Angry Pakistan: Can We Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?

Posted on September 26, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics, Society
65 Comments
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Adil Najam

The picture of lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri with his face blackened by spray is now everywhere. So are links to the video of Geo News show “The Great Debate” where Ahmad Raza Kasuri not only lost his cool but also all sense of decorum and decency that is demanded not only by his profession, but by mere humanity. The face of lawyer Muhammad Khurshid Khan, who had sprayed the black stuff on Mr. Kasuri, has been granted bail but his face is equally blackened by this vile, childish and dishonorable act.

As a post on the Islamabad Metroblog pointed out, had this in fact been the work of an impetous youth there might even have been some excuse. Coming from a ‘senior’ gray-haired lawyer and directed at another ‘senior’ gray-haired lawyer, it was just despicable.

Irrespective of what their political views might be, the actions of both Mr. Kasuri and Mr. Khurshid were vulgar. There is absolutely no excuse for either. It does not matter what the issue was. It does not matter how heated the emotions were. It does not matter who ‘started’ it. It does not matter whose views are right. The actions of both are just plain wrong. And what is wrong is wrong. No excuses. No taking sides. Only condemnation. (The same is, in fact, true of the attack on lawyer Naeem Bokhari in court recently).

This post is really not about the views that the two men hold on Pakistan politics and the Presidential elections. We wish to ask a set of much deeper and much more important questions:

Are we Pakistanis, as a nation, capable of decent civil discourse? Are we capable of honestly disagreeing with each other without becoming disagreeable? Are we able to partake in a honest discussion without getting our own egos offended and without getting down to marna maraana? Why must our anger trump everything else? If, in fact, we have trained ourselves to repel discussion and discourse and seek solutions rooted in violence – either physical or verbal – then how can we aspire for true democracy?

Extreme anger and abuse like the one we heard from Mr. Kasuri and saw from Mr. Khurshid is not just the domain of lawyers. We have seen it often – from cricketers, from actvists, and from society – and we also see it here at ATP in a milder, but equally disturbing form. We have mildly cribbed about it here before, but to little avail. Moderation of this blog is the most (and only) thankless job of running Pakistaniat.com. It takes up a huge amount of time, and it is emotionally draining. Sometimes we feel like giving up and have even thought of just banning all comments all together. And in the process, no one is ever happy with us.

What gets to us is not that people do not agree with us (most comments, most of the time, do not). What gets to us is that people seem incapable of disagreeing with each other without being disagreeable. We seem to be perpetually angry. About everything. We fail to realize that the violence of words can be as painful as the violence of hands. It is as if we are incapable of telling someone that we disagree with them without adding a string of insults. Oddly, many of the same people who seem to think that insulting someone is ‘funny’ (they add smileys to the comment and think that will mellow the pain), are the same who get most easily offended. Nor is this a matter of “left” or “right.” It is a malady that effect all types, and equally. If you look through the archives you will find umpteen comments where people will (seriously) argue for tolerance by suggesting that they intolerant should be eliminated (killed)! Too many seem to show their opposition to violence by advocating more violence.

Even on mild things, note how people are hesitant to show even the most basic respect to the people they disagree with. Its not enough for you to say that you do not agree with me, you also have to question my patriotism, by links to ‘foreign hands’, the lack of tarbeeat from my parents, the inappropriate of my religious convictions, my inherent stupidity and idioticity, and my damn my previous and future saat pushtain. And all because I said that I like pakoras better than samoosas. Give yourself a break, yaar!

This example is fictional, but the problem is not. Just read the comments and note the underlaying overlying sense of anger and frustration that seems to permeate everything. All this makes our life difficult. But that, too, is not the point. After all, that is our own doing. We have chosen to have the moderation policies that we do, knowing full well that many people be angry with us. Those who we agree with as well as those we do not agree with. As Munir Niazi said:

Kuch saanouN marraN da shouq ve see

The point is deeper. Why are we so angry and what does it mean to our collective national future? One could argue that part of the anger comes from the institutional failures around us. Not getting and not expecting justice from the institutions around us, we choose to take things into our own hands. Not used to getting fairness from others, we are eager to assume that everyone will be unfair to us, unless we trump them by being even more unfair. Or, maybe, it is just because we grew up in a place with too much sun. Personally, I doubt if any of these explanations – particularly the last one – is totally valid. I cannot believe that it is “genetic” but I do fear that as a society we have now been trained to be this way and are in danger of seeing this perpetual anger as the norm rather than as an abberation.

If it is so, it is truly truly dangerous. Anger is never a solution. It can lead to horrendous injustices. If we look around us in society. On talk shows. In the daily newspaper headlines. In current events. In the baazar right before aaftari. I suspect you will find a lot of anger. Too much anger. Needless anger. Sometimes violent. Always distasteful. But you will also find a great acceptance of anger as the “normal” way of doing things. That is what is truly truly scary. There is nothing “normal” about the anger that surrounds us everywhere. Until and unless we accept that fact, we are unlikely to be able to do anything about it. And if we do not do something about it, only worse things will happen to us.

P.S. Before someone says this, let me acknowledge that even if our anger can sometimes be excessive, it is nt something unique to us. Many others can also be as or more angry than us. Yes, they can. But so what? That is no excuse. Plus, we are concerned here only about “All Things Pakistan.” Its Pakistani anger and the repercussion of Pakistani anger that keeps me awake (sometimes, quite literally).

65 responses to “Angry Pakistan: Can We Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    One could argue that part of the anger comes from the institutional failures around us. Not getting and not expecting justice from the institutions around us, we choose to take things into our own hands. Not used to getting fairness from others, we are eager to assume that everyone will be unfair to us, unless we trump them by being even more unfair.

    Ditto.

    But this is basic human nature. This is common across all humanity, nations, income, education, religion, etcetera, etcetera.

    Nations and people do irrational things when given a lack of choices or options. And with increased level of restricted choices, the level of violence increases.

    This is why it is so important that there be a healthy conversation, dialog and vigorous discussions.

    And only, open and free societies offer this. Democratic ones. But democracy is a good vehicle when running on strong threads of active and independent judiciary.

  2. Mr. Adil, you’ve yourself said in the begining ” Mr. Ahmed raza Kasuri not only lost his cool but all sense of decorum and decency that is demanded not only by his profession but by mere humanity” and it ‘s not confined to this very show, he displayed such arrogance whenever he appeared on the small screen, therefore, about what the lawyer did to him, one can only comment: he (Kasuri) only asked for it!

  3. Hamid Shafiq says:

    The picture is very good and impressive and i salute to advocate who did this thing. Because this is the first action which impress by American nation and after this one of american woman try to spray red colour on Condaleza Rice but her effort are in fiasco. I think the black sheep must be disgraced because if some body try to fail the normal people movement must be kick out from the country.
    hamid shafiq
    Salute to laweyrs movement for freedom of judeciary and media

  4. Sami says:

    You are right. People thsi angry CANNOT have democracy. You see the lawyers or the govt there is no room for tolerance and if you cannot tolerate disagreement then you cannot and will not have democracy.

  5. AUK says:

    To the board; your silence here is deafening. Are we going to get a thread on the subject or not? It has been over 20 hours and nothing so far. Thanks

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