Original Articles

Irrational patriotism, liberalism and nuclear arsenal – by Raza Habib Raja

My article “Traitors and Reactionaries” which was just a satire has created this impression that I am some kind of a Taliban supporter or a media Taliban. A long emotional article of Chaudhary Ahmed Khan alleged that I am indulging in selective lynching of PPP. He also alleged that urban middle class people like me cannot find flaws with Taliban ideology.

I have written several articles against the conspiracy theory mindset and have been severely critical of media of cultivating right wing ideologies.
Ch Ahmed Khan because he has gotten personal against me but I would like to refute this charge that I am some kind of pro Taliban person. I think one definition of maturity is to refrain from passing sweeping judgements before full information is sought. I wont say anything more.

Just for the record, I am not against PPP and voted for them in 2002. My family has historically supported PPP. In 2008 however I voted for Ayaz Amir. The reason was simply because Ayaz is not a right winger and secondly in our constituency, he was a better candidate. My head was held high when he was the only MNA apart from MQM who resisted Nazam e Adl in 2009. (Raza Habib Raja)

The following article was published at Chowk in October 2009.

Irrational Patriotism, Liberalism and Nuclear Arsenal

By Raza Habib Raja

In Pakistan, watching the media talk shows can be an enlightening and in fact entertaining experience. The “pearls” of wisdom uttered in these talk shows are a testimony to the intellectual orientation of the hosts, participants and unfortunately even the regular viewers who have become addicted to this Pakistani version of Indian soap operas. Like Indian soap operas, these talk shows aim to create melodrama, controversy and try their level best to capitalize on the fertile and highly imaginative mindset of the middleclass urbanites. This mindset has evolved and not surprisingly continues to evolve under the “conducive” environment fueled by external events and Government of Pakistan’s response to them.

The guiding philosophy of this mindset is irrational patriotism chiefly emanating out of identity crisis, delusional self importance and paranoia about the security of nuclear arsenal (which is Pakistan’s only “achievement” at least in terms of nuisance value). The slogans for this irrational patriotism are: Qaumi ghairat per samjhota nayee ho sakta (National sovereignty cannot be compromised); Kashkol ko toor do (Break the begging bowl); Hukmuran America aur Israeli isharon per naach rahe hain (Rulers are dancing to the tunes of the USA and Israeli whims); and Nuclear program per soda na manzoor (We won’t compromise on Nuclear program).

Right now all the brains are seemingly working in one direction: how to link nuclear arsenal with every act of terrorism occurring in the country. As facts become clearer that Taliban are indeed a menace and their way of life is thoroughly regressive, instead of opening our eyes, we are busy knitting highly sophisticated conspiracy theories to link everything to US, India and Israel nexus. Nonsense theories of good and bad Taliban have emerged according to which bad Taliban are terrorizing Pakistan in order to give USA a justification to purge the Nuclear arsenal. In the past the same intellectual “giants” were accusing USA of waging a false propaganda against Taliban and now when horrific reality has dawned, they have started blaming it for managing to win over a chunk of these extremists and using them against Pakistan. These theorists have actually won a large number of “followers”, and right now as the army is waging a war in Waziristan, instead of univocal and unconditional support, it is being criticized for being hard on so called “good” Taliban. And of course despite the horrific acts which Taliban have perpetuated they still have their apologetics who claim that good Taliban are not behind any suicide bombings. Even among those who are of the view that ALL Taliban are barbaric monsters, a substantial proportion cite social factors such as poverty, injustice etc to give an “intellectual” justification to those acts.

I call this irrational patriotism because it is based on instinct and reflects our rather over inflated opinion about ourselves in terms of importance and achievements. Today whether we admit it or not, the fact is that Pakistan ranks low in important social indicators pertaining to transparency, literacy, economy and healthcare even when compared to developing economies of similar characteristics. According to Asian Development Bank, compared with Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, Pakistan’s school enrolment is lower, adult illiteracy is higher, and infant and child mortality rates are higher. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index developed by Transparency International, Pakistan ranks 134th out of 180 countries, “beating” even African poor countries like Zambia, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Since we do not have anything concrete to be proud of, therefore things like “strategic location” and “nuclear arsenal” become the only citable “evidences” of our importance. Consequently, these are repeated to death on media. Of course this brand of patriotism comes hand in hand with a strong religious fervor. Majority of the Pakistanis see their country spearheading the Islamic military resurgence.

Due to a combination of all these factors we simply assume that the entire world’s foreign policies are devised around Pakistan. This brand of patriotism is irrational also because it is proving to be counterproductive to not only Pakistan’s economic, social and political welfare but is also in a strange way undermining the wishes of these romantic nationalists of a strong nuclear Pakistan.

This irrational patriotism has developed a reciprocal relationship with the media- print as well as electronic- and both reinforce each other thus making sure that we spiral downwards into a state of complete intellectual bankruptcy. Obviously this downward spiral is not merely intellectual as it is also accompanied by lack of public interest and participation in other and far more important issues.

One has to understand the power of media and its target market to comprehend the importance and consequences of this apathetical behavior. In a country like Pakistan which has parliamentary form of democratic setup (that too in an infancy stage ) and is still in the process of transition from agriculture to industrial economy, the check and balance institutions are not highly developed. Moreover, the majority of the populace resides in the rural area and is more attuned to local political issues rather than national policy related matters. A quick look at the respective rural urban political profiles will attest it. Elections are not fought on ideology in rural areas or on policy related political issues but on the strength of candidates which explains as to why parties (both of “left” and right) field strong candidates. These individuals are often in a position of winning independently also. The basic criterion of a strong candidate is his wealth, political clout, influence on the local bureaucracy and his ability to successfully push through local demands such as jobs, sanitation, construction of small roads, arbitration of local disputes etc.

On the other hand in the urban areas, it is the political ideology, legislative and policy issues which matter more. Consequently issue oriented political movements in countries like Pakistan are primarily urban based. The recent successful lawyers’ movement was primarily an urban movement. Thus despite the fact that urban areas account for lower share of population, they become the major arena where the ideological battles are fought.

The urban mindset becomes the chief driver and determinant of the national policies. The media since it reflects the urban opinion becomes the major vehicle through which Governments can be pressurized, consensus can be built for policy decisions and even a movement can be initiated( the lawyers movement was primarily a media generated movement). Having an extremely commercial orientation and in bid to capitalize the overly conservative mindset of the urbanites, the present day media is unfortunately perpetuating this senseless paranoia and is sensationalizing facts through knitting sophisticated conspiracy theories according to which the foreign powers have ganged up to destabilize Pakistan. Here the media lately has been reinforcing this irrational patriotism rather than playing any progressive role. Irrationality is reigning supreme amongst the class which can potentially play a meaningful and progressive role.

In the post 9/11 scenario and before the recent spree of daily bombings began, as Pakistan was slowing falling into a deep pit, the media instead of building a political will for military action at the right time was painting it as merely US war and some kind of a grand conspiracy by the western world to get hold of the nuclear arsenal. Consequently the terrorists were able to win the battle of the minds and the political will could not develop and is still not there despite a belated full scale military action. Assuming the weird logic that the entire conspiracy is to purge the nuclear arsenal, the media by successfully delaying a decisive action against militants allowed them to gain a complete foothold thus strengthening US concerns about the nuclear issue. Thus this brand of irrational patriotism has in reality proven counterproductive to the wishes of romantic nationalists.

This irrational patriotism is also seriously undermining the process of reorientation of the state towards other important areas such as education, law and order, poverty, healthcare and political reforms related to issues like provincial autonomy. Instead of debating on these issues and ensuring that the respective central and provincial governments are made accountable, the entire media thrust and the public attention is on nuclear issue and on already overhyped notions like national sovereignty. Consequently, the state is not feeling the heat on critical issues and nor is any seeking any intellectual discourse on them. By taking the focus away from these issues, this irrational patriotism is also contributing towards social instability and political fragility. An obvious sufferer is the resource rich and yet poor province of Baluchistan. At this moment instead of trying to focus on redressing their grievances our brilliant media is busy attributing everything to foreign involvement.

Theoretically a way out would be that liberal elements also come to the media to present their alternative viewpoint. But here is another problem. On the media, the liberal voices have mostly been relegated to entertainment programs. In a strange way, the liberal image has been widely accepted to be synonymous with some kind of elitist outlook emanating out of a partying lifestyle. This categorization of liberalism is also projected and reinforced by the media in such a way that liberalism in Pakistan is now accepted to have the following characteristics:

1) It is an unpatriotic philosophy and has the sole aim of westernization and thus weakening of Pakistan.
2) It is being adhered to by the segment which is ultra western, sexually active and morally pervert and wants the entire Pakistani society to become the same.
3) The philosophically important ideas which have somewhat liberal underpinning such as individual liberty, women liberation, religious tolerance, preference of self introspection over irrational patriotism, separation of state and religion, increased role of state for leveling of income inequalities, less ambitious external policy, a passive military with no aspirations built around romantic nationalism, too have no use for Pakistani society. A general consensus is that these ideas are a modus operandi cum intellectual vehicle to westernize Pakistan and to undermine the existing “rich” patriotic culture and values.

The worst thing which has happened over the decades is that the abovementioned liberal tenants have successfully been amalgamated with a sexually deviant anti culture lifestyle, by our mainstream media. In a strange way a mindset has developed where anyone talking about these issues (though degree of association would differ from issue to issue) will also be labeled as a pro western elitist having a fringe opinion. Mainstream opinion about liberal journalists like Fasi Zaka and Nadeem Farooq Paracha is that they are unpatriotic or at best English speaking misguided elitists with no clue about Pakistani problems. Even the partying lot, while accepting western lifestyle, nevertheless retains this nonsensical “patriotic” streak whereby ideologically liberal are considered as unpatriotic.

Frankly the liberal elements have a very steep task ahead of them. However, they have to come forward and the best way to be effective is to show how this irrational patriotism is in reality hurting Pakistan. They have to convince that self introspection and placing due emphasis on critical issues like education, health, welfare, political reforms is the right brand of patriotism.

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Ali Arqam

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