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October 10, 2015

Social, not class, consciousness


October 10, 2015


Part - II
In contrast to the nationwide Lawyers’ Movement (2007-2009), which directly challenged a military head of state and sought institutional corrective by restoring an unconstitutionally deposed chief justice, the PTI-type social media-heavy protests against drones never challenged any institution, specifically avoiding GHQ and the security apparatus.
Neither did the anti-drone advocates offer an alternative to the besieged people of Fata who were trapped by the Taliban for years. The demands of Fata citizens were not heeded – and certainly not in class terms.
The tribal areas became a ground for political and academic benefit for those who wanted to fit their ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials through abstract politics and analysis. The alternative was some confused, contradictory, social media-led rubbish that died out as soon as the GHQ decided to own what was always its privilege. No protest, no policy, not even a single press statement by the PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and no analysis by anti-imperialists follows – even as sweeping PAF air raids replace targeted US drone attacks today. Simply abusing the government or the security state online doesn’t make one a leftist.
The Junaid Jamshed blasphemy case is another exemplar of the futility of class analysis. Dozens of post 9/11 scholars invested considerable academic energy into defending the blasphemy laws and made a case for the moral injury that Muslims are permanently vulnerable to. They justified the Salmaan Taseer murder through academic spin and blamed the imperialist west and liberal-secular laws of Pakistan. They even argued that blasphemy accusations were always a disguise for class interest and had nothing to do with religion. Taseer’s murderer was hailed a hero by no less than members of the bar and judiciary, but there is no comment on how religion trumps class in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Junaid Jamshed proved the important collusion and nexus of class and religion

with aplomb. Unlike others imprisoned for suspicion or hearsay or even, the unproven allegations against Taseer, Jamshed publicly blasphemed but he enjoys the patronage of the unelected and illiberal Islamist clerical powers that be. Class did not shield Taseer, but the combination of religion and class ensured that Jamshed was not only forgiven but allowed to return from a cushy exile which he could afford (in the safe haven of the imperialist west) due to his capitalist ventures. He returns home within the year, exonerated and safer than any underclass blasphemy-accused currently rotting in our jails. Certainly, he’s safer than Taseer and his family who continue to pay the price.
More salt to the wound – Jamshed is invited onto the pulpit of national day celebrations by our progressive cultural elite, to cement Pakistan’s nationalist-religious-misogyny defining identity. The Coke Studio audience ‘like’ and share his performance and express their sentimental patriotism all over social media. Again, no class analysis from the outraged liberals nor the defenders of Islamic ethos and laws in this case.
More recently, the human rights issue of bonded labour has been ‘rediscovered’, thanks to the Humans of New York (who makes up these titles?). From 9/11 to the short-lived Occupation of Wall Street to drones to human slavery, it seems that Manhattan is the centre of our political consciences….what would we do without its leadership? Interestingly, a year before Stanton’s campaign, a bonded Christian labourer and his pregnant wife were burned alive at Kot Radha Kishan, but that real-time incident didn’t prick our political consciences enough. Apparently, virtual reality is more meaningful than actual reality.
So, the social media post by Stanton renewed interest and sparked many blogs and op-eds, crying shame on Pakistan’s government and advocating the strict implementation of laws to abolish this form of slavery. None of these discuss the nature of the bonded labour or where it is supposed to travel after it has been ‘freed’ nor the transient and precarious nature of the few camps that exist for the ‘liberated’.
Worst of all, the notion that it is not the debt but the land that needs to be restructured or redistributed is not even an imaginable possibility in this analysis. The notion that there are some ‘good’ landowners who don’t bond their labour simplifies the dramatic changes in the political economy of land in Pakistan and ignores the shifts in landowner-haari relationships today. Further, the labour that is maimed and burned alive in factories, and denied minimum wage or abused by industrialists seems not to qualify as modern slavery – nor, for that matter, does household work but let’s leave that for now.
Finally, the death of class analysis explains the emotional defence offered recently by private school entrepreneurs. These businessmen and women attempt to rationalise school fee rates by painting themselves as socially concerned altruists filling in the vacuum, following the market model and with high-maintenance teacher issues.
This is a compelling example of the difference in self-indulgent social analysis versus class-conscious understandings about the ideological factories that make up the education sector. It may just be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of class analysis in Pakistan.

The writer is a sociologist based in Karachi. Email: [email protected]




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