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The Growing Toxicity And Hatred In Public Discourse

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Foqia Sadiq Khan argues that the culture of abuse and viciousness in Pakistan’s politics is an attempt to divert public attention from real issues that concern the public. These include the grinding poverty, unemployment, violence against women, students’ issues, lowering water tables, issues of rights and liberty concerning our tribal districts.

I have been regularly contributing to newspapers in Pakistan in the past over a year and I avoid commenting on current political events, as they are quite transient. Therefore, I prefer to dip into social science issues. However, lately our already harsh public discourse has become even more vicious than before and there is a need to call it out.

Whether it is casting aspersions on Nawaz Sharif’s health, a sitting minister bringing a boot in a live TV programme, or the outgoing head of public relations department of a state institution making controversial and unprofessional tweets; there is an avalanche of viciousness. However, it would be a fallacy to consider that this hate and vitriol is being unfurled in public without a purpose. There is method in the madness.

The first, as pointed out by some others as well, is to divert public attention from real issues that concern the public. Why discuss the grinding poverty, unemployment, violence against women, students’ issues, lowering water tables, issues of rights and liberty concerning our tribal districts, insurgency in Balochistan, environmental pollution and many more substantial issues when we have boot waving ministers in our cabinet and TV channels who are willing to host them!

Over 100 citizens of this country have perished in the recent cold wave. Another cold wave might be round the corner. Why discuss the disaster management or lack of it, when we have stunt unfolding before our eyes every other day and everyone is willing to spend all their energies on supporting or opposing the avalanche of these non-issues rather than substantial problems.

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The other motive is that those spreading hate and vitriol, either directly or through hired army of trolls, want to debase the public discourse. They may lack the intellect and integrity to challenge that public discourse at the serious level. Therefore, why play on a higher pitch that may reflect their disadvantage! Instead debase the public discourse, so that everyone else comes down to their level and they can outmaneuver others due to their inherent expertise in viciousness.

I am not a medical doctor treating Nawaz Sharif. I cannot vouch with any authenticity whether Nawaz Sharif is ill or not, or how seriously ill. However, to think that one has to cast aspersions on others/public figures health deterioration is downright gutter behaviour. Earlier, the similar sort of people made fun of Begum Kulsum Nawaz’s cancer and only stopped when she passed away. Do we want Nawaz Sharif to die to prove to others that he has been seriously sick?

What sort of thinking is prevalent behind questioning how an ill person could visit a café? Both my parents have been sick for long periods of time before they passed away. I always took them out for outing even when they were sick and needed to be helped out in public places. I even sometimes took them for a ride and snacks that they could have sitting inside the car, even if they could not get out. Does this mean they were faking their illness? How would it feel to a family member when you question whether they were sick or not, just because they have been able to get out of the house for a bit.

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However, some even questioned whether Malala was shot or not or whether her gun wound was real or fake. I am sure some would also agree to burn witches, if bush comes to shove. How could you question whether someone is seriously sick or not just because the person can walk around or go to café or a park? There is a particular gutter mentality at work and it is intricately linked to a conscious spread of viciousness of public discourse.

There is a limit to you can stigmatize someone’s illness and the present public discourse seems to have crossed all limits.

The way to counter this hate and vitriol is not to respond in kind. Every time, a manufactured non-issue crops us, match it with a discussion on a real issue. Call out this debasing of public discourse, and hold those spreading it accountable directly and indirectly.

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