A Fatal Juxtaposition of Violence and Resignation
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

A strange air of resignation and fatalism seems to have pervaded our society in a most damaging fashion. This is reflected both in our approach towards our external relations and events within the country. Take the devastating terrorist attack on the Eid-i-Milad-un-Nabi congregation at Nishtar Park, Karachi: It should have shocked the national polity into serious introspection. Yet, after the initial shock, the nation went about with life as usual. We seem to have become immunized to the growing violence within our society as we are given a daily account of the killings across the country. It is not just acts of terrorism but the domestic violence that leads to the non-stop media accounts of women being burnt or axed or simply shot dead.
Militarization of society has become ingrained as violence is seen as an answer to all disagreements amongst ourselves - no matter how petty the issue. Whether it is rival student groups, or siblings, or spouses or political or religious groups. From the micro to the macro levels of society, we seem to revel in the use of violence. Our language for ourselves is violent; our responses to even the most minor of provocations is violent and, of course, no political or religious gathering can be held without an adequate display of weapons.
The violence is, of course, the means or expression of a growing intolerance for diversity amongst ourselves. Be it the religious or secular extremist, a self-righteousness embodies a lack of tolerance for the other. Our so-called "Western liberals" are not prepared to see any good in any form of religious expression or school, while our "religious" pontiffs condemn all opponents as "un-Islamic". The space to coexist is disappearing fast and the rising tide of intolerant self-righteousness will sweep us all in its wave of destruction.
What is the reason for this air of resignation and fatalism? At some level, the ruling elite, of all varieties, must take responsibility at the macro level, at least. Over the decades, their unresponsiveness to the people; their abuse of this wonderful land and its resources; and, their complete lack of commitment to a sense of nationalism, while pushing forward factional and personal interests, has unleashed a similar "looking out for oneself" mindset within the nation.
Elections are the only time that at least some lip service is paid to the wishes of the people but once the votes have been cast, the people become irrelevant. Corruption has become endemic and the "take what you can" mentality is all-pervasive. The irony is that corruption or percentage-taking is not unique to Pakistan. Other countries, which are in the fast lane of development also have these issues but as one Southeast Asian explained, while people take their "cut" they also ensure that the project they are involved in not only gets completed on time, it is done up to the specifications -- so that the nation also benefits.
At the micro level, we see our children being short-shrifted in their education with government schools having neither the resources invested in them nor the commitment to produce proper teachers; and private schools seeing themselves more as purely commercial outfits rather than as places where future generations must be nurtured fruitfully. As for the profession of teaching itself, it lost its luster decades earlier and a teacher now is more an object of derision or ridicule rather than respect and awe.
It is assumed people turn to teaching when they cannot do anything else, or simply to while away time till other things happen. In our homes also we have stopped inculcating this sense of respect for the teaching profession which eventually means that we have stopped respecting the notion of learning. We draw many comparisons between ourselves and other South Asians, but a major difference between Indians, Sri Lankans and ourselves is the passion for learning in the two former nations in the true sense of the word.
Ironically, while intolerance for each other is becoming a hallmark within our society, our fatalism and sense of resignation is making us overly tolerant of abuse from outside. With our larger neighbor India, we are desperately seeking conflict resolution even though it is clear they are more interested in conflict management or the imposition of solutions. The arrogance of the Indian state has been increasing as we have become more accommodating and nothing reflects this more clearly than their offer of the so-called "peace and friendship treaty" which they suggest should leave Kashmir out of its ambit!
Nor are we taking abuse only from the Indians. Mr. Bush came here to "check" whether "his friend", President Musharraf was "still serious" about his commitment against terrorism! The sheer cheek! But worse has followed. We had the US Energy Secretary coming to Islamabad and berating us and the State Department's Boucher coming to hold forth on our domestic political situation. Yes, we have our problems but our political elites can surely resolve these without external interventions? In any case, it would have been a little more seemly if our politicians had met with Boucher outside of the US embassy, if they had to discuss the domestic situation.
Our sense of resignation has become so pronounced that we are unable to offer any strong response to the abuse being heaped on us from external forces. Even when the government knows what India and others are up to in Balochistan, we do not become more assertive -- even in our language. When we do object to events abroad which impact us, even then we choose to hurt ourselves through violence against each other rather than rationally defeating the guilty on their own turf and with their own legal weapons. Violent actions against Pakistani business interests and Pakistani people, to protest the blasphemous cartoons published abroad, only made our own people the losers.
Again, while we hold nothing back in the language we use against each other, we have become overly circumspect in responding to external machinations against our nation. Even Mr. Karzai, who can barely keep his government's writ in Kabul, has found himself able to hurl accusations at us and make demands on us ad nauseam. That Mushahid Hussain actually broke the circumspect mode on the link between events in Balochistan and Indian activities in Afghanistan, his interview to The News was a welcome surprise, but those directly responsible for foreign and security policy also need to show more spine in their public statements.
We need to overcome our seeming air of defeatism in external dealings because we are not as weak as we seem to be feeling and the problem is in our elite's psyche. At the same time, we need to break out of our intolerant and violent mode within the domestic framework. The earthquake brought out the best in this wonderful nation but why must we wait for catastrophes to show the true spirit of nationhood that still prevails amongst the nation at large. It would be a self-created tragedy to allow the humane spirit, caring and commitment of this wonderful nation, to be buried under the violence of intolerance and the defeatism of an unwarranted fatalism.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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