Everyone Wants to Make a Speech and Be Angry

Posted on November 4, 2010
Filed Under >Mosharraf Zaidi, Society
15 Comments
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Mosharraf Zaidi

On October 30, The Indus Entrepreneurs or TIE held a national conference on entrepreneurship whose theme was “Unleashing Change”. Without a generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, job creation in Pakistan will stay dormant, while our population and its appetite for consumption goes through the roof. TIECON 2010, as the conference was branded was a great success. It brought together many experienced entrepreneurs to share their experiences with aspiring tycoons. The issue of entrepreneurship and the value it adds to the economy, to society and to politics needs greater attention than it gets, and organiser Moonis Rehman did very well in bringing it to light through TIECON 2010.

The one aspect of the conference that disappointed however was an aspect, that in recent months, I have found to be common to virtually every conference, workshop, seminar or discussion I attended. It may be the single most disturbing aspect of public life in Pakistan. Our national public discourse has become so irrational, personalised, emotive and imbalanced, that a substantive and honest discussion about important issues has become nearly impossible.

I have seen people stand up and make speeches, where they’ve been invited to ask questions. Not speeches about the depth and breadth of the topic at hand. No, no, no – political speeches that belong in Jamshed Dasti’s kutchehri and not in a serious policy discussion. I have watched young people, students no older than 18 years of age shout into microphones, wailing about inflation, and corruption, and terrorism. Were these young Pakistanis at a political rally or were they participating in a drunken discussion about teenage angst and their collective frustrations? No. They were attending a serious conference in a room full of senior business leaders, government officials and social workers. I have watched retired senior Pakistani citizens veer off course from painstakingly crafted seminar agendas so that they can postulate tired old Marxist, or Islamist, or post-modernist theories about what is wrong with Pakistan.

Everybody wants to make a speech, and be angry. Everybody wants to make rebuttals based on how they felt when they woke up. People are getting bolder and bolder. I’ve watched otherwise serious people begin questions and comments with a very honest and disturbing acknowledgment of their anger, “You know, I am very angry…”. Old people, young people. Women and men. Leaders and followers. Everyone is part of this new culture of shouting and screaming and making the quality of the national public discourse nearly unbearable. If you are getting tired of the migraine from this unending national shouting match, you are probably not alone.

What is the answer? Rather, first of all, what exactly is the issue?

Far too many times we misdiagnose the problem. Two of the most commonly made assertions about the problem statement, ideology and manners, don’t accurately reflect the real problem. Partisanship often tends to drive a lot of the criticism in national discourse. The terms liberal extremists and media Taliban are used by folks occupying different ends of the ideological spectrum. If two people at either end of a debate are shouting at each other, the problem of shouting isn’t that one person is a so-called Taliban, and the other, a so-called liberal. Clearly, the quality of the national discourse has little to do with what ideology you follow or represent – even if one group has, by dint of larger numbers, a greater capacity to shout and intimidate. A generic lack of civility or manners also seems to be a poor explanatory instrument for the poor quality of the national discourse. We don’t have to be civil just for appearance’s sake. Civility is a personal choice people make based on how they are raised as children, and what their view of courtesy and its social value is. Indeed, aggressive speech may not always be a bad thing.

One’s ideology or degree of civility does not constitute the real problem in the national public discourse. The real problem is that the discourse is divorced from facts, from data and from reason. It is a largely irrational public discourse.

The anger with which people are expressing themselves, at conferences, in living rooms, and on the television talk shows that help sell millions of bars of soap, mobile telephone connections and fizzy drinks is a product of frustration. This frustration is a product of ignorance. We simply do not have a culture of numeracy. We don’t use enough data to engage in a constructive national public discourse about any of the major issues confronting Pakistan and its future.

This is terrifying in a country of 180 million people that requires urgent and drastic changes in virtually every sphere of public life. We need data to conduct better delivery of social services, like education. For example, did you know that more than 40 million Pakistani kids between the ages of 5 and 18 are not in any kind of school? If you did, would teacher-training, or curriculum reform deserve the same attention in a discussion about education as school enrollment and dropout rates?

We need basic facts to decide whether we should roundly condemn entire countries, or whether countries are vast and large and offer a multitude of things. For example, did you know that among the most credible sources of information about drone attacks are in fact American non-profit organisations, some that are funded by the US government? These American think-tanks and advocacy groups have done the lions’ share of work in quantifying how many drone attacks take place, what kind of damage they do, and what kinds of problems are involved in the deaths of innocent civilians. Two of the most important American organisations working on drone attacks are the New America Foundation, and Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). CIVIC has recently published an excellent report on the deaths of innocent civilians in Pakistan, titled “Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan” by Chris Rogers. It is a vital piece of research in the debate around drones that has scarcely received the attention it deserves. Yet every evening someone or the other is railing about these drones on television.

Fiscal policy, interest rates, foreign affairs, cricket management, post-disaster relief and recovery. No matter what area of public life, none can be addressed without data, and information – of which we use so little in our national discourse. It is easy to throw unsubstantiated allegations into the atmosphere in Pakistan because numeracy and evidence have no place in the debate. The frustration of not knowing is what produces a culture of all-knowing ignoramuses – frothing at the mouth on television talk shows, spewing venomous allegations about international conspiracies on Twitter and Facebook, making Bhutto-esque speeches during question hours at serious conferences.

This high-volume nonsense is an expression of our collective helplessness. This helplessness can only be addressed through the empowerment that knowledge offers.

How can we start? By turning off the TV and opening a book.

This was first published in The News. Mosharraf Zaidi’s articles can be read on his blog, here.

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15 responses to “Everyone Wants to Make a Speech and Be Angry”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    You know what is wrong with Pakistan?

    The gitter-mitter crowd wants to call “great flooding” as “great floods”.

    And the ignorant mullah, (and we have at least one resident ignorant mullah) who wants to call it the wrath of god (yes, with a small “g’, as the big “G” does not do this.)

    So, there you have it.

    Good, honest, decent and hardworking Pakistanis slammed from both sides.

    These so called “liberals” do not want you to speak up in their “serious policy discussions” and the ignorant mullah does not want you to speak up in “his” masjid.

    Both wrong. And both do not want to be called out for their wrongs.

    One unleashes the force of the state, the other the mob with “god’s” help!

    Both will unleash ferocity on those who “dare” to speak up and say, “you cannot walk on us anymore”.

    Good and ordinary Pakistanis are held hostage to the madness of these self proclaimed “liberals” and these self proclaimed “deen-dars”. Neither knows the core principles and neither values the core beliefs.

    And I cannot seem to get off my soapbox!

  2. Watan Aziz says:

    [Sultan Rahi on]

    Whayyy, kisss “serious policy discussions” dey talk kardan ehn You?

    [Sultan Raho off]

    Could this be how, “I-Slammed-Everyone-Else-Abad” is great and how to make it even better? Or how Lahore can rob more resources? Or how Karachi can suck away wind from rest of the nation?

    Wait, wait, wait, I got it. We have to help the poor by spending billions on major projects!

    Yep, those “contracts” are needed to line up pockets and bank accounts. This circus has been going on since 1948!

    Or is it how, Mai Jori Jamali’s mother “traveled” two miles to get water, and how she “travels” two miles to get water, and how her daughter will “travel” two miles to get water?

    Oh the haughtiness of the haughty!

    I wish I could say I am stupefied at this post. I am not. This is a reflection of what is wrong with Pakistan. The thinking of the “gitter-mitter” crowd. They want Mai Jori Jamali and Shazia Mashi to bow on their altar.

    And stay bowed.

    Yes, master, please do mess up our lives, blame us for being uneducated, blame us for having children (population growth). And yes master, your screw ups are not your screw ups, they are a blessing to Pakistanis. Yes, master, you have been sent upon us from heaven. Yes master, you can pee on us and call it a rain. And yes, master, if you pee on us even more, call it “great floods”.

    I know some will claim,well, this NGO is doing this and that. And this group is doing this and that for the people. And this blog is doing this and that for Pakistan.

    Well, it is not fast enough. It is not good enough. It is not big enough. And if you will live in the 3 big cities, not matter what you will say you are doing, it is not fair enough.

    There are mothers who do not sleep through the night whose children are deprived of simple Aspirin.

    There are fathers who are carrying their children for miles so that they can get to the nearest doctor.

    And in the 3 cities, the glamor, the lights, the shiny cars.

    This is not sustainable.

    The soapbox.

    Yes, get the soapbox everyone. Say it out loud. Say it out clear. Say it out again and again, until, civility and respect for humanity prevails. Get on your soapboxes and demand for jury boxes. Get on your soapboxes and demand for ballot boxes. Again and again. And, again and again.

    It is a process and it has to be started. It will be uncomfortable. There will be mistakes. Rome was not built in one day. And the gitter-mitter crowd will not come to these sense in one day either.

    The give and take of the process will educate everyone what is the right way of expression and what is the wrong way of expression.

    Pakistanis are good people. Pakistanis are honest people. Pakistanis are hardworking people. Pakistanis are decent people.

    And you be happy and be proud that you hear from Pakistanis. Pakistanis who love Pakistan. Pakistanis who care about Pakistan. Pakistanis who want to live in peace. Pakistanis who want security. Pakistani who want dignity.

    Pakistanis who want Equity. Pakistanis who want justice.

    Because, as these words are in black and white, there are enemies of Pakistan who wish Pakistan so bad, you do not want to even think about it.

    To the soapboxes everyone!

  3. Watan Aziz says:

    Typos acknowledged.

    Part and parcel of the blogging culture!

  4. Watan Aziz says:

    Oh, the pomposity in pompousness of pompous “gitter mitter” crowd.

    And I reject it.

    Every civil society of great nations (and through history, if you will) has three boxes.

    The soap box.

    The ballot box. (Well, this is relatively new concept in history).

    The jury box. (Judiciary or justice system, active, with spine and respect of the citizenry.)

    The ballot box is an orderly exercise and the transfer of power. The jury box is a must. No nation will survive injustice. It is the law of nature.

    But the soap box is the perhaps the most important. Where someone who has a point to make, can make a speech, a question, hell, even heckle. As long as it does not involve “gali-gloach” or “dhanga-mushti”, all is well.

    And I would rather that Pakistanis take the soap box again and again than not. Much better that breaking laws; causing civil disturbance, mayhem and violence. I would rather have people disrupt ..a serious policy discussion and tell them we are not going to take it anymore, than either to keep it inside or worse, fall victims to those who excel in misguiding people.

    What the way, ..a serious policy discussion, was this the discussion where the topic was how to call the “great flooding”, “great floods”? I mean, I like to know what these serious policy discussions of the “gitter-mitter” crowd is? And please do let me know when and where the next one will be held. I like to send in some water from the same place Mai Jori Jamali gets her water. Will be no time that these “serious policy” planners will be seriously sick and sitting on the side walks throwing up the contents of their sumptuous consumption from stolen wealth of the nation.

    People are getting bolder and bolder.

    Best news I have heard! Yes folks, get your soap boxes out.

    It is ironic, that this post is on the heals of all those folks who were quite when the wife of CJP was manhandled (yes, it was a man) by police, but spoke up when one of their very own’s speech was under threat.

    Free speech is a process. It sometimes comes with a lot of bad speech. Good writing is a process. It also comes with a lot of bad writing. We do not wake up one day and know how to deliver a good speech. We do not wake up one day and know to write better.

    The more avenues, the better.

    I will again gratefully quote Sabeen Mahmud: A lot of people discredit online activism and ask for ‘action’. This is a step towards action. These discussions need to be kept alive; they contribute towards building a critical mass of ‘resistance. This is not about ‘publicity’, it’s about demanding accountability, it’s about asking questions, it’s about saying NO, we will not sit back and allow to walk all over us.

    Online activism = soap box

    The real problem is that the discourse is divorced from facts, from data and from reason.

    And so who says who has the facts right? Mai Jori Jamali or the gitter-mitter corwd? Shazia Mashi or the gitter-mitter crowd?

    That guy who published “100 Pakistanis” in these archives?

    Please!

    We simply do not have a culture of numeracy. We don’t use enough data to engage in a constructive national public discourse about any of the major issues confronting Pakistan and its future.

    Yep!

    This one I agree. Because we are working with bad numbers!

    The number of schools on paper. The number of people stealing from nation’s treasure. The amount of wealth outside the nation. And I can go on and on and on. We know the picture.

    The numbers that are being presented is an insult to the nation. And only the numbers that add up in taxation are being presented to the nation. And this is nothing new. The godfather of this process was a man named Liaqat.

    About time, we should all walk with our own soap boxes and start talking. Anyone listening?

    I would talk, talk, talk till the cows come home. That would save Pakistan from all this mayhem and death and destruction.

    People are resorting to violence because they cannot talk! This should change (read: stop). People should be heard. If it makes the gitter-mitter crowd uncomfortable, so be it. Gitter-mitter are the cause of the problem. They are the ones who should find the solution. And start the fix.

    …No, no, no…

    ..ignoramuses..

    In need of anger management?

    making Bhutto-esque speeches during question hours at serious conferences.

    Ah, but there was only one and only ZAB, and if people want to follow a good example, give them a soap box!

    Good people will emerge. It is only natural. And also because, Pakistanis are good, decent, hard working and honest people.

    Elementary my dear, Watson.

  5. I know what you’re saying. I have seen people bang cars into people on bikes just for same hurry, same irrational approach, and same sense of self entitlement.

    I believe, the solution lies in

    1) Taming down our media, request them not to publicize violence, request them to show programs that can bring about some sense of harmony by showing the “better and moderate side of Pakistan”

    2) Tame down ourselves, telling us Pakistan is here to stay, and we’re here to stay, and we owe our country and our people a great deal of respect and appreciation.

    3) Follow the religion in its meanings, and submit to Allah for better results

    4) Get honest to our jobs, our shops. Start charging reasonable profits , and forget about luxuries for a while. I am amazed to see why Bangadesh is doing better than Pakistan since few years, and India is doing even better, so we’re also good guys, why cant we do good? We owe ourselves a promise of prosperity with honesty, and just decline to be rich over night.

    5) Vote sensibly in next elections, not for the people who can get our sons a few jobs, but for the people who have never comitted corruption of any kind (monetary, moral, or otherwise) , be it a school teacher, a janitor, or anyone. Honest people will deliver honest results.

    Anyone with any sorts of criminal records must not be able to participate, not even the ones that even went to courts once in their life times on any allegations.
    I think, if we do all of the above, we can atleast get rid of some of our basic problems.

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