Going Public

April 2, 2013 at 18:19
Muneeb Tahir

Courtesy: http://blog.lib.umn.edu

Pakistani moderates/liberals until now have opted to stay way lower on the radar. There is no doubt this society is becoming less receptive with each passing day. Fanaticism in Pakistan is just another day, but could the reason for this on wheel progression be the absence of an easily accessible alternative narrative?

The abundance of ultra-right wing misinformation and propaganda is something, which people like us meet daily through various media. This material is being channeled through every media known to the dictionary. Where is the equally vocal liberal narrative, needed to confront the populist, ultra-right wing version?
Those days are long gone when a silent majority of Pakistani moderates existed. People, who engage the masses, are well aware and concerned of this development.  

Pakistan is truly a magical land, where any well has to reach out to people, for quenching their thirst, instead of people coming to the well, to get theirs quenched. So, an alternative narrative to this rhetoric of hate and ignorance has to be channeled in a manner to Pakistani masses, that it is comprehendible and a source of least contention.
Last year after having a good look at Beghairat Bregade’s (BB’s) “Aalu Anday”, I finally had my answer. The song has been immensely popular amongst all classes. Its ‘controversial’ lines were digested in most cases by the listeners, with smiles drawn to their faces. The reason being that, the message was comprehendible for many Pakistanis who understood Punjabi (if not spoke); the manner in which it was presented also blunted possible criticism from the far right.
Lines holding rebellious disapproval of society’s collective behavior, did certainly make Pakistanis scratch their heads. The song at some level was successful in engaging the largest segment of Pakistanis, whom liberals consider outcasts and are content with calling, “simpletons”. Too bad there wasn’t more from the band! Taimur Rehman’s “Jhoot ka sir ooncha” based on Jalib’s poetry was another inspiration. Forums like “Khudi” and RSOP are also making a difference in whatever narrow space they are provided with.
Just like politicians have been facing allegations of ‘drawing room’ politics, I think Pakistani moderates and liberals too should engage in introspection. Engaging the “simpleton” is the key, some liberal forums had that opportunity, to engage this segment of Pakistanis. They instead have since recently, started using this opportunity for misdemeanors and provoking the masses instead. They were initially doing a pretty good job, addressing the easy comprehension and accessibility problem, rather effectively.
This tells us that this engagement needs to be carried out in some prescribed bounds, so that offense is minimal, while the message is also conveyed tactfully. If anything is done to the contrary, then it would be just like providing fodder to conspiracy theorists and ultra- wing wingers, hell bent upon proving liberals to be enemies of state and the religion of majority.
We must learn this and learn it quickly, that the space available for liberals to maneuver in this highly intransigent society is very reedy. To make any difference would require a mixture of perseverance and sugar coating one’s message.
Today we see many liberal forums on Facebook and Tweets from the “enlightened ones”. There is all sort of discourse on politics, religion, notions of ‘ghairat’ etc. Ideological rhetoric is being splashed against groups and pages walls, but I ask you, what I used to ask my own self:
Frankly speaking, it doesn’t make much of a difference, because rightists don’t give a fish about all this blabbering. Liberals immersed in their drawing room culture and extreme cynicism keep on crying all day long about the injustices and ignorance in our society, but do not engage “The Simpleton”.
Exchange of ideas between the “enlightened ones” alone can’t make miracles. The rationale has to trickle down to the common man in a comprehendible and “toned down” language, for things to change for good. Presently, this is not happening, liberals are content with communicating amongst closed communities, which give little space to simpletons. They need to at least start pitching their version to a larger audience. When you do not engage other side in a rational dialogue and put forth your options, how do you expect it to start thinking out of the “establishment’s box”?
There are numerous forums, which attract far greater following (from the age group of 15-30, mainly) than liberal forums. These basically promote the same tattered versions of history and farfetched conspiracy theories, which today’s Pakistani liberal-moderate detests with all his/her power of reason.
Present day Pakistani moderates and liberals have yet to embrace this fact that social media is a revolution in itself. While, in Pakistan’s case it is an opportunity unparalleled by any other, since the past three ‘lost’ decades. This media of all others could provide a robust platform for objective discourse, ultimately concluding itself in reshaping public opinion and redirection of priorities (in matters encompassing state and religion).
Over 8 Million Pakistanis maintain regular Facebook accounts. The number of internet users in Pakistan is over 20 Million with 11.5% internet penetration, per ITU statistics. Internet penetration in Pakistan is second highest after India in South Asia. Pakistan is amongst the top thirty countries with most Facebook users, while the breakup of the Pakistani Facebook users in terms of age groups tells us that, 98% of Pakistani Facebook users are between the age group of 13-44.
Intellectuals have been writing extensively on how Evangelists and Televangelists targeted Pakistani middle class youth, since the 80-90’s. They penetrated universities and colleges. They then made inroads to the electronic media. Even Pakistani pop music industry was approached, resulting in transformation of two singers, Junaid Jamshed into an evangelical and Ali Azmat into a Televangelist. The religious conversion of Pakistani cricketers is not news unheard, either.
Without spiting the evangelicals and televangelists for what they did, I would like to guide the attention of my readers to the success their strategy bore. There are lessons to be learned from the strategy adopted by these groups. They mainly targeted youth, which had humongous amounts of potential and were easy to manipulate after a decade long fundamentalist indoctrination during Zia’s regime. They invested in the FUTURE.
Visibly evangelicals and televangelists cashed this situation big time.
How are the liberals and moderates utilizing the social media?
Liberals and moderates aren’t approaching their fellow countrymen and women with their versions of the story, they instead keep attributing all ills of the country to role of state agencies, the government, army, clergy (religion itself at times-society isn’t ready for that, yet), Saudis, right leaning media and Zaid Hamid without making any serious effort to play their part in bringing some lucidity to this freak show. This all happens in small restricted groups, composing liberals, hence, no trickling down.
It is often observed that these episodes transform into bashing or disowning Pakistan after getting frustrated. Does bashing the only place we could call as ‘home’ in the name of realism help? The answer would certainly be in negation.
Then what could be done?
Rational argument never goes unheard, if your addressee refuses to accept the validity of your rational argument on your face, he/she will certainly give it a thought once trying to sleep at night. There is something about a rational argument, that some part of it always seeps deeper into the skin and touches hearts. Even if, some of it seeps in, consider you have a job well done at your hands.
Key will always be the same, keep pitching the liberal narrative in easy access and comprehension of the simpletons. Availability of options will provide people with choices, something, which they really never had before.
Beghairat Brigade made an effort in the right direction, could YOU?
Muneeb Tahir is online media manager of RSOP and founder PN. Muneeb can be reached at mnb_tahir@yahoo.com.

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