Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Romancing revolutions

Pakistanis are a poetic people, our literature replete with the fanciful. And from the groundswell of the noble and heroic, the tragic and the blissful emerges a yearning for our own revolution.

The Egyptian revolution is up there with 9/11 for having “changed everything”. With the uprising in Tunisia it caused the domino-effect across Libya, Bahrain, Oman as well as Saudi Arabia. Something in it struck as being magically achievable, for seeing the mass of humanity in Tahrir Square day after day without significant bloodshed resonated across the world to smaller causes and communities. To, of all places, America.

Over the last few years America has seen a crippling recession. Unemployment hit record highs and with the subprime mortgage lending scandal precipitated the home foreclosure crisis. But no street protests occurred. The government bailed out Wall Street and the Detroit auto industry in face of incongruent executive bonuses and personal jets, but aside from media derision, the public let it go.

Over the last two weeks however, protestors in the thousands are camping out in capitol buildings in Wisconsin, Missouri and Ohio protesting the restriction of collective bargaining rights of union workers. The protest of 100,000 in Madison Wisconsin may be the largest since the Vietnam War. Joel DeSpain, spokesman for the Madison Police Dept. said that he had not seen anything like it for the 50 years that he has been in Madison.

It is difficult to prove that these protests draw inspiration from Tahrir Square. But America has seen a lot worse in recent memory, with a nary a peep from the public, so one must wonder.

In Pakistan though we love the tall talk all the way from the media to the politicians. Gilani and his PPP coterie are indignant at the suggestion of an uprising in Pakistan for we have “democratic institutions”. It is true that repression in the Arab world was protracted and heavy and Pakistan does have a democratic government, a legislative and a judiciary, but in essentially all of them there seem to be an infinite variety of foxes guarding henhouses.

With a barely 40% literacy rate, probably less than 5% classifying as the intelligentsia and less than 1% holding the destiny of the nation in their corrupt death-grip; one can’t blame talk show hosts for clamoring for a cleansing.

Yet Pakistan is a land of rent-a-crowd power. With a battered economy and millions below the poverty line, a couple thousand rupees can buy you all kinds of noise. The stakes rise significantly when the mullahs add their blinded bigotry to the chest-thumping and incite to not just protest but kill.

We compare with Egypt in our stark lack of a charismatic leader. But there the comparison ends. The uprising in Egypt was galvanized over a single issue-the overthrow of Mubarak. In Pakistan our causes are as profuse as our colorful culture. “Each man for himself” is the only tenet that can be recognized across all boundaries of ethnicity and education. This translates into the self-before-state premise and defines our patriotism to the passionate singing of the national anthem. And even as the anthem’s notes end we’re planning our next pillage of Pakistan.

In a nation with a collapsing economy, high unemployment, rampant disease and runaway population our protests are shutter-down-strikes. With a poor work ethic that is now embedded in our genes and the default line of “aap kal aajaye” (please come tomorrow) who do we think we are hurting by these shutter-down-strikes? Not the President who is plum with French chateaus and Dubai deposits or a Prime Minister that has divvyed up lucrative contracts to his immediate family. Not a parliament or politicians that would shame US physicians in their net worth. Nor a judiciary that was delivered with difficulty but now sits with typical Pakistani grandiosity but sub-par performance.

It’s suddenly fashionable to out American agents what with the arrest of Raymond Davis and now Mark Dehaven. The death of four innocent Pakistanis is an egregious assault on our national sensibilities and we seem caught in the crossfire of CIA and ISI machinations. The blame though does not just lie with American hubris; mainly with the governmental clowns that we have handed our fate to. Irresponsible elements are already inciting the public to riot if our “honor” is not salvaged by the Lahore High Court decision. What happens to our honor concerns when the elite plunder Pakistan? What happens to our honor when we celebrate murderers like Mumtaz Qadri and shower him with rose-petals for killing an innocent Salman Taseer?

The solution is fixing our mindset, a thought revolution if you will; rearranging priorities, marginalizing bigotry, changing the work-ethic and eliminating corruption from an individual to the community and thereafter the national level.

Till we place state before self we will be dreamily romancing a revolution. Till then in the reality of the cacophonic talk-show hosts and the myriad assaults of life we’ll actually just be swearing, sweating and jogging on the spot.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist.