Many of us will be acquainted with the western stereotype of Pakistan: hostile, intolerant and in some cases radicalised. Many of us will also be aware of the societal schisms within Pakistan itself. In the quest for a modern state, many Pakistanis have wholesale secularised themselves and those around them. More still are fairly rabid in their quest to eliminate all traces of Islam from Pakistan’s national consciousness. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the equally intolerant, highly literalist and in some cases bigoted self-anointed ‘defenders of the faith’, out to press their interpretation of Islam on any and all. An observation both sides of the chasm would do well to stare down into, however, would be that of the importance of truth– truthfulness towards others, and themselves. For this truthfulness would let us realise that there is to be no compulsion in religion, and yet that there are tangible benefits to be had from a more genuine incorporation of Islam in the fabric of Pakistan. This post will briefly seek to touch on this conceptual touchstone that I call truthfulness, and exemplifying some of its benefits to Pakistan’s overarching identification issues.
Truthfulness would clear up the fundamental misconception that Islam is to blame for Pakistan’s lack of progress and the negative image it projects to the world. A common cited example is that of Christendom in the Dark Ages, which experienced a revival in its fortunes only after it excluded the church from the state. However this is at best a misconception, and at worst a heinous intellectual and factual deception. The European Renaissance’s principal features were the revival of learning based on classical sources and the advancements of science. Precisely this was what happened centuries before in the Islamic world during its Golden Age. Throwing Islam out of Pakistan’s conciousness is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it would not address the real problems underlying the malaise in Pakistan. Instead, we should be honest enough to admit that it is in our shortcomings as a community to reapply the spirit of Islam to our present problems that is the main issue. For if we did that, as Iqbal strenously exhorted in his “Reconstructions”, we would surely fare better. The lack of emphasis on spending for education and research and development in Pakistan, which Islam would simply not stand for, is a case in Pakistan. Islam’s truths are at one generic, and yet also highly detailed and specific in their solutions for day-to-day life.
Dickens might say about Pakistan today that this is both the best of times and the worst of times- the worst, for obvious reasons, the best, for not so obvious. Perhaps the optimal way to phrase it would be like Goethe, that “there is strong shadow where there is much light”. Presumably that inner ideological and spiritual light is simply itching for an opportunity to make an appearance. In the smile of every genuinely compassionate Pakistani lies the makings of a nation based on harmony, not conflict- in other words, unity.
Without wishing to steal Jinnah’s thunder, I would like to point out, as he did, that, to harness that unity, we need faith and discipline. Faith, to have conviction when the box seems empty; and discipline, to harness Pakistan’s various strengths and minimize its weaknesses. Yet the common denominator of these endeavours has to be truth. And herein lies the rub. For in order to be effective truth must, says Wei Wei, “penetrate like an arrow — and that is likely to hurt”. Truth in practice is rarely an easy ride. We all have our skeletons in the closet, individually and collectively. Perhaps organisations in Pakistan, such as the NAB, would do well, to again quote Goethe, to “to investigate what is, and not what suits”. If we, like Pontius Pilate, cannot bear the painful lessons that the truth may bring sometime, then we as a people, as a nation, will ultimately be the worst losers. For a religious person, being forsaken by God is the worst thing that can happen. For a non-religious person, though they may not realise it, forsaking oneself is the worst. Ultimately, both outcomes stem from the same cancer: failing to face up to the truth.
I still believe, though the times may not evince it, that a refusal to self-check, to acknowlege truth and to use meritocracy as the guiding criterion in day to day conduct is what is holding Pakistan back. The day Pakistanis learn to sincerely play by the adage ‘may the best man win’, is the day Pakistan will rise meteorically in the comity of nations. “Truth comes as conqueror only to those who have lost the art of receiving it as friend.” Perhaps we need to judge our success by what we as a nation will have to give up for it in sincere and magnamimous sacrifice, whose starting point is by looking at the man in the mirror. Only then will we be able to cure the various ills facing us.In Pakistan, it seems that honesty is the worst policy. That the brazen, and not the meek, inherit the earth seems to be the core lesson to be learnt from six decades of nepotism, cronyism, party politics, and ubiquitous parochialism. Verily my friends, truth is the cry of all, but the game of the few. We would all do well to start playing it more often.