View Full Version : We’ve lost it, almost - Ghazi Salahuddin - 11th November 2012

11th November 2012, 09:27 AM
Believe it or not, a decisive majority in Pakistan believes – or so it did over two months ago – that a car can run on water. I am referring to a Gilani Research Foundation survey conducted by Gallup Pakistan in the aftermath of that bizarre claim by a Khairpur engineer that he had invented a device to use water as fuel to run a car. Equally bizarre was the response he got in the mainstream media, the ripples of which even touched some members of the federal cabinet. We had experts who vigorously joined the debate on both sides of the argument.

That issue, like others that momentarily flare up in our headlines and talk shows, has quietly died down. So I have no intention of reviving that hullabaloo. Irrespective of what it was all about from a scientific point of view, the ordinary people must have formed their opinions on the basis of what they saw and heard in the media – including the social media.

My concern is only about the formation of the collective mind. What do we hear from, to use the Urdu expression, zaban-e-khalq and how is this message related to facts and to the dictates of wisdom and rationality?

Back to the Gallup survey, as an example. The question posed to a nationally representative sample of men and women from across the four provinces was: “Some people think that this car actually runs on water while some people think that it is a fraud. What is your opinion on this?” As many as 69 percent believed in claims about the water-run car, 10 percent claimed it was a farce and 21 percent were uncertain.

Incidentally, the survey was released on September 6 this year – on the Defence of Pakistan Day. With this kind of public opinion, questions may be raised about the task of defending Pakistan. In any case, I was reminded of this survey – and the same question may yield different answers now – when I had a longish ride this week in a car sent for me for a meeting. It was from some rent-a-car agency. It allowed me to have a long conversation with the driver, who hailed from some place in the tribal belt and said that he had also been a driver in Afghanistan.

No, he did not profess any strong sympathy for the Taliban but his entire discourse was so fanciful and laden with contradictory opinions that were forcefully expressed. It made me afraid about how people like him could behave in certain situations. I would not try to repeat what he said except that he also firmly believes that it is not the Quaid’s body that is resting in his mausoleum in Karachi.

My intention is not to speak ill of the people who can be persuaded to believe that a car can run on water. Essentially, they are all very brave and deserve our respect because they have to fend for themselves and their families in very treacherous circumstances. They have to eke out a pitiable existence in a system that is thoroughly corrupt and unjust. In fact, if you genuinely empathise with the poor and the socially deprived people of Pakistan, you may yourself go crazy. That they continue to survive should make them our heroes.

That their passions and their opinions and their worldview can be entirely warped because of their limited knowledge and experiences is something else. I sometimes move around crowded bazaars or visit such places as a public hospital or the lower courts or bus terminals and wonder what they, the wretched of the earth, may be thinking and feeling. Why should we expect them to be sane and rational? Yet, they are supposed to be the staple of our democracy and the final arbiters of what ideas and which individuals will govern this country. Apparently, these choices will be made elsewhere, not in the minds of the awam we are so fond of putting on a pedestal.

At one level, the failure of our rulers, our media, our judiciary and all other institutions that may or may not be contending with each other, is colossal. They have not been able to protect the fundamental rights of the very poor and the very backward segments of our society. Many of our leaders have romantic notions about the tribal ways that are essentially rather primitive.

Simultaneously, we are under attack by the forces of evil that have certainly been strengthened by distortions lodged in the Pakistani mind. Suicide attacks, mostly owned by the Taliban, have continued. Sectarian violence has increased. The attack on the Rangers building in Karachi on Thursday, considering its magnitude, is awe-inspiring. And the Taliban have promised more of the same. In addition, Karachi has been conquered by organised crime and violence.

In these circumstances, we should carefully explore the role that the popular media has played in not only shaping the minds of the ordinary people but also in highlighting the dynamics of widespread poverty and intimations of anarchy and systemic collapse. Here, I need to reiterate that we get so obsessed by politics that we have no time to look at the state of our society.

What we recognise as social media has enhanced the prevailing confusion about the import of various seminal developments. So much distortion and disinformation is bandied about by subversive elements that it becomes difficult to rouse public opinion on an urgent issue. Take the example of the Malala incident, which provided the rulers with an opportunity to take bold action against terrorism and religious extremism. But doubts have now been planted in the minds of the people about what it was all about.

It is not enough to grieve over the present drift. More crucial is to understand our moral and intellectual deprivations and take emergency measures to restore the equilibrium of our society. Our political leaders should seek assistance from academics and researchers and social critics to try to comprehend the challenges confronting Pakistan. Total attention, say, to the statement made by the COAS and to the observations made by the chief justice is bound to camouflage the problems that surround and sway the directionless mobs that our society has nurtured.

If battles are fought in the minds of men, we should worry about the battle that we already have lost in the minds of our ordinary people. What is arrayed in this battlefield is not contending ideas or ideologies but monstrous conspiracies and ignorant biases. The mind is also the repository of the sanity of a person. In that sense, have we lost our senses?