A nation mired in the mud of unemployment, hopelessness, poverty and insecurity that finds solace in its deteriorating state of affairs will never improve. The dissenting voices are vanishing, giving birth to a hypocritical culture where a band of trendy liberals hold sway. They trade on the public fear of extremism to run the lucrative industry of criticism of religious obscurantism by juxtaposing this substance-less liberalism with enlightenment. This is a dangerous move that tramples the hope to create an inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic society where intellectual debates lead to solutions not to denigration.
Liberalism in its true spirit encompasses a vast array of intellectual traditions and ideological underpinnings that evolved from centuries of political and cultural movements and their inner strains. The process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis where ideas are put forth debated and built on for a higher intellectual tradition has ever remained the hallmark of liberalism elsewhere.
Liberalism has never been a monolithic concept and it is as contested a concept as fundamentalism and extremism. Liberalism, therefore, cannot be seen as a singularly anti-extremism philosophy at best and a trendy mode of life at worst. Our liberals in Pakistan have lined up against religious extremists and in doing so they have lost sight of the broader issues that cause extremism to flourish. One example of this was the glorification of the late Salmaan Taseer, not because of his tragic murder, which is condemnable, but more because of his way of life. The more important thing to do is to explore the causes of the hopelessness that breeds extremism than to exhibit hatred towards these hopeless people. Ravaged by poverty, unemployment and starvation with nothing to lose, our youth is increasingly gravitating towards the ideals of a promised better life being propagated by the proponents of extremism.
The powerless, voiceless and alienated youth from the lower socioeconomic stratum find it more appealing to join hands with extremists than to embrace the values of the “elite culture” of the “liberals”. More so because this hollow liberalism does not empower the poor and it does not hold the promise of an exalted life. All it offers is an experience the poor in Pakistan have never undergone. Their hatred becomes furious when they see a class with obscene wealth, and opulence enjoying a princely life in a country where millions are deprived of their basic needs.
The political leadership has turned a deaf ear to the plight of the poor. Globalization has added salt to the injury with the anti-poor economic agenda of the IMF being implemented. The neo liberal mantra of economic growth has never worked in Pakistan and the developing world at large. The agenda of the IMF, in the absence of any social-safety net for the poor people, has greatly contributed to poverty and vulnerability.
Extremism will grow if “progressive” forces continue to live in their comfort zones when they should come forward with viable political alternatives to both religious extremism and unthinking liberalism. The increasing divide between pro-west liberals and anti-west religious extremists may drag our society towards a political and economic collapse and anarchy.
The need for drastic political and economic measures is more urgent today than ever. The government is obsessed with cosmetic changes. The talk about tax reforms and downsizing of the cabinet is shFinding a revolutionary solution