The attack on the young Malala Yusafzai has morphed in to a debate about the future direction of Pakistan. Such debates are healthy for a society which is marred in all sorts of problems and issues and hence any such initiative about discussing ideas and solutions to the problems felt by the society should be encouraged. But before we enter in to debates and discussions about ideas we need to agree to some fundamental rules about debates. Ideas need to be stated clearly and explicitly. You cannot deceive someone in to accepting ideas. Secondly the debate needs to be real. Being real means a few things. It means that both sides should be heard and given a fair chance at explaining themselves. This is important because if an idea has taken root in the society and enjoys the support of the masses, then that very support (of the masses) makes the idea eligible to be heard, no matter how irrational and how inappropriate the idea may appear. This is because these ideas and these debates are not academic discussions for the intellectual pleasure of the thinkers and philosophers of the society. These ideas are related to the organization of the society, the management of the relationships which exist between its inhabitants and the relationship between the ruling and the ruled. Secondly, and which is very important in the context of the attack on Malala Yusafzai, debates should be between the actual stakeholders. And finally, who decides who wins the debate? Who’s the judge? In debates about ideas, which govern the society, the judges are the masses, because the authority lies with them. It is the masses who decide who wins by supporting the ideas which they believe should be implemented in the society.
We have heard the liberal intelligentsia on the issue of Malala Yusfazai. Here is the case for the right wing. That female members of the society should have a right to good education is not only something which majority in the right wing support, but they strongly believe in it. Of course there is a difference of opinion on how the education curriculum should be set and what values it should seek to promote but the right of education for all women is supported by a big majority. But the attack on Malala is not about the right of education for women; rather it is about a broader vision about the comprehensive structuring of the society and the state. What the liberals want is to use the Malala incident to push their viewpoint about the comprehensive structuring of the state and society. That is fair enough, if it is limited to this. But in their attempt to do so, they have unilaterally defined the debate. So they want to not just define and promote what they advocate and believe in, but they also want to define and present what the alternative to their vision about society and the state is. This is not debate. This is unilateral imposition of the liberal agenda.
To present the intellectual battle for the soul of Pakistan as a battle between urban liberal elite armed with ideas against a rural Taliban force which wants to fight ideas with violence is grossly misleading. The Taliban are not the intellectual leaders of the right wing, neither are their views dominant in right wing circles. So it could be argued that this debate, about the soul of Pakistan is not taking place between the real stake holders. The liberals don’t get to define the right wing. The fact that urban Pakistan is overwhelmingly moving towards the right and yet liberals choose rural Pashtun tribes as their ideological adversaries suggests that perhaps the liberals want to avoid a debate with the “urban political right wing” and hence choose the “rural violent rightwing”. It is therefore interesting to note that the liberals present a vision for Pakistan, a secular Pakistan as an alternative to Taliban’s vision for Pakistan. But this is a false choice. It is a false choice because majority of Pakistan is conservative and they believe in a strong role for religion in politics and yet they don’t believe that it is Taliban’s vision which is the only model for the role of religion in politics. Infact majority of urban Pakistan believes in political Islam which in the early days of the Pakistani state meant the Islamization of the Pakistani state through Islamic democracy. Such a vision has lost support amongst the masses due to its complete failure and has given way to a more radical political vision, the establishment of the caliphate in Pakistan. The advocates of a modern caliphate in Pakistan are the true stake holders in the debate for the soul of Pakistan, yet we see liberals avoiding them and realizing that this group, at the moment represents the rightwing and leads it. So really the debate about the future of Pakistan is about two visions, a liberal Secular Pakistan and a Pakistan with a new governance model, the caliphate.
Here is a thing about political organization of societies. Those who have the final say are the masses. And if an idea has taken root in the society, state power and media censorship will not stop its spread. The secular Arab despots, who were overthrown during the Arab spring, learnt it the hard way. The idea of unification of the temporal with the religious has strongly taken root in the Muslim World with the caliphate as a model of governance becoming increasingly popular by the day. The liberals have a choice. To continue to feign their intellectual superiority by refusing to debate with the real stake holders and thus risk being overwhelmed in to ideological oblivion by a society moving towards the right or bring their ideas on the table and in to the society for scrutiny and critique. Scaring the people is not an option anymore. Let’s have a fair debate.
The author is an engineer and a freelance columnist residing in Islamabad and a regular commentator on Muslim Affairs.