Where Are The Hoodbhoys Of Pakistan?
Many years ago, as we prepared to go abroad for our undergraduate studies, a friend asked me what an eminent physicist like Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy was doing in Pakistan. We did not understand much at the time, but we knew that Hoodbhoy could easily land himself a tenured position at a reputable university anywhere in the world, so why pursue his career here? Even after all these years, these questions remain. I’m none the wiser in understanding why he chooses to stay among a people who love to hurl abuse at anyone who stands out – in brilliance especially – and after the disgraceful treatment he repeatedly faces from university administrations.
However, what really bothers me today is a very different question. Whereas I once wondered why Hoodbhoy wouldn’t leave this country, like others among his brilliant colleagues, now I seriously question if those supposed “brilliant colleagues” even exist. I am not denying that there are a few intellectuals, originally from Pakistan, now abroad working at some university or the other, or with a foreign government. The point I ponder is whether there really are as many as there should be? We are a population of over 200 million, after all. By all scientific evidence, cognitive abilities in a population follow a normal distribution, and this distribution holds despite differences in families or ethnicities. By this standard, surely we must have produced at least a few more scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, mustn’t we?
It then stands to justice to conclude that our society has in fact failed to utilise its potential. It has failed to hone the human creativity and innovation to improve the living conditions of its people. And this is not an insignificant failure. It is obvious that we live in a culture that is stagnated and survives only on imported, unoriginal and outdated ideas as well as technology. How can a culture thrive without people who are objective in their approach, aware of their ignorance, passionate in their curiosity, and fearless in challenging tradition? How can a people overcome the merciless zeal of their rulers, who wish to keep them under their yoke forever? How can a society expect a transformation while suppressing its intellectuals and actively working to discredit them?
It is high time for us to see who among us wants us to progress and who wants to keep us behind. The overblown culture of obedience and submission in our society hardly ever allows anyone to shine in their own right; and when they do, they do so at the cost of censure and ex-communication from the people. We must recognise that with the imminent climate and geopolitical crises, this kind of an artificial equilibrium will not last long. The administration, we observe, does not work toward a solution. On the contrary, not only do we see evidence of inaction but active participation and intentional policy-making to further deteriorate the condition. At the same time, we see individuals being strong-armed who dare raise their voices. In this madness, only a few people, Dr Hoodbhoy among them, continue to point out the logical direction we should be taking and its clear incongruence with the one we are on. Unfortunately, he too is silenced, just like all others who dare criticise the system.
Our culture thrives on the values of obedience and submission. Authority is seen as a right among certain people, while everyone else is expected to conform. This translates to hardly modifiable power structures. In a culture where violence is acceptable, it creates a complex and dangerous situation, where not taking action is dangerous on a societal level and acting is dangerous on a personal level. Hoodbhoy is one of those people who have chosen to risk their personal safety for the good of society. Others like him have taken the more prudent path and left. Still others, who could potentially have been like him, have unfortunately been convinced, with great cunning, to keep their eyes shut in broad daylight and propagate the mantra sung in their ears.
Perhaps, now is high time for us to see things for what they are. Perhaps, now is the time to finally open our eyes, to realise that keeping one’s eyes shut, when one is blessed with them, goes against the very nature with which we were born, regardless of which power bearers try to convince us otherwise. We have lost a lot of good potential, and we are still nowhere near saving the little that has held out against all odds. Do we really want to see the last light extinguished as well before we finally decide to look?