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December 17, 2018

When the people rise

Opinion

December 17, 2018

Historians generally do write political, social and economic narratives but ignore the role of decisions that are taken on the basis of emotions and which change the course of history.

There are many instances in history, when rulers took immediate action without taking care of the consequences. For example, when Alexander was in Persia, he was very impressed by the court ceremonies and wanted to adopt them, and persuaded his Greek companions to perform acts such as prostration before him.

One night during a party, his childhood friend criticised him and refused to perform these Persian rituals. In a state of drunkenness, Alexander became furious and killed him. When he came back to his senses and realised what he had done, he wept bitterly but it could not be undone.

The Russian Czars were known as ‘grozny’, meaning terrible. They wanted to give the message to their subjects that any rebellion would be crushed mercilessly. The cornerstone of their rule was to create panic among the people. Their statues too wear violent expressions.

The basic sources of tracing human emotions and senses, historians are require to study statues, paintings and literature very minutely. On the basis of these sources, historians can find out the emotions of love, hate, friendship and enmity within society and among nations. Therefore, a comprehensive history of any nation requires covering its sensibility. We can also find changes of emotions in different periods of national history. When a nation was in a process of rising, its nationals acquired confidence and pride. In one case, when a Roman ambassador went to the camp of an invader for negotiation; during the conversation he kept his hand on the candle, which burnt his palm, but he did not display any pain and continued talking. The invader was so impressed by this that he decided not to fight.

In the same Roman Empire, during its declining period there is a painting of an artist which shows the scene of a feast. On the table, there is plenty of food and the Roman nobles are standing around it. However, on their faces there is a sense of sadness, a sign of the decadence of that society. Another remarkable painting is of Spanish artist Francisco Goya. He painted the Royal Spanish family of the 18th century, showing their gorgeous dresses but their faces the signs of luxury and licentiousness.

In a class-based society, where power is wielded by nobility and aristocracy, they are free to express their anger against the lower classes. Whereas common people who have no power and privilege endure humiliation and suppress their emotions against the ruling classes. However, in some cases, when the political structure broke down in the powerful classes, common people used this crisis and freely expressed their hatred against their tormentors.

Besides many examples, we find three peasant rebellions which completely changed the behaviour of exploited people. In the 13th century, the English peasants rebelled under the leadership of Wat Tyler and for a short while acted freely. They expressed their anger against the feudal lords, plundered and burnt their palaces, consumed wine from their stores and tortured those who were captured. This created havoc in the upper classes. In the end, the government took action and slaughtered the peasants.

In 1525, there was a great peasant rebellion in Germany. The peasants attacked the castles of the feudal lords, dragged them out and after telling them their crimes, executed them. This horrified the German rulers and they with their combined forces defeated and massacred the peasants. Though the independence of the peasants was short-lived, they got the opportunity to identify the class difference and their relationship.

In the third case, during the French Revolution when peasants revolted against feudal lords, they not only burnt their chateaus but their furniture and documents of taxation. Thus in case of political crisis, when the authority of the government collapses, people become free to express their emotions.

In Pakistan, from the very beginning, our politics depends on emotions. Whenever politicians address crowds, they charge them emotionally and not rationally. Sometimes, a mob is mobilised by slogans that have no meanings and sometimes their religious sentiments are stimulated just to win their hearts.

The consequences of emotional politics are that people for some time lose their senses and indulge in violence and destruction. It is affects the voting pattern and those candidates who raise emotional slogans are elected. Even political language has become emotional. Politician threaten each other and sometime abusive to humiliate their opponents. Emotion-based politics indicates the backwardness of our society.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.