This is no time to be ‘moderate’ | Pakistan Today

This is no time to be ‘moderate’

  • Dead weight sprawled on a rug that is being pulled left and right

History is written by extremists.

I realise that this statement is prone to misinterpretation, hence I’m forced to sacrifice a bit of my writing space to clarify my stance. When we say ‘extremists’, in the present political context, we almost invariably refer to religious militants whose crimes are too heinous and numerous to explain. That is not what I mean.

‘Extremist’ is a word, and simply denotes a state of loyalty to an agenda; whether this extremism is progressive or destructive depends on the agenda. Jinnah was a partition extremist, based on his ‘extreme’ dedication to carving a new state out of India. Abdul Sattar Edhi was a humanitarian extremist, who never once settled for anything less than absolute devotion to humans, irrespective of their caste, creed, or religion. He said his ambulance was more Muslim than those who insisted on giving preference to believers of Islam for medical assistance. That was extreme.

Raza Khan was an extremist peace activist, which is why he was made to disappear. Raza was not the kind of person who spent an hour a day on Facebook like us proud inhabitants of the hallowed middle-ground. Yes, India and Pakistan should mutually roll back their hostility, but the warmongers have a fair point too, don’t they? No, we shouldn’t be abducted, tortured, and killed for raising our voices for farmers in Okara, the forgotten Baloch, and the embattled religious minorities; but surely those who criticize our institutions for failing to protect their citizens and their rights, are just as much at fault here, right?

You will be a part of tomorrow whether you like it or not. You may as well find the courage to pick a side

Don’t be afraid to pick a side. Sometimes what you know is enough for you to make a conscientious decision. If you hear about a poor Christian man having been harassed out of the window of the fourth floor of the FIA building, and your response is, “Let’s hear the FIA’s side of the story”, then congratulations on not being an extremist. You’re a moderate. And like all moderates, you will never contribute anything to history. You are dead weight sprawled on a rug that is being pulled left and right by aggressors and resistors, the state and the opposition, the indigenous patriots and the ruthless colonisers.

The middle ground is not necessarily a place of reason. From the middle, it’s often easy to miss the forest for the trees. A radical might say that Kashmiris deserve their freedom, as no one should be living in fear in the most densely militarised regions in the world, not knowing when they’d be harassed, arrested, or killed. A moderate might say, “Well, what about the Kashmiri youngsters who throw rocks at the Indian soldiers? Aren’t they bad too?”. The moderate would then retreat to his AFSPA-free cocoon where he has the luxury of not living with the consequence of his opinion; a cocoon where he then congratulates himself for calmly evaluating ‘both sides’, and deciding that he’s better than both of them.

The moderate is at high risk of creating false equivalence. The most unforgivable mistake you can make is to attribute an aam aadmi on the street the same level of responsibility as uniformed personnel, instruments of the establishment vested with great powers. A prime example is the cold-blood shooting of 22-year old Sarfaraz Shah by the Rangers, and the mind-boggling response to it from patriotic ‘moderates’. One would assume that ‘patriots’ would be on side of the Pakistani bleeding to death on the ground. Patriotism has, of course, been redefined to bow before state power rather than standing by the side of the fellow citizen.

It is safe to reiterate that history is written by extremists. The ground is already being pulled underneath your feet. The state, the mullah, and the corporation are drawing the ground towards themselves. On the opposite end, those most affected by the power-grab have dug their nails into the soil and are hanging on for their lives.

You will be a part of tomorrow whether you like it or not. You may as well find the courage to pick a side. And if you do so, let me suggest that it is better to err on the side of the common man, than those who are already up to their eyeballs in power. Never trust power. It’s easily corrupted.

Stir the social pot. Pick a fight with your brother-in-law who tells you not to speak to the Shia and Ahmadis. Attend protests. Don’t pray behind a maulvi who preaches hate and divisiveness.

Have chai with those less privileged than you are, and listen to them. Be respectful to your domestic worker.

Your beliefs won’t change a thing. Your action will.

Faraz Talat

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