Sunday December 03, 2023

Castles raised on hubris

July 01, 2022

There are noble things done by people that they would like to be remembered for by posterity. However, it is seldom that one would come across people who would like to be remembered for gory crimes they may have committed, or corruption they may have indulged in, or saplings of intrigue and crime they may have planted, or a legacy of plunder they may have left behind. They would much rather that such deeds were erased from people’s memory to save them and their coming generations from embarrassment and humiliation.

If one were to look for an exception to this rule, this brand of human species could be found surviving, even prospering, in Pakistan. They reside among the ruling elite who are vested with power and positions for use in the cause of service to humanity, specifically the impoverished who forever remain engaged in a desperate struggle for survival. Instead, the lives of these rulers are littered with a galaxy of self-serving occupations which they have espoused and accomplished with degenerative haste, grossly misusing the authority they had at their disposal. The core objective was always to move things around to their personal advantage and to the detriment of the more deserving. There have also been times when intoxication with self-promotion drove them to even sacrifice the interest of the state, thus gravely bruising its self-esteem and compromising its sovereignty.

Through years, even decades, this has been done without a trace of shame. It is as if every such compilation of disgraceful acts constituted a badge of honour that these perpetrators would proudly wear upon their chests. I keep wondering what such kind of people are fed on, that they would indulge in gravely mortifying and belittling behaviour in full public view, and then go on to count their crimes as services rendered to alleviate the sufferings of the needy. Worse still, there are those who believe them, and some others who even follow them as their leaders.

One only gets lost in this intricate quagmire of how human minds work and how friends are distinguished from those who cannot be categorised as such. But, maybe, at some stage in the human thought process, the good and bad merge together and the only distinction left to sift one from the other is the benefit that would be accrued to one or the other person. If direct benefit, cash or kind, comes the way of an individual, he may be tempted to believe in the overall goodness of the person irrespective of making an effort to gauge whether his deeds are, indeed, directed towards bringing relief to the larger public. The objectives are personalized to an extent that the concept of public welfare is lost in the mammoth pile of insatiable greed and corrupted priorities.

But, painfully, this is how castles of hubris are raised on mere claims of service rather than any deed itself. It is difficult to fathom where it all started from, this projection of the self on utterly false and fabricated premises. It does not appear to be a recent phenomenon. It germinated as we were struggling on many fronts like discovering our identity, whether we were happy with dictators or needed democracy, what kind of education we required, what kind of healthcare we deserved, or what kind of justice system would actually bring justice.

This confusion was perpetuated as part of a conscious and malevolent effort whose purpose was not only to deny any level of clarity in such matters, but to further confuse people and keep them inflamed in their miseries. The suffering plebeians would continue to argue and fight among themselves for their measly morsels without casting a blemish on the ruling elite for depriving them of, at times, even their right to live.

But these castles of hubris remained unscathed. It was just that no one could garner the courage to give them that initial push. The plebeians lived in utter fear of what may befall their lives and the lives of their dependents if they ever ventured into doing it. There was the local police to be afraid of who could barge into their homes in the thick of dark to take away their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. There was the patwari to be afraid of who would transfer their lands to other claimants without a shred of proof. There were the henchmen of the politicians who would demand their pound of flesh, or would resort to the ugliest practices and drag their families naked through the streets. There were the landlords they were economically enslaved to who would lay the first claim on every soul they felt a desire for. Then there was hunger that always loomed and death that always stalked. It was the spectre of fear that consumed them every moment of their life.

This lingering fear that the plebeians suffered from became the brick and mortar for raising castles for the ruling elite, doused in their blood as nourishment. In the process, the lot of the poor only became poorer and ever new fears continued to haunt them. What belonged to them was actually not theirs, and what did not belong to them, they could not even dream of owning. Their meagre belongings – the leaking sheds on their heads, their families in tatters, their mothers, wives, daughters, sons, their measly land-holdings, some low-grade jobs, the creeping hunger and, most importantly, their hopes, aspirations and their will to live – nothing really belonged to them. They were born destitute and were condemned to suffer the state eternally. That is the fate, preordained or man-made, that they had to accept and endure. That has not changed irrespective of the new lords who kept coming to occupy the castles.

These lords are the kings; they are the potentates, so anointed and so proclaimed. Their hearts are stony-faced and their conscience wears a thick skin. Their anger is remorseless and their actions brutal and savage. Shrieks don’t pierce their ears and dying hopes don’t create a stir. Anything that may even remotely pose a challenge to their suzerainty must be obliterated. They were born to rule. They shall continue to rule.

Such is the decrepit and nauseating system that the ruling elite leave behind as their morbid legacy. Their next generations are appropriately trained to not only perpetuate the sufferings of the plebeians, but enslave them further. This hubris is embedded into the foundations of their castles which have grown taller, but wobblier. For decades they have waited for that first push. Sadly, the wait has been endless.

The writer is a political and security strategist and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. He tweets @RaoofHasan