Angry Pakistan: Can We Disagree Without Being Disagreeable?

Posted on September 26, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Politics, Society
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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 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. Deeda-i-Beena says:

    Is there some relation between Lack of(TRUE) Education and Preponderance of Intolerance?
    Education is not just obtaining a degree. It is training a mind to accept contrary viewpoints.
    The two lawyers represent the most highly educated class. All lawyers have had at least 16 years of Education. By training they must accept contrary arguments in the course of their professional work and observe the courts decorum.

    Then why this behaviour? I revert to my original question above: Are they (and other educated performing similar behaviour) Truly Educated?
    The larger issue is what is the difference between them and those who missed out on education?

  2. Ismail says:

    Once again, the reactions to the Supreme Court verdict both by those who like it and those who don’t like it shows that we are incapable of decent debate and civil disagreement. The performance of the supporters and opposers on TV shows today has been depressing and sad. This is part of the real hurdle to democracy in Pakistan. The inability to tolerate a contrary view.

  3. Human says:

    Vulgar display of power….

    read this…

  4. Khairulbashar Siddiqui says:

    First I wrote my comments after reading Adil Najam’s post. Then I read all other comments. It is surprising. We have a vast difference of opinion. In one way it is good. If we all believe tht we all have to die one day, and we have to be really accountable for our deeds and our tongue along with our behaviour , the problem really goes away. We are all human. We change our view points all the time. Our knowledge is a blessing by itself. People who are angry and try to hurt others by their tongue or behaviour are either poor in wealth or knowledge. If we build a society with good education and economic justice, we will solve our anger problem. Believe it or not, our nation can not handle so called western democracy. Here it is also the game of riches. Poor have to just follow. But they have created a system in which their basic needs are fulfilled. If we are all serious, plan to go back after retirement, start a real education center, not for money. Whole society will change. It is a long process, but it can be done. In Austria-Europe , Education was compulsory since year 1717. Europe did not become civilized in one day. America is still not civilized, that is why religious fanatics have won the election. Democracy will not build Pakistan. See people in assemblies, they are all sons and daughters of those who have sold their own nation after 1857 for Land and Jagir from British. No matter which party they belong to, they have looted Pakistan together and real good. Come on wake up. Don’t make judgement in “BUGHSE-MAAWIA”. Pakistan is in direct threat by west. No body in west want to see a stable Pakistan. So any body knowingly or innocently destroy the peace in Pakistan is actually an agent of so called WORLD POWER. Again I hope that I did not hurt any body’s feeling. May Allah bless us all.

  5. Khairulbashar Siddiqui says:

    I am impressed by your article.
    This problem is partly due to religion and partly due to economics. If all of us believe that there is nothing black and white, but all grey with different shades, we might be better off.
    Increasing enterpeneurship in Pakistan will help to solve the problem. Building institution will solve the problem. I hope that more NGO’s will work in pakistan. I hope that we living abroad will go back after retirement and do this Jehad-e-Akbar

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