Understanding the ‘Angry’ Activist | Pakistan Today

Understanding the ‘Angry’ Activist

History is written by ‘angry’ people, and there is no reason your anger should disqualify your argument from serious consideration.

We are all angry people. You’re angry because the waiter botched your order and refuses to acknowledge and rectify his mistake. Your brother’s angry because he’s stuck behind a slow-moving car with a Karachi license plate on the Murree Expressway. 

The public is presently upset with Imran Khan for the most pointless reason I can imagine, though in fairness, I admit to having little interest in anything that has to do with cricket. The ex-sportsman derided some international players participating in the PSL, calling them a word that is now going viral on social media.

There was a moment where it seemed that ‘Pateechar-gate’ had finally turned the tide of public opinion against the PTI chairman. I find this astonishing. Of all the things Mr. Khan has said and done – from his apologia of military dictatorship, to appeasement of religious radicals – the expression of a personal opinion regarding some athletes is the not something I had imagined him being crucified for.

This, to me, is a fine example of wasteful outrage. We all have our personal opinions regarding athletes and celebrities; and if these opinions are grounded in these personalities’ performances in their respective trades, there is little reason why these opinions should be so controversial. If there was something controversial about Khan’s remarks, it was his derision towards “Afreeka”, as if any athlete coming from an African state would be inherently inferior. This overt racial prejudice, unfortunately, contributed very little to the overall outrage against Khan.

The same people who lost their composure at Pateechar-gate, often display ‘pride’ at their ability to stay calm on matters that normally upset rights activists and writers. These people, predominantly men, are so proud of their ability to tolerate sexist jokes and attribute their calm collectedness to their superior sense of humour. These are the self-appointed mediators who drop by your Facebook page, while you’re arguing with a Muslim supremacist about rights for religious minorities; and patronize you for being “over-emotional” about one petty issue or another.

Who decides the “pettiness” or seriousness of an issue? Ostensibly, those who are least affected by it. Any complex discussion on period-shaming among women is likely to be invaded by a male opinion on the triviality of this matter. Any public discourse on the difficulties of trans-people in Pakistan is at risk of attracting a cis-gender person to the table, who then smugly reminds you how this third-world country has far more serious problems to deal with than worrying about “men not being allowed to dress up as women”.

On a personal note, I do not recall a single week passing by without someone on the internet asking me why I’m “angry” all the time; why I seem like I have all the world’s quandaries stacked on shoulders, and why I don’t just “chill”.

And to these people, my answer is always the same. I first point to the most recent case of injustice involving, say, manhandling of gay or transgender people; or the non-payment of wages to blue-collar workers. I then ask them to get angry on my behalf for a day, while I go on a brief vacation ‘chilling’ and enjoying the latest train wreck Bollywood blockbuster that has everyone so pumped up.

I need you to be angry, because someone has to be. “Chill” people are useless gunk in the engines of political change. Martin Luther King did not lead a march of happy black people, nor did the All-India Muslim League manage to rally calm and satisfied Muslims to their cause.

Furthermore, it’s easier to be calm when the matter under discussion is nothing more to you than an opportunity to flex your intellectual muscles. Fat-shaming, for instance, is not a social-political subject that I can leave at a debate hall and walk out whenever I feel stressed. As a fat person, this issue follows me outside the hall wherever I go; from an interview room to a meeting with a potential spouse and her family. Likewise, a non-Muslim discussing with you the challenges of life as a religious minority in Pakistan, is not exercising his cerebral cortex; he is fighting a personal battle to carve out a space for himself in an unyielding system.

Your ability to stay ‘calm’ could be evidence of higher self-control, but it may also be an indication of your lack of empathy for the struggles of your opponent. We all get upset. It’s natural, and in some cases, entirely reasonable.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.