I have been watching with utter dismay and disbelief that a nuclear power like Pakistan is so completely helpless and powerless in clearing its capital of a bellicose mob, hell-bent on challenging the writ of the government and by that token the will of the state.

The government is paralysed and constantly begging Khadim Hussain Rizvi and his followers to bring to an end his dharna. They are protesting against some rewording of the election law, which has now been restored in its original form. The worst abuses are being hurled against those who are perceived to have conspired to ease the law on the Ahmadi issue.

A mob is a group of people who want to intimidate and terrorise others by using street power and brute force to make a mockery of the rule of law and civilised political interaction. The worst outcome could be that Pakistan becomes a mobocracy because it could never have been a secular democracy and an Islamic democracy inevitably leads to majoritarian rule and tyranny.

The interesting thing to note is that two full-fledged Islamic states — Iran and Saudi Arabia — are also consolidated and effective states and the religious establishment is subservient to the government. In Pakistan that is not the case or it is not the case since at least from the time when General Zia departed. I say this because while he was in power he could control the ulema; the exception was the Shia protest against the imposition of zakat. It brought out in sharp relief that the different sects of Islam can never behave as a unified body except when they are targeting non-Muslims. Among themselves they have little solidarity and trust.

If you do not provide some promises of a better future to your people, they have no access to clean water and clean air and all around them are callous and apathetic beneficiaries of the crass and consumer society then it is not surprising that they see mobocrats as saviours

Utter chaos and anarchy prevails every day on the roads and streets. No traffic rules, no concern for pedestrians, including children, the old and physically challenged is shown. People riding fancy cars and stylish motorbikes display their wealth and power by intimidating the less fortunate on the roads — cyclists and people trying to cross road. In fact the city planners if one can call them so have shown utter disregard for the vast majority of people by facilitating traffic only for vehicle owners.

Obviously, what is happening every day on the roads is indicative of a deep malaise in our thinking. There are many theories about who is doing what. The most popular is that the deep state is orchestrating this to further destabilise the Sharif government. If that were true, all the deep state needed was to use its power and influence to close the noose on the Sharifs in legal ways. The corruption charges are enough to make the robber barons pay for their abuse of power. Why involve extremists in fomenting mayhem?

Another view, is that the present government beleaguered and cornered may itself want such things to happen to deflect attention from its own difficulties and vulnerabilities. Such tactics are quite common in our politics and one never knows who is doing what any why.

An alternative view can be that extremism is no longer the creature of any agency but that it now permeates all sections of society and is a force by itself. I am inclined towards the latter view. We are notorious all over the world for nurturing so-called non-state actors who use Pakistani territory for their different missions outside Pakistan; then we have sectarian militias at hand and now mobocrats to ruin the few remaining vestiges of civilised politics.

The question is that what draws people towards mobocrats? My understanding is if you do not provide some promises of a better future to your people, they have no access to clean water and clean air and all around them are callous and apathetic beneficiaries of the crass and consumer society then it is not surprising that they see mobocrat as saviours.

It has happened many times in the past. Nazism and fascism emerged in very similar circumstance though they were not preparing for rewards in the hereafter but very much in the world around them. They then wreaked havoc on the world.

Are we moving in the same direction? I have a feeling that this is slow-motion decline into a form of cultural fascism. Our cultural fascism will prey mainly on victims within Pakistan because exporting cultural fascism has limited scope at present.

It is worth mentioning that in India similar trends are underway and the secular state which was founded by the erstwhile leaders of the Congress Party is now under siege by a Hindu version of the mob, mobocrats and mobocracy. As always in India things are not yet as bad as in Pakistan, but the two societies move close to each other in strange ways.

For democrats, human rights activists and public intellectuals these are very depressing times but we must continue to warn against much worse results if nothing is done to arrest the forward march of cultural fascists.

Published in Daily Times, November 24th 2017.


About the Author:

Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Visiting Professor Government College University and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at billumian@gmail.com

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