Recently, TV news analyst and journalist Hasan Nisar, publicly expressed that “Anyone mentioning democracy should be dealt by a firing squad and his family should pay for the bullets fired on him.” His words indicate that hyperbole is not solely hurled by reactionary clerics like the late Khadim Rizvi. Indeed, when Rizvi would be prodded on his economic plans beyond theatrics, he would fall short and appear as a diminished figure with nothing to contribute beyond inflaming passions. Such is unfortunately true of men like Nisar, who despite railing against fiery clerics ends up sharing much in common with them. That is, loud words with very little contribution.
This isn’t just about Nisar, but about Pakistani public discourse in general. The same holds for PM Imran Khan and some of his critics. For instance, Qazi Shafiq ur Rehman of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) passionately went into a diatribe against the protocol given to government ministers that cost Pakistani taxpayers in millions. But this is not a novel critique, for Khan too had focused on such issues before coming to power or in the early days of his government. With time he learned the hard lesson that saving on such protocols and luxuries would amount to nickels and dimes compared to the economic issues of Pakistan. His many U-turns have been humorously memorialised by MNA Syed Khursheed Shah. Again, like Nisar’s hyperbole, Khan, and critics like Rehman, all speak loud words that are backed by very little contribution. And if Khan is eventually replaced, then to borrow from Orwell’s Animal Farm, do we simply end up with other populists without vision?
Returning to clerics, even logic appealing clerics like Engineer Muhammad Ali Mirza spend their time responding to one cleric or another, obsessing with petty issues instead of weaning their followers away from issues of blasphemy, excommunication or sectarian debates and pushing them to contribute towards the economy, environment or education. Indeed, Engineer has to protect his own market share and so he has to keep his followers embroiled with such issues. Why would he want to render himself obsolete? Instead of proactively showcasing how Islamic principles can contribute towards animal welfare in mass slaughterhouses, how it calls upon the uber-wealthy to bear their responsibility towards fellow citizens, how religious folks can contribute unconditionally without any expectation of conversion, he too perpetuates silly debates, whilst paradoxically condemning sectarianism. Thus, religious discourse, like political public discourse, is reactionary instead of visionary.
In contrast, I recall how a friend of mine in her 40s was working hard to transition from a low paying job to relatively decent paying work. She was working at a bookshop and returned to school to upskill and in this process came up with the idea that she would want to start workshops where children and youth could be encouraged to create their own comic books. Obviously, she became the founder of a community organisation, but expressly mentioned that her task was to set up the institution that could be taken over by the time she was ready to move on in the next five years. This is a small example, but it provides insight into her value of quietly building an institution instead of empty hyperbole.
Returning to Rizvi, at his age, he should have been concerned about instilling values and techniques to the next generation of analysts and journalists, teaching them to steer clear from sensationalism and to focus on constructive criticism, offering detailed alternatives instead of venting angry words that reek (to borrow NFP’s words) of existentialist nihilism. Indeed, he could have led his listeners towards identifying the causes of inflation in food prices and how it could be ameliorated. He could have asked them to brainstorm, and he could have used his media presence to amplify their voices. But alas, his is the fate of an angry old uncle, who like so many Pakistani men of his age have fallen in love with their own echo.
The fact that woke Generation Z Pakistanis are self-absorbed with reaction videos, echo chambers and irritabilities of their own offers no hope for Pakistan either. In the end, Pakistani public discourse remains loud without much vision.