Anti-Truth Culture In Pakistan Can Only Be Countered By Debate & Scholarship
Everybody in Pakistan knows that here, speaking the truth alone does not get you anywhere, except perhaps in exile if one is lucky. In fact, when one thinks of the truth tellers in the Land of the Pure, one is mostly thinking of the dead or the pariah. This is particularly so because the truth in Pakistan is highly offensive to the lived reality, and hence very bitter. Take for example the democracy in Pakistan, or the salary structure of civil servants; the truth is too bitter to be even fully enunciated.
In fact, if one wishes to get somewhere in life in Pakistan, one must learn to appreciate, work with and even celebrate lies. To give one living example of each, one must learn to appreciate Firdaus Ashiq Awan becoming a minister of information to both Zardari and Imran Khan; one must learn to resist eating in public during Ramazan; and one must learn to celebrate Pakistan army’s role as the kingmaker in Pakistani general elections.
Indeed, the anti-truth sentiment is so strong that people hate the truth as if it were a lie. Take Malala’s Nobel Prize for example, or before her, that of Dr Abdus Salam.
No doubt, in other counties of the world too, speaking the truth alone does not get you anywhere. Take Julian Assange or Edward Snowden in our times. Despite all the hoopla about revealing the hidden truth, the two gentlemen have as yet failed to make any significant contribution to modern laws and constitutions. Going further back in history, Karl Marx, despite being a Prophet to the global left, could not bring any revolution in any country himself. Galileo’s truth turned the world upside down and inside out but he could not get a decent burial. Same was the case with Imam Hussain and Jesus (may God be pleased with them both). Even Moses (may God be pleased with him) could not secure the Promised Land himself.
However, any country or nation in the world history that has risen above her contemporaries at any given point in time has done so by learning how to find the truth and make it work for her economic and military independence. Moses was not only a Prophet but also a military leader; although he could not secure the Promised Land himself, he prepared his nation to work for it and take it after more than three thousand years. Jesus was only a Prophet and therefore his truth came into power 300 years after his death in the form of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. The Last Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was more successful than both: he established and ruled a Kingdom of God in his lifetime. The followers of Imam Hussain (may God be pleased with him) established the Fatimid caliphate 300 years after his great sacrifice for the truth, and, a thousand years later, ousted a US-backed monarchy in Iran. Galileo’s truth also took 300 years to take over the whole world in the form of rise of capitalism and socialism and the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate. Similarly, Karl Marx’s truth came into power soon after his death through Lenin.
Most Pakistanis are Muslims and believe Islam to be the eternal truth, and yet they have not seen even an iota of economic and military independence since gaining “Independence” in 1947. It would not suffice to say that this is so because they are not confronting hard truths. If the truth of Judaism – a more ancient religion than Islam – can get the Jews a powerful country despite a very hostile neighborhood in the 20th century of capitalism and socialism, and, later in the same century, Shia Muslims can take over Iran despite opposition by the USA, then Sunni Islam too should theoretically be able to make some significant positive impact on the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. In other words, once a truth is always a truth, as long as it is properly interpreted at any given point in time to ensure communal solidarity as well as worldly advancement. However, we are so poor economically and militarily that we lost half of the country in 1971 and have failed to take Kashmir from India for the past 73 years. Thus the only explanation for our miserable economic and military history is that we Pakistanis are not following the true Islam, for the simple reason noted above, that we hate the truth in Pakistan and this applies to our majoritarian faith as well.
We Pakistanis only use Islam to hide our lies, and are in fact not being Muslim at all when we follow our own petty interests – like keeping the mosques open during a highly infectious pandemic – instead of trying to find the true spirit of Islamic faith and, through it, build an economic and military haven in Pakistan for the generations to come.
How can we find the true faith? In the same way that we find the true capitalism, or true socialism, or true Judaism: convincing your best minds to go through a continuous, inclusive and fearless process of critical reading, thinking, writing and debating aimed at developing consensus on new issues of all sorts that arise every day. We must develop an everyday culture of scholarly doubt, research and debate on current affairs (instead of leaving it all to loose-tongue journalists or professional molvis) that promotes discovery of truth and development of informed consensus on it; a culture that produces at least one new research-based book every month. To begin with, we urgently need such a culture in the fields of law, history and literature, and we need our best minds to be doing these jobs.
The shameless liars among us would continue to rule the roost until we groom and celebrate our humble scholars. We will continue to lose territory until we drench our swords in truth. We must stop crawling on a path through time paved with shiny lies, as it is only with the humble truth that we can stand tall in the comity of nations with pride and joy.
The author is a lawyer and a civil servant based in Lahore.