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Those Dismissing Progressive Students Have Their Backs Turned Towards History

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The taunts of privilege and class being hurled at the progressive students are not only misplaced, they also narrow down who should be part of the struggle and who shouldn’t be. There is no point in being apologetic for what class they belong to, writes Hurmat Ali Shah.

The great Walter Benjamin rightly pointed out that, “Fascism is the aesthecization of politics.” In Pakistan, the appeal of fascist tendencies of politics and the political discourse in the rhetoric of populism are couched in terms of instincts, demands and name of the masses, suffering at the hands of the corrupt few.

The form becomes the content. The symbol of anti-corruption, patriotism or anything else which sells to the popular linear narrative of apparent cause and effects subsumes the content in itself. In this aesthecization, the symbol, the form, the populist narrative stand in and substitute the content and any need for a political program. What the symbol is all that is. And the problem with symbol is you can hollow it out of any political subjectivity, even what it is employed for and allocate a different arbitrary meaning to it.

The support or criticism, depending on your own political subjectivity and biases, can be directed at the symbol, the image, the form as you perceive it or disfigure it. Hence, the form merges to the content. The symbol collapses into aesthetics of the discourse. And you are caught up in the externalities.

Something of the sort is also happening with a group of progressive students. The venom spewed against the progressive students who mobilized at the Faiz Festival is just representative of how shallow the discourse has come down to. It shows how arbitrary a symbol has been erected by the detractors and how they can beat down the arbitrary, self-defined form and optics of progressive students, in name of upper class, to feel good about their own narrow, rat-holed vision.

The taunts of privilege and class are not only misplaced, they also narrow down who should be part of the struggle and who shouldn’t be. There is no point in being apologetic for what class they belong to. I know most of them and have met few but won’t say that to protest and organize you have to come from a specific oppressed social background to have the ‘privilege’ of protesting. The content of the message should never be allowed to be drowned in the debate of representation.

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These students are laying claim to a legacy of resistance which has been buried under avalanches of amnesia, apathy and lack of left-wing organizing. The revival of student politics and the politicization of the student body as bearer and custodians of a new future is a task which has been buried under the high-politics of the mainstream. This apoliticization of student politics through the university-controlled student bodies not only adds to the apathy of the young but also make them susceptible to high tides of populism.

Political struggle has to come in diverse forms. It is the content which matters. And if the form is shock-inducing so to bring to the public consciousness the radical political content then the externality of their regional location shouldn’t matter. These students over the last few years have stood with every radical political program, including PTM, when many of these students risked arrest and harassment.

You can’t let the burden of history, urbanity and the red-herring of their privilege (which is mind-boggling as these students come from middle class) drown the surge of a new hope of resurrection of progressive student organizing. Those hiding behind the mockery through class privilege live in a vulgar kind of presentism where anything beyond what there is not possible. And if you dare to question and ask beyond the present, the high-politics of today, you must be a high-class kid high on Mocha and disconnected with reality, goes the presumption!

They are not any different from the ultra-patriotic conspiratorial wing criticizing these students. To the right-wing and ultra-patriotic conspiratorial brigade: Yes, these students are against the concept of Pakistan that you have imposed upon us and want to perpetuate. They dare to dream and imagine an alternative future.

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 Visions of an alternative future are not necessary to be born out of Mocha, as the Twiterrati and those flying on the horse of common sense politics would like us to believe. A vision of alternative politics and future can also be born out of memories of resistance and from the ruins of history. A kind of progressive politics can be shaped which acts like a shock to the complacency of presentism. Again, as Benjamin theorized, history flashes by, in the present, in an image containing a promise of social utopia. It take eyes to capture that flash of memory, seize upon it, redeem it, bring it to life to live the utopia and bury it in the future by fulfilling the utopia.

It takes grounding in history and in memory to break the shackles of present. Those in empty rage at these students lack all. They are as poor and as barren as the celebration of today. They have their back turned toward history and their eyes closed to future. All they see is empty vastness of present extended both to history and to future.

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