Editorial

Rising Above our Limited Perceptions

Nadia Humayun
Written by Nadia Humayun

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov

We have often observed, people crowding at the scene of a traffic accident or a street brawl in Pakistan, within seconds of the event; and within minutes, most bystanders will have picked sides in the ensuing argument or fight. Why we make these split second choices to take sides in arguments is quite inexplicable, as is our almost pathological desire to deem one side of the argument as the ‘good’ side and the other as the ‘bad’ side. Why do we tend to get involved in disputes that do not concern us; that too, not to mediate impartially, but to root for our ‘favorite side’?  Why do we consider it our moral obligation to uphold the so called truth, and which often enough is nothing but only our “belief”?

In this age of fast information communication, every so often, something happens that will push us into a maelstrom of conflicting opinions – a lot of which are based on assumptions. Also, we tend to form our opinions based on our traditionalistic tendencies, because the majority of us belong to clusters of people bound together by a common identity and/or a common goal.  In Pakistan especially, which is relatively new in the arena of press and media freedom, these conflicting opinions have taken on an altogether new meaning. People enjoying the new found freedom have started taking liberties that were once considered taboo in this country. Harsh criticism of the government, open bashing of the state institutions, lampooning politicians, religious figures, academics and other prominent members of society, has become a norm. In short, we have veered from one extreme to another.

We tend to form our opinions based on our traditionalistic tendencies, because the majority of us belong to clusters of people bound together by a common identity and/or a common goal.

With the wide spread use of social networking websites, and the freedom to express oneself, a prominent point of dissent that has become the focus of media activists, is the pro-army and anti–army debate in the country. Proponents of both sides are equally vocal and spirited in their support, and each side charges the other with a label, nothing short of ‘treason’.  To explore the psyche behind the emerging pro-army and anti-army debate in the country, we must understand the reasoning given by the promoters of either side.

The pro-army debate is a simple one. Its supporters argue that Pakistan’s Armed Forces have always been the defenders of the country’s ideological and geographical borders. Whether it is the bleak uplands of the Siachen glacier, or the deep waters of the Arabian Sea, Pakistan’s army has been the sentinels of our freedom in every sense of the word. Whether it is in the form of relief work, disaster management or infrastructure development, the services of our Armed Forces are acknowledged, both domestically and across the world.  Discipline, organization, professionalism and patriotism are the backbone of this institution, which are the essential ingredients for success of any establishment.  The Armed Forces’ jawaan has complete faith in his leadership, and it is the beauty of this unity and faith that is reflected in the trust bestowed upon them, by the general public. The army supporters further argue, that who would know better to defend the nation against internal and external threats than an institute, which has been doing it since the creation of Pakistan, and has been continually evolving, technically and strategically, over the years?

It is ironic that a person who had devoted her life to bringing a social change in society through public discourse, and had opened her door to all, her death should be cause for so much strife.

The anti-Army sentiment manifests itself mainly in the detractor’s antagonism, which has deepened gradually due to the bloodbath of the last ten or so years. Militancy in FATA and some settled parts of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Karachi have made the public insecure and wary of the modus operandi of the Armed Forces. Most noteworthy in this regard is the plight of the families of the missing persons. Their struggle to find the whereabouts of their loved ones is a heart-rending tale of misery. The Armed Forces and intelligence agencies of the country are being confronted by an overwhelming evidence of their culpability in this whole episode. Furthermore, some Pukhtun and Baloch groups accuse the Army of “killing their own people”. Coupled with their past history of political activism, the Armed Forces’ present role in the war against terror is being viewed with skepticism by the anti-army protagonists.

A recent incident that opened a Pandora box of pro and anti-army sentiments across the country was Sabeen Mehmud’s murder. Sabeen was a prominent social and human rights activist and founder of T2F – a café-cum-library and community space for open dialogue. She was killed in April this year, on her way back home from a talk that she had organized at T2F, on the subject of Baloch “missing persons”. As expected, when news of her death spread, mainstream and social media erupted with outrage; allegations flying every which way. It is ironic that a person who had devoted her life to bringing a social change in society through public discourse, and had opened her door to all, her death should be cause for so much strife.

Sabeen’s killers were finally apprehended, and they neither belonged to the deep state, nor to any rights group, but a part of the same radicalized extremist mindset, which has become the scourge of our times.

Sabeen’s killers were finally apprehended, and they neither belonged to the deep state, nor to any rights group, but a part of the same radicalized extremist mindset, which has become the scourge of our times. However, when all is said and done, such incidents hardly influence our way of thinking. We may ask ourselves, if we learned anything from Sabeen’s story. Did it change our perception even a little bit? Did we absolve our opponents of the charge of treason? The answer may be in the negative because as they say, “my opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.”

At this point, it may be pertinent to ask who exactly is a traitor. If a person dissents, speaks his mind, and stands for his rights, does it make him one? If so, then personalities like Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and others, who bravely and unwaveringly stood against the forces of status quo for their rights, may also be deemed traitors. We must understand that there is no moral equivalence between good and bad; a traitor and a revolutionary are not the flip sides of the same coin. One does not become a traitor simply for believing in one’s cause and standing up for it; rather, it is the unseemly method one adopts to achieve it, that eventually defines treason.

Let us not ‘assume’, because of the tidbits of information that reach us, and which may specifically be designed to manipulate our thought processes, no matter how much we think otherwise. Let us not digitize our analogue world, with its limitless information and countless possibilities.

Tragedies can happen to anyone. Whether it is the father or wife or son of a missing person trying to seek an absolution that eludes them, the family of a martyred police or army officer trying to come to terms with their grief, or the death of a human rights activist; the way we respond to our suffering is what defines us. We may become more steadfast in our beliefs and hold fast to our principles or we may lose focus by veering towards extremes; we may even do the unforgivable, by reaching out, and being manipulated by the enemy. There is a fine line between standing for our rights and committing treason. It is so easy to slip and cross the threshold, which defeats the purpose of the cause eventually.

We must understand that there is no moral equivalence between good and bad; a traitor and a revolutionary are not the flip sides of the same coin.

So if in the case of the pro-army and anti-army proponents, both profess to love the country and have Pakistan’s best interest at heart, isn’t it quite absurd to go to such lengths of dissention to jeopardize the very integrity of the country?

As argued in the beginning, people may come to different conclusions due to many different reasons; some on the basis of past experiences, others prompted by their desire to adhere and belong to a particular mindset, some governed by their so-called maturity of thought, and yet others driven by their baser instincts. Let us not limit our thought processes because of our opinions and emotional desires. Let us not ‘assume’, because of the tidbits of information that reach us, and which may specifically be designed to manipulate our thought processes, no matter how much we think otherwise. Let us not digitize our analogue world, with its limitless information and countless possibilities.

In the case of the pro-army and anti-army proponents, both profess to love the country and have Pakistan’s best interest at heart, isn’t it quite absurd to go to such lengths of dissention to jeopardize the very integrity of the country?

Let us learn something from Sabeen’s tragic incident; let us exercise discretion before jumping to conclusions, and becoming proponents of rhetoric. Let us clean the windows of our perception; let the light shine inside, and guide us to make better judgments. No one benefits from expanding conflicts. The answer to our problems do not lie in the past, it lies in the present!

 

About the author

Nadia Humayun

Nadia Humayun

Nadia Humayun is the operational head and editor of Stratagem magazine. She is a keen observer and commentator on regional and global politics. She can be reached at nadia.h@stratagem.pk and tweets @NadiaWadud

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