The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was published in Pakistan's Daily Time, and is published here with the kind authorization of the author.
It does not take much for the native to attack his fellow natives, but it takes the development of consciousness to revolt against the coloniser. We had hoped that the ordeals of the past would have given impetuous to the growth of such democratic consciousness; apparently it has not
Recently, we saw one of the most extreme outbursts of emotions in recent Pakistani political history. With innuendos and explicit references to wives, daughters, rehabilitation, sexual proclivities and hair transplants, this has to be amongst the most intense ad hominem attacks that we have witnessed. The immediate reaction intuitively is to condemn such attacks while hanging our heads in shame and lamenting the state of affairs of our politicians. The hurling of abuse is considered by many to be a base attempt at displaying bravado. This reaction, though justifiable, is reductionist as it does not completely explain the precipitation of such an explosion. Especially if we bear in mind that the makers of these ad hominem attacks are ostensibly powerful, seasoned and astute politicians.
The Wretched of the Earth written by Frantz Fanon during the Algerian struggle for independence from colonial rule remains the most critical indictment of colonisation and imperialism. Frantz Fanon writes that the colonised man will first manifest the aggressiveness, which has been deposited in his bones, against his own people. This is the period when the ‘niggers’ beat each other up, and the police and magistrates do not know which way to turn when faced with the astonishing waves of crime in North Africa. While the settler or the policeman has the right to strike the native, to insult him and to make him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend his personality vis-à-vis his brother. Paulo Freire, interpreting Fanon in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, observes that it is possible that in this behaviour the natives are manifesting their duality, because the oppressor exists within their oppressed comrades; when they attack those comrades they are indirectly attacking the oppressor as well.
An example closer to home is the rise of the British Empire. The success of the British in the late 18th and early 19th century was largely facilitated by the disunity and at times the sheer hatred of the native towards his fellow natives. In the early 20th century, the allegations by two major political parties — Congress and the Muslim League — against each other were similar to the present day Pakistan, i.e. loyalty to the establishment (British). The attack on the British was almost always reasoned and logical, but when it came to the critique of the other party; it was practically no holds barred, with personal attacks in abundance.
The mode of analysis applied by Fanon and Freire may give us a better understanding of the causes of the recent vile outbursts by our politicians against their democratic comrades (given the parties involved I use the term comrade very loosely). The analogy between ‘the native and the coloniser’ and ‘the democratic and non-democratic forces’ in Pakistan is instructive. Though the initial attacks by the two parties were slightly more civil, yet the underlying allegation was identical, that the other party was groomed and nurtured by the ‘establishment’, and has no right to profess democracy, or more drastically, a revolution. It is possible that our worthy legislators, while attacking each other’s democratic legitimacy, are at a subconscious level expressing their resentment at the real power brokers, i.e. the establishment. These outbursts might not be display of bravado but rather squeals of the helpless.
Verbal abuse is very democratic; it creates a feeling of camaraderie with the common Pakistani. The resorting to ad hominem is almost always the last resort of the feeble, something that the average Pakistani is very familiar with. The auto-rickshaw driver who beats the living hell out of a street vendor for no apparent reason is at some level protesting against the state. A couple of years back, the publishing of blasphemous caricatures by a Danish newspaper caused people in Lahore to set the shops and cars of their fellow citizens on fire. This irrational violence, both verbal and physical, is the common man’s act of defiance to the state, his expression of civil disobedience. Equally significantly, it is the resignation to his helplessness in relation to the powerful, the oppressors.
This display of powerlessness by the major political forces is a cause for greater concern than the trivial and personal jibes at personalities. The veracity of the petty allegations is insignificant in comparison to the question of why they felt the need to express themselves in the manner in which they did. The elected leaders in a democracy are, in theory, the most powerful people. We know that this proposition does not hold true, given our wretched history. Nevertheless, the outbursts of the democratic leaders do signify helplessness not only in regards to control over the state of affairs, but also the freedom to criticise. The ‘establishments’ of the past and those associated with them are very courageously disparaged, yet there remain forces today that are not to be named. This is true not only for the two parties concerned in the recent fiasco, but also for almost all the political parties. It does not take much for the native to attack his fellow natives, but it takes the development of consciousness to revolt against the coloniser. We had hoped that the ordeals of the past would have given impetuous to the growth of such democratic consciousness; apparently it has not. Our democratic leaders still have time to direct their rage at those who pull the strings, before it is too late. The stakes involve more than the personal reputations of individual leaders; the whole democratic edifice is threatened by these public displays of impotence. We have been through all of this before. It reminds one of Ahmed Faraz: “Aye mere logo, Iss se pehle bhi toh aisi hee gharri ayee thee” (My people, we have seen this moment before).