Over the last four decades social, cultural, economic and political developments in Pakistan has become so complex that existing ideologies and theoretical frameworks fail to explain them within their explanatory schemes. In other words, the emerging realities in Pakistan exceed our existing vocabulary.
The gap between emerging realities and their inexplicability might be a sign of poverty of thought in Pakistan. It also signifies the fact that we have failed to coin words that can represent our subjective sensibilities and objective realities. The existing frameworks of thinking or narratives are guarded by the votaries of different ideologies. These guardians do not brook new outlook for the fear of losing certainties of their explanatory models. As a result, we resort to outdated frameworks of thinking, and tend to adopt a reductionist approach towards emerging or multi-faceted phenomena.
This tendency has become obvious in the case of narratives which try to situate posthumously the personalities of Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi and Qandeel Baloch within a particular ideology or school of thought. Edhi defined his idea of humanity through his invaluable services to the wretched of the earth. Ironically, soon after his demise the ruling class of Pakistan availed the opportunity to show their love for Edhi by turning his funeral to a VIP event and keeping the downtrodden at bay.
Then followed a series of discussions and writings that tried to prove Maulana Edhi’s ideological affiliation. Some people claim that Edhi’s vision of humanity stems from Islamic tradition of humanism. By cherry picking his sayings, others claimed that he was essentially a socialist. In fact, what makes Edhi different from other social and political activists or leaders is that he transcended the narrow confines of religion, race and ideologies. He has closely witnessed the emergence of different messiahs in Pakistan who failed to uplift the lot of poor and vulnerable segments of society. His idea of humanity brought all and sundry under it. The biggest injustice to Edhi is reducing him to a proponent of a particular ideology.
Similarly, after her murder, Qandeel Baloch she was dubbed as an embodiment of feminism in Pakistan. In reality, hers was the voice of an anguished soul who protested against the prevailing values and institutions of society in her own way. Qandeel had a large following hailing from the very segment of society who may indulge in voyeurism at a private level, but publicly favour her murder. She disturbed the norms by appealing to their libido, which remains frustratingly active beneath the hard crust of values sustained by culture, religion, patriarchy, state and society.
Whatever Qandeel did was simply an endeavour by an individual for self-actualisation, something that was impossible to achieve in a closed society like ours where cultural ethos, institutional arrangements and legitimising narratives all militate against the individual. Regretfully, those who spare no time to appropriate Qandeel as a feminist icon in Pakistan were not seen at her funeral – which was attended by people from a very humble background. This shows the widening gap between the dominant narratives espousing women’s emancipation, and emerging forms of struggle and strategies against oppression among the subaltern groups in Pakistan.
The examples of Edhi and Qandeel are not meant to claim that they have changed everything in Pakistan; rather it is to show undercurrents that convulse the prevailing existing order of things. The whole edifice of culture and society is built with the purpose of developing the individual personality and harmonising the self with other humans. Even the primary purpose of philosophical ideas, religion and culture and institutional setups is the creation of a balanced personality.
When a culture, philosophy and religion ignores this primary purpose for the sake of collective institutions and ideology, then the creative élan in the individual gets suppressed and no new ideas are allowed to disturb the prevailing order of things. A society and culture faces disruptions and anarchy respectively at such junctures because the system tries to suppress agency by invoking the sanctity of the collective. A culture that alienates the individual and makes no sense to his or her life becomes alien to its members. This alienation paves the way for the destruction of the old order.
German historian Oswald Spengler employs the term historical ‘pseudomorphosis’, “to designate those cases in which an older alien culture lies so massively over the land that a young culture cannot get its breath and fails not only to achieve pure and specific expression-forms, but even to develop fully its own self-consciousness.” His views about young culture is equally applicable to the prevailing thinking habits of the intelligentsia in Pakistan whose ideas have increasingly becoming irrelevant because they fail to achieve ‘objective correlative’ to existential dilemmas and angst faced by the members of society.
Owing to the yawning gap between emergent realities and a stunted way of seeing things, society becomes anachronistic in historical time and schizophrenic at the cultural level. Spengler vivisects the psychology of received ways of seeing and emerging realities in these words: “All that wells up from the depths of the young soul is cast in the old moulds, young feelings stiffen in senile practices and instead of expanding its own creative power, it can only hate the distant power with a hate that grows to be monstrous.”
For an open and equitable society, breaking the vicious circle of tradition is imperative because tradition limits our mental horizons and condemns us to see women and self, society and the world as immutable facts. Since received values are deemed sacred in our society, any young soul who dares to deviate from the cyclical path of history is condemned to death.
Tradition is a circle whose cyclical pattern can only be severed by modernity. Unfortunately, the very narrative of modernity in its both liberal and leftist shapes has become trapped in the meta-narratives that tend to ignore or reject a narrative or agency that emerges from the local womb and aspires for freedom from crippling existential conditions and systems that suppress any attempt for self-actualisation.
If someone succeeds in overcoming challenges and rises above local limitations he or she is co-opted into the meta-narrative. This is precisely what happened in the cases of Edhi and Qandeel, both of whom were dubbed as leftist and feminist respectively. Edhi and Qandeel broke the cyclical mode of thinking. By doing so they have become voices of the subaltern class, that rely on strategies that evolve out of their existential experience, instead of a centralised narrative to lend legitimacy to their narratives.
Given the intellectual senility of the existing narratives in Pakistan, it is time we questioned not only unreason but also the very narrative of rationality presented as an antidote of our ailing society. It is by questioning the received reason that we can defeat the forces of unreason.
The starting point is to take cue from people like Edhi who overcame insurmountable challenges to create the biggest charity empire in the world. In order to embark upon a new intellectual project there is a dire need to reject vocabulary that does not make sense of our existential realities. For women’s emancipation it is imperative to take the war against suppression and subjugation to every sphere of life including theology, ideology, literature, social setup and cultural ethos.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Gilgit.
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