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The fascist struggle in Pakistan — by Naveed Afridi

We have seen the fusing of religious symbolism in the narrative of modern Pakistan, the worship of the armed forces and promotion of adventurous militarism from TV personalities as well as in charismatic figures like Zaid Hamid. We have seen a new generation of Pakistanis willing to completely write off democracy and democratic ideals. They worship Jinnah in a very narrow, almost religious narrative and are not open to examining history with a critical eye. They openly desire military authoritarianism and the persecution of those who are different. They are looking for a strong and charismatic leader who will lead the charge, as propagandists indoctrinate society by justifying the use of violence, killing and the waging of war (with India) in order to keep the nation strong. They reject ethnic and cultural groups that are not considered a part of the fascists’ nation.

The fascist struggle in Pakistan

While fascism is a complete subject unto itself and requires a textbook to detail its origins and nature in any meaningful and comprehensive fashion, I think it is safe to say that a brief look into its meaning is relevant for the discussion here. While there is no one self-contained definition, it is agreed upon by many that its core features include a belief in an authoritarian nationalist ideology. Organising society as a uniform collective and rejecting individualism, liberalism and progressive thought tend to be characteristics of these societies. Preoccupied with victim-hood, it uses slogans and symbols from religion and current political social concepts to superficially appear modern and progressive, promising a lack of class distinction and the eradication of all ills from society.

Fascism tends to glorify militarism and uses religion, although it can reject religion as well. Indoctrination and propaganda are tools used to help keep the population uniformly in check.

While no two fascist movements are identical, it becomes hard to predict far in advance where and how they might arise. However, the broader themes described above are common to many. It should be mentioned that a term, ‘para-fascism,’ is also used where countries or regimes come close to becoming fascist states but are authoritarian and anti-liberal only.

Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, with 37 million casualties and a collapsed economy, law and order became unmanageable. Political parties from the extremes were unable to control the country. It was in this vacuum that the German Workers Party (later known as the Nazi Party) transformed from a ragtag gang of ex-soldiers to lead Germany in a span of just 14 years with Hitler leading as Chancellor.

Central to the philosophy of this movement was national pride, militarism and a focus on societal uniformity, in this case racial purity. The persecution of minorities became the norm, with the horrific results documented in history.

One could argue that Pakistan, with its myriad problems of poor education, poor healthcare, human rights abuses, a fragmenting law and order situation, a major fight between the right-wing and left-wing polar opposites, and, most importantly, a fragmented national pride has found itself not knowing whether its enemies are within or outside. Pakistan is ripe for more violent and sinister movements trying to maintain some semblance of civil structure.

We have seen the fusing of religious symbolism in the narrative of modern Pakistan, the worship of the armed forces and promotion of adventurous militarism from TV personalities as well as in charismatic figures like Zaid Hamid. We have seen a new generation of Pakistanis willing to completely write off democracy and democratic ideals. They worship Jinnah in a very narrow, almost religious narrative and are not open to examining history with a critical eye. They openly desire military authoritarianism and the persecution of those who are different. They are looking for a strong and charismatic leader who will lead the charge, as propagandists indoctrinate society by justifying the use of violence, killing and the waging of war (with India) in order to keep the nation strong. They reject ethnic and cultural groups that are not considered a part of the fascists’ nation.

The rise of the fascist movement in Pakistan is a middle class phenomenon and it has traction in primarily urban areas. But like all similar movements in the past it will be doomed to fail. That is certainly a good thing. The bad thing is that much more persecution, violence and human rights abuses will take place before it is sidelined onto the garbage heap of history.

We have enough violence in our country because people remained too afraid to point out potential problem areas when they were developing. We do not need any more fronts for anarchy, hatred and intolerance.

The writer is a psychiatrist working in the USA. He can be reached at naveedafridi@hotmail.com

Source: Daily Times, 5 May 2010