I was anti-Musharraf. I am anti-dictatorship. Down to the bone marrow, I detest the idea of a military coup. But, even in being so, do I hate the person, the institute or the idea of military subversion of civilian authority? I am an ordinary civilian too down below Pervez Musharraf in the social hierarchy. I operate alone. I am a small time, insignificant, blogger who nobody gives a damn about, and who happens to have a tiny mind that gibbers. I have no guns to protect me, no army and no private security detail to shield me. I also obviously don’t own any penthouses abroad to enjoy a luxurious self-exile. In fact, in my insignificant salary, I am barely making the both ends meet.
Man to man, I can neither compete with him nor have I anything against him in person. And even in a hypothetical attempt to compete with him, he has the power and resources to obliterate me before I can say “let’s fight”.
Knowing this doesn’t offend me because I know it is the truth. And it is also true for many Pakistanis like me. No one in his right mind in this society would like to get on the wrong side of a powerful man. We, Pakistanis, just know this truth, and we keep our heads down and get on with our mundane, dull, helpless lives.
What truly insults us is when such a man brags that he is above the law, when he claims that his institution would always protect him, the law and the Constitution notwithstanding. That is very dehumanizing. We just realise that people like me with no big money or guns behind us are truly at the mercy of God in this country because the law has no power to protect us. Not even the “Sicilian Mafia” and “godfather” of Pakistani politics could touch him. Who are we, anyway?
This is the kind of disenfranchisement that truly alienates the people. It divides us between “us” and “they”; the people above and below the law. It generates resentment not just against the person but against the power that protects them; the institution of the army. And the institution remains the most loved and most feared institution at the same time.
Someone very long ago advised me in passing that I should study philosophy and logic. I am a terrible student, and I have extremely low IQ. The more I read the more I understand that I know absolutely nothing. And this is not just a Socratic pronouncement. It is true.
I stated in an earlier blog that my feed is full of people venomously launching personal attacks on each other and their leaders, most of the times too down below the belt. Sometimes, I am hard pressed to engage in such an argument. It’s too tempting, the Pakistani in me really wants to. But, I manage to stay away somehow.
Thanks to some wise people, I have learned a few things over the years. One of these things is that attacking a person making a claim doesn’t invalidate the substance of the claim. Likewise, a person’s known or perceived character, motive, allegiance or attributes also does not invalidate the substance of that argument. The claim or the argument is validated on its own reason and cohesion, the personality making the argument notwithstanding.
Academically speaking, in Logic, it is called a fallacy; a fault in reasoning. The above mentioned particular fallacy is called “argumentum ad hominem”. There are many kinds of logical fallacies, and they are used as common instruments in rhetoric by politicians, powerful people and the media to deceive ordinary, tiny, people like us. They drive persuasive power out of this. But, in their heart of hearts, they are deceiving us.
When people speak up against Musharraf, or for that matter any general who subvert civilian authority, they do not necessarily attack his institution or his association with the institution. Doing so would automatically invalidate their argument. Similarly, just because it is Musharraf who is making the claim doesn’t invalidate that the army is protecting him. Everybody knows that the claim is true. There is no sense in denying it.
But, this is not our normal way of “civic engagement”. The normal Pakistani way is either ignorant, slanderous, fallacious, or abusive or a combination thereof. The tendency to stoop as vulgarly low as possible while countering an argument is unleashing something quite deadly. A menace far more dangerous than a complex Machiavellian move of subverting civilian authority.
The sanctity of persons, families and institutions are brutally violated every day. When the law seems dubious, and justice biased, this absence of sanctity renders the entire state equilibrium extremely vulnerable. All the while the alienation that “some are more equal than others” is also jolting the very foundations of this society and its social contract. We are heading to an unchartered territory, and the future is as potentially hazardous as it is unpredictable.
It is easy to initiate chaos, it is far more difficult to rein it in. The game is only picking up now. All it needed was a kick and, on this July the 28th, we gave it one.
I really admire Frederick Douglas for his statement:
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where anyone class is made to feel that the society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
feature photo credit: Jawad Zakariya via Wikimedia Commons