When the shoe is on the other foot | Pakistan Today

When the shoe is on the other foot

Time to swap the arguments

 Imam Khomeini (and later Benazir Bhutto to some extent) did a great disservice to politicians in the subcontinent, because now every ‘revolutionary’ wants a similar return where the entire country stands still and the whole nation turns out to welcome the great leader home. Nawaz Sharif had tried his luck in 2007 as well. This was his second attempt at the dream Khomeini-like return – quite literally so, because it happened in his dream. But that’s not my subject today.

My subject is the reaction to the measures taken by the caretaker government for the return. The atmosphere was charged, and everybody seemed to have an opinion about it. Just like everybody had one about the mass mobilisations during the last few years with the Sharifs in power. It was instructive to say the least. The arguments for and against blocking of roads and the alleged detentions were identical to the ones presented in the past. There was the usual concern for inconvenience caused to the citizens, the security threat for the assembled crowds, the sensitivity of the site of the destination of the rally, the violation of section 144, and the rest. To counter these arguments were again the usual suspects: democratic right of assembly and expression, a healthy political activity in the election season, the unnecessarily heavy-handedness on the part of the government, and the rest.

So, the arguments that were presented were the same. The people who were presenting these arguments, either passionately or in a serene manner, were also the same. Only, the proverbial shoe now being on the other foot, and the inevitable change of ‘point of view’ on the part of the arguing parties meant that the arguments had to be swapped. So, the side that was in earlier times having sleepless nights over the law and order situation was now more concerned about the people’s right of self-expression; and vice versa. As usual, idioms, such as ‘getting a dose of one’s own medicine’ and ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’, were pressed into service by people according to their respective new points of view. What Islam had to say on the issue also reflected the foot on which the shoe now was.

Of course, there were one or two voices like Marvi Memon’s who did appreciate the hypocrisy on display, but an overwhelming majority was blissfully oblivious to any such thing, going to lengths explaining why that was fine and this wasn’t, or vice versa. Hence the many distinctions being made between the situations based on intentions, timing, degree of public inconvenience, the security threat situation, etc. Unsurprisingly, the quality of these arguments was mostly of the ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ variety.  

The other day in a discussion with an intellectual and literary person of some renown, who was criticising road blocks and precautionary detentions as undemocratic, I had sarcastically put into words what he appeared to be implying all along but couldn’t find it in himself to state explicitly

And it wasn’t just the politicians or fanboys thereof who were prone to it. Most of the so-called analysts and intellectuals proved to be equally guilty of it. Perhaps that’s what politics is all about: ultimately a matter of likes and dislikes, no matter how much one pretends to have objectively analysed the situation. Another reminder that far from being a rational animal, man is ruled by raw emotions and prejudices; and what usually goes by the name of rationality is really an extensive exercise in apologies in favour of and justifications for one’s already held position on an issue.

The other day in a discussion with an intellectual and literary person of some renown, who was criticising road blocks and precautionary detentions as undemocratic, I had sarcastically put into words what he appeared to be implying all along but couldn’t find it in himself to state explicitly. I had said, ‘Let’s agree that the elected democrats are entitled to such heavy-handed tactics, while the unelected caretaker government is not.’ He wasn’t amused. Needless to say, the debate ended without a resolution. But not twenty-four hours had passed before I was at the receiving end of the very same argument, this time from an exuberant youth, only he was as serious as could be. And he wasn’t shy to put his argument into words. He explained that since an elected government was answerable to its voters, it was well within its rights to block roads etc. if it was deemed necessary; something that could not be said about a caretaker setup.

When parody and earnest arguments converge into each other, it tends to leave one at a loss for words. But for an incorrigible optimist there’s always a positive side to everything, provided one looks carefully enough. The good news here is that our starry-eyed youths are not far behind our intellectuals when it comes to the quality (or lack thereof) of their arguments. At least in this respect we have become a truly classless society. Karl Marx would be delighted.

Hasan Aftab Saeed

The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed



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