Monday, December 5, 2016


Pakistan needs a secular liberal ideology

Judging by electoral victories and losses the left wing is losing ground to conservative right wing politics not just in Pakistan (where it has already lost), but all over the world. It would be more interesting to watch this steady decline if it were not so distressing.
With Modi as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for the first time in India’s history the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha, and a whopping one at that. The BJP, a right wing party has close ideological links to the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which in turn is a party thrice banned in independent India for its extremist views, including for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. With a religious rather than progressive thrust, these parties concentrate upon the Hindu nation.
Theresa May, leader of the Conservative Party, heads the British Government. The previous government led by David Cameron, also Conservative, was a coalition composed of the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats whereas the current government takes a further shift to the right with a majority mandate.
In Australia Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott. Both Turnbull and Abbott lead the rather misnamed Liberal party, positioned at centre-right. The current government however is a coalition composed of the centre right liberal, and further right conservative parties.
In France, Francois Fillon, a candidate who likes being compared to Margaret Thatcher, possesses, according to the Economist, a ‘Catholic-hued social conservatism’. He was recently elected as the conservative candidate for the centre right Republican Party. Following elections next year he could well be the next President, a huge shift to the right from Hollande’s socialist radical left.
There is of course Donald Trump’s victory in the US which means…well it’s not possible to pinpoint what Donald Trump believes in. According to an NBC count the President elect has made ‘141 distinct shifts on 23 major issues’. The only certain point is that Trump’s policies are neither left wing nor socialist. In other words the US is in for a period of politics as right wing as they come. It’s sad, because these are not the principles that allowed the country to achieve great things.
It is interesting and troubling, this shift to the right, since it is likely to make the world an even more violent place. It is worth studying the phenomenon to determine how left wing governments have failed to respond, even though they are meant to address problems faced by the masses, something that is not paramount on the conservative agenda.
In Pakistan left wing politics died an early and painful death many years ago leaving the field to the Awami National Party (ANP) Pakistan’s secular and left wing Pashtun party now led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, a party that is basically restricted to the Pashtun areas of the country, the secular MQM, at present in a state of confusion and flux, restricted to Karachi, and of course the PTI, which for the present is just plain confused. The left has been deserted even by the PPP when Asif Ali Zardari claimed that left wing politics were ‘the ideology of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, they are no more relevant now.’ In fact he was talking about left and right wing politics both. All this leaves room for little else but ultra conservative religious parties which is all Pakistan has now, with the centre right and conservative PML (N) the most liberal it gets. It is a depressing situation.
In Pakistan there is a tendency to surround prominent persons with highfalutin words ignoring the principles these persons stand for, as in saying ‘sallallahu alaihi wasallam’ (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) with a great show of piety for the Prophet Muhammad while ignoring his great teachings of equality and non-discrimination. It happens, funnily enough also with the ultra-secular Jinnah who is called ‘Quaid e Azam’ (the great leader) followed by ‘rahmatullah alaih’ (May the Blessings of Allah be upon him) with little heed for his ideals which did not include marginalising segments of society. Jinnah made his ideas clear often, such as when he said: ‘Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.’
Poor Jinnah.
In what is definitely a ha-ha moment, given the vociferous criticism each side levels against the other, Pakistan is not too different in its stance now to those Western countries mentioned above. The only way to stem this drift to the right, or rather to pull the country back from where it already is, is to work liberal secular ideals into the manifestos of political parties, for the purpose of safety in numbers, to keep them away from right wing policies. Having said that it should be mentioned that the ANP has been the principal target of the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), leading to the assassination of more than a hundred of its workers. The MQM, sadly, has been more a victim of its leadership than anything else. In spite of the problems faced by these parties, liberal secularism is the only way to fight feudalism and the great economic divide, with which this country is so riddled.
In Pakistan ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ have become terms of abuse used and manipulated by right wing individuals against independent thought. This has fostered the misconception that to be liberal or secular is to be anti-religion. Quite the opposite is true. Secularism is simply the separation of government from religion. It does not prevent the practice of religion. To be liberal is to believe in a ‘relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty, to believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law.’ (Paul Krugman). A genuinely liberal person would keep religion out of the public arena but he would die for the right of each person to practice religion as the person deems fit. A right wing ideology on the other hand would be unjust in the name of religion, and extreme right wing ideologies would kill to ensure that their distorted brand of religion continues to dominate the public arena.
In short, Pakistan needs political parties that will further a secular liberal ideology, because at the risk of laboring the point neither secularism nor liberalism stand for violence, neither is anti-religion, and they alone can lead to peace. Perhaps it was different once, but we live in this age now, and the greater the religion the more nimbly a secular stance can adapt to co-exist with that religion while keeping the principles of both safe.

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