Sunday, November 23, 2014

Furious Confusions

A PTI supporter I know on-line sent me the piece “An Ode to Fury” by Fahd Husain in the Nov 19 Express Tribune, with the implication that the fury discussed in this article justified the “revolution” being fomented by PTI and PAT. The following is an extended version of my response, which may also address critiques by others on my earlier piece, “The Tragedy of Imran Khan and the Insafian Revolution”.

The people of Pakistan have every right to be furious. They should be furious at those who have led them for 67 years and have brought them to their current state. But they should be even more furious at themselves for allowing this to happen: for electing incompetent leaders when given the chance, and for welcoming dictators with celebrations when they grew tired of those they had elected; for their worship of personalities and their ignoring of institutions; for buying into a toxic and bigoted ideology in the name of faith and patriotism ; for teaching their children mythology dressed as history; and for swallowing the propaganda of civilian and military governments without ever checking for its veracity. The deaths of children in Thar is indeed an incredible tragedy, but these children didn't just start dying this year; they've been dying for decades - even centuries. It is a sad fact that the society at large in that part of the world has not cared much for the plight of the poor and the powerless. I'm glad that the people of Pakistan are now furious about it, but will they respond by repenting of their own ways, or will they again go looking for fantasy solutions peddled by snake oil salesmen with big words and no ideas? As the poet Iqbal Azeem said eloquently:
 badalnaa hae to rindoN say kaho apnaa chalan badlayN
 faqat saaqi badal dayne se maekhaana na badlay gaa
(For true change to happen, tell the drinkers to change their own ways; the tavern will not change just by replacing the one serving the wine)
What I see is that some people, furious at the country's conditions, are looking to yet another savior running on the cult of personality. To the extent that Imran Khan is embodying the justifiable fury of the Pakistani people, he is serving a useful function. But history shows that those who embody such fury seldom, if ever, turn out to be actual saviors, or even good leaders. The extreme examples of this are Hitler and Mussolini, both of whom expressed the real anger of people overreal problems in their countries, but in the end, created even greater problems. I do not imply that Imran Khan is an extremist like these two, but his movement in its current manifestation does pose a real danger. A revolution driven by anger always leads first to incredible horrors, as was seen in France, Russia, China, and, to some extent, in Iran. Only in the long run do such revolutions move to their different outcomes – in most cases, disillusionment. Once people are brought to a frenzy, they cannot be controlled even by the leaders who led them there. The spark of fury that ignites revolution turns easily into fires of vengeance and hate. Is that what Pakistanis want? If so, Imran Khan is their man – though he should remember that the first people such revolutions consume are often their own leaders. And in almost all cases, the end result is not a democratic system, but a strongman dictator.
However, I am comforted by the fact that, while understandably furious, the people of Pakistan are not in a revolutionary mood. Imran Khan can gather a few tens of thousands - occasionally a few hundred thousand in large cities - for a one-night stand with music and entertainment, but there is no ocean of humans out in the streets of Pakistan day and night, as there was in Iran in 1978 or in Egypt in 2011, even though neither revolution produced a particularly desirable outcome in the short term. Most people still seem to understand that, all said and done, Imran Khan is yet another politician promising the moon. And they are strengthened in their opinion when they see the opportunists surrounding Imran Khan, and his own feckless behavior. Gravitas, though much ridiculed by those who lack it, is indeed an essential component of a true leader's make-up. It is what gives them the dignity to command respect and expect loyalty. Washington and Lincoln had it, Ataturk had it, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah had it. Imran Khan, bless his heart, just doesn't. It is worth noting that all the gentlemen I mentioned achieved far greater ends without once resorting to the kind of personal insults and empty threats that issue forth every night from the roof of the PTI container. Can anyone imagine Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Mahatama Gandhi speaking in the idiom that Imran Khan, Shah Mahmud Qureshi and Shaikh Rashid use? They were erudite, dignified and hyper-intelligent individuals with the self-control and depth necessary in true leaders. They spoke firmly and eloquently, but with civility; their ideas moved not only their followers but also their foes by the force of their logic and conviction, not by the use of locker-room trash-talk. Today, one can disagree with their ideas, but no one can deny their stature – and this was apparent even before they had succeeded in their causes.
I think that the passionate defenders of Imran Khan conflate two distinct things. The first is a justifiable feeling of frustration with the current order and the desire to change it. The second is the belief that, because they are giving voice to popular frustration,  Imran Khan and PTI are going to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the latter does not follow automatically from the former. Just because your pain is real and someone gives voice to it does not imply that they can heal it, or even have the first idea of how to do so. Everything I have seen suggests to me that Imran Khan does not have the knowledge, character, judgment or temperament to do what it will take.
In the article, Fahd Husain says, “A state and a government that has lost the ability to care, has lost the mandate to rule.” Perhaps so, but by these standards has any government in Pakistan ever had a mandate to rule? And who can say that those who rule post-revolution will truly care? If history is any guide, the revolution will probably lead to an even less caring government by an even less accountable group. I could be wrong, of course ... and indeed, would be happy to be wrong. But at this point, I can only modify Iqbal's words to say:
  na Qadri meN ne Imran mayN numood is kee
  ye rooh apne badan kee talaash mayN hae abhee

(neither Qadri nor Imran provide what is needed; the spirit [of change] is still in search of a body it can inhabit)

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