partisanship, the lies and histrionics, as well as with leaders digging in their heels and refusing to leave. Having said which, Mr. Zardari’s exit after losing elections all those years ago was a notable exception for us, an unexpected performance, uncharacteristic and dignified. Mr. Trump could learn something from it. Perhaps Mr. Zardari should write a book: How to Leave Office for Dummies.
What makes the people and politics of the USA and Pakistan so similar? It is like discovering a twin separated at birth. We are after all two very disparate cultures with regards to religion, customs, history, political framework, with a great difference between our financial capacities. The USA is the 11th richest country in the world, according to its GDP, while Pakistan ranks at 138th. As for literacy, it seems the USA is about 99 percent literate with no disparity between male and female literacy, while Pakistan’s literacy rate in the 15-plus age group three years ago stood at about 74.5 percent with male literacy at 81.3 percent and female at 67.5. There’s a fire-breathing dragon right there, nestled in those figures.
Why, if the USA is so much more literate than we are, do our people’s minds work so similarly? Why are the religious zealots in both countries as extreme, the common man as misinformed and as easily taken for a ride?
It is when all these things are addressed, when education right from the start encourages people to think outside the box, when rational steps are taken to make life easier for the masses so they have the leisure to do other than work, that people get into the habit of thinking
Neither country possesses a thriving democracy. Few in either country possess education which, mind you, is distinct from literacy. Few in either place it seems, judging from recent events, are taught values such as tolerance, fairness, work ethics, a disinclination towards greed, and a distaste for violence.
It implies a similarity between our education, the sort that encourages an interest in reading and learning, as well as our values which are mostly a product of tarbiyat (upbringing). It also illustrates the difference between literacy and education.
Values have little to do with finances. An example is Allama Muhammad Iqbal, a great poet and philosopher whose father was a humble tailor without formal education. His mother too was uneducated but she was known to be wise, generous and charitable. Yet they were far sighted. Iqbal graduated from Government College in Lahore, then went on to Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn as a lawyer. The products of his intellect and his values are known to us all and require no introduction.
If the most basic aim of life is to exist, the ultimate is to exist rationally and with kindness, to try and understand the meaning of life while helping others to do the same. Education and values enable one to reach the ultimate whereas literacy is but the basic rung, the first step towards climbing up if you choose to do so.
It is the habit of reading born of real education that makes a person choose to climb further.
Reading– which presumes something other than of the Mills and Boons genre– is like an extendable cobweb brush. It helps you reach otherwise unreachable areas, to become aware of ideas other than those that exist around you. It helps you to examine and evaluate those ideas and come to conclusions, perhaps different ones to those that may be generally accepted in your society. No, there is nothing wrong with that. The general public– that phrase sounds rather snobbish but isn’t meant to be– is not wont to read, nor is it exposed to much of the world outside. An obvious reason is the pace of life, the basic struggle to exist that keeps most people from thinking beyond their livelihood, and from travelling. Also the fact that reading may not a common pursuit in the home they grew up in. Most schools do not lay much stress on further reading. They definitely do not in Pakistan, although they should. Instead the powers-that-be outright discourage people from thinking, as evidenced by the liberal implementation of bans and censorship.
Ghamidi sahib put it best when he said that we desperately need to learn the rules of disagreement and debate, learn to listen, reason, evaluate and research. We need to inculcate toleration, and to think before we speak. Less need for U-turns then, aside from other advantages.
When all these things born of real education become a way of life, is when politicians will be unable to lead large ignorant segments of the population by the nose like horses.
The reason Mr Trump has so many supporters is that he is able to say whatever he likes and his supporters are unlikely to verify his statements. The reason our government is able to take credit for the low numbers of covid in Pakistan for example is because no one checks, because they are too busy trying to plain stay alive. While the police and public by and large fail to wear masks, despite it being a mandatory requirement in Pakistan these days, we still hear that the government did a great job in keeping covid under control.
The reason both societies are so prone to riots and violence is that our people are not used to reasoning, neither are our governments prone to listening.
The USA, probably alone among the western countries, does not stress social welfare. It lacks affordable health care for its people, and has a poor support system for those without jobs. So much like us. And the police in that country is prey to the same faults as ours.
It is when all these things are addressed, when education right from the start encourages people to think outside the box, when rational steps are taken to make life easier for the masses so they have the leisure to do other than work, that people get into the habit of thinking.
The question is: does a wiser, less gullible, public suit those who govern? Will you answer that or should I?