Will Durant says that whenever there is a turning point in the history of a people we always see a lofty character at the turn it takes. Pakistan, especially its northwest, is passing through the worst of its times but we don’t see any lofty character. A lunatic fringe is hell-bent on dragging the whole society by its hairs to take it back to dark ages. They are the people who don’t believe in the journey the humanity has covered nor in the progress the humanity has achieved.
These obscurantist forces—name them the Taliban or the religious fanatics—take the society and its culture for a relic which must be preserved. They don’t know that culture or society is a social organism that breathes, grows and prosper. It needs nurturing and most of all interaction with other cultures to develop. After all, culture is a solution kit for the humanity. If a particular society is kept insulated from the outer world, it fails to offer solution to the problems that emerge in its forward march. In such a situation either the local culture has to learn from others or it will have to arrest the society’s forward march which is called change. Here begins a cultural decay that we see today in the shape of warped religious opinion, or clinging to worn-out values and traditions.
But this very change is the essence of life, which the obscurantist cannot digest. Dr Fazlur Rahman, the renowned professor who taught at the Chicago University, says: “… no functioning human society can be utterly static—some changes always continue to occur.” Poet-philosopher Allama Mohammad Iqbal, who is often quoted by the clergy for its own conservative worldview, says that only change is constant in the universe which means that everything (with added emphasis) is subject to a constant change. But it is this change which these forces do not like because their eyes are lodged in the back of their heads instead of being to the front on both sides of the nose just beneath the eyebrows.
As far as leaders are concerned, a leader is the epitome of social currents. British philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell says that an ideal society is just below mediocrity. This he said in reference to ‘unpopularity’ of German philosophers in their lifetime as compared to popular acceptability of their contemporaries in Britain. Surprising it may sound, but this is proved from the universal accolade that German philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Goethe, Schopenhauer and others received in modern times. The collective intellect of their time could not catch up with the lofty ideas at the time of their origin. When the human civilization progressed—both materially and, with the creation and proliferation, of new knowledge it happened that it could understand and internalize the wisdom of these philosophers when they were no more there.
A human is an extension of his/her environment. There are always good and bad people in any society. Being feeble, a common man carries some (not all) good traits of his times; his fellows carry others. Now if a person is the paragon of the collective good—a good that others carry in piecemeal, becomes the leader. So if we don’t see any leader at this critical juncture, it means that the pieces of that characteristic are not there in the society. If we don’t have the Lego of a leader, how can we have one in whole.
Kemal Ataturk led Turkey towards modernity, not that he wanted it to be so; the people of Turkey had a longing for a modern state and prosperous life. Ataturk was in sync with the ideals of his people demanding change. Mahathir Mohammad extracted Malaysia from the ruts of poverty and ignorance only when his people yearned for a better change. History is replete with personalities who have changed the course of history, especially when the going became tough for their people.
However, when it comes to Pakistan, one wonders why is it ruled either by dictators (both civil and military) or inept politicians at the political level and by bigoted mullahs at grassroots level? We dance maniacally on roads and garland tanks when elected civilian government is toppled in the name of yet-to-be-defined and much maligned ‘national interests.’ But shamelessly, we elect the same politicians when the dictator deems it fit to hold elections.
The men of Swat, the picturesque valley in Pakistan’s northwest, reveled in their ignorance when their womenfolk donated their jewelry to ‘Mullah Radio’ (the infamous Mullah Fazlullah who lead a revolt against Pakistani state in 2009 and was driven out after a military operation) who showed his disdain quite soon for anything that brings joy or freedom to the people, especially women. When the Taliban rained terror on Swat, we looked outside for the source of the marauding insanity that we groomed, nurtured and cared for all these years. We looked for but could not notice any messiah who could pluck us from the morass.
The Taliban are the replica of our collective character. Everyone of us carry a piece or two of the Talib(an), and when these pieces come together, a real Talib(an) emerges on scene. They are not foreign; they are within our ranks. Forces bludgeon their heads and we produce more to continue this circus in one name or other. One does not need to look for the Taliban in the woods; just look inward and one is lurking over there to be released no sooner than later. Go and kill your own Talib(an) and you will choke one feeding channel.
To defeat the Satan without, one has to accept the Satan within, says Carl Jung, one of the greatest knower of human mind. After all, charity begins at home; improvement begins with “I”. The Taliban stalking the valley of Swat and prowling in our midst represent our collective soul. You cannot change others but yourself. And once you change yourself, it is not an individual: every person wears more than one mask at a given time. If you are a son or a daughter, you are also a friend and a neighbor, you are a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, a friend or a colleague and so on.
So my friends, it’s time for soul searching instead of calling a spade a spade. Scratch your back and you find a Talib(an).
The author teaches journalism at the University of Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan. Currently, he is a PhD candidate at American University’s School of Communication. His dissertation research is focused on the discourse of militant organizations in Pakistan. Tweets @faizjan