If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” — Rumi
I remember Dr Arfa Syeda Zehra fondly as my professor of Urdu Literature from two and a half decades ago. She has always been full of compassion and grace. If someone were to ask me of effective teachers, hers would be a name on the top of the list. This is simply because of the lessons she imparts beyond the technical aspects of learning the Urdu language. One of her more prized lessons for me is when she shared her mother’s teaching to not engage in riya (showing off) by wearing a new Eid dress that could potentially cause ranjh (sadness) among peers who did not have new clothes to wear.
These are our values that have long been forgotten in the age of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook or at best commodified into feel-good memes that are posted for show and to garner attention through likes.
It is not uncommon to find young men display their gym-sculpted bodies, as male competitiveness and the urge for domination can be quite intense. While such brash display of bodies is tempered to some extent by Pakistani norms of decency, such is not the case for the brash display of the intellect. In some sense, intellectuals (men and women alike) are far more guilty of riya-kari (showing off) and dil-azari (pungency) than cocky young men in love with their own reflection.
Where education should lead one to humility and restraint, it does quite the opposite with several academics who develop pet narratives and wield specialised jargon as a weapon to humiliate and pummel others into silence.
I have noticed this among some young intellectuals and academics who wield power with their Twitter accounts, where they engage in public pillorying of those they disagree with. I have noticed how they rail against seasoned writers, like Nadeem Farooq Paracha and senior professors like Dr Taimur Rahman, simply because of a different worldview. Instead of showing hilm (forbearance) they lash out egregiously.
Intellectuals (men and women alike) are far more guilty of riya-kari (showing off) and dil-azari (pungency) than cocky young men in love with their own reflection.
Other young academics project themselves as perpetual victims on account of their race, gender, and sexuality in the current social justice environment that rests on ‘Oppression Olympics’. They then become a paradox where they inflict humiliation on others and yet claim victimhood for themselves. It is a hallmark of right-wing jingoists and the left-wing woke alike.
But here’s the rub, individuals who perceive themselves as perpetually oppressed (despite being imbued with the privilege of working in western academies with high degrees and high-profile social media presence) can only engage in constant shrieking and creating a toxic environment instead of bringing diverse people together to build community. It takes inner strength and deep-rooted values (the ones shared by Dr Arfa Syed Zehra) to give back to the community and effect productive change. In the absence of such inner strength and values, all such individuals can do is constantly rail against one thing after another that disturbs their irritable and irksome disposition.
In short, while maulvis and mullahs are stereotyped as rage sputtering madmen, the same is perhaps true for young intellectuals and academics, who put themselves on a pedestal with their pet meta-narratives, and who rain down fire and brimstone on others who stray from their script.
Moreover, if the dense language they use is not understood by others outside their cliques of critical theory studies on race, gender, sexuality, and decoloniality, then what are they possibly hoping to accomplish with their brimming reservoirs of anger and offense? Instead of expecting the world to adhere to their sensibilities, shouldn’t they look within to stem their own unchecked hubris?