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A random crowd

The current social and political malaise makes egalitarianism a distant dream

A random crowd

Any random crowd of humans is said to have a natural tendency to organise themselves into a society by devising some norms of general behaviour. As societies develop, they will also naturally develop other tools to promote social cohesion and evolution, most notably a political system in which the responsibilities and obligations of the ruling elite is forged and a legal system reinforcing societal norms and mores is worked out and its enforcement is ensured.

More importantly, the nature and the extant of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled are also delineated. Social justice coupled with equality before the law is supposed to throw up the social solidarity which Abdur Rehman Ibne Khaldun called Asbiya, which works like glue for people and the mutuality of their interests impels them to act to promote the welfare of this single, coherent unit.

With further evolution of the society, the relationship between the individual and the collective is calibrated in such a way that a social equilibrium is struck, with egalitarianism as its natural outcome. Such egalitarianism finds sustenance through the practice of democracy.

Witnessing the current social and political malaise which has permeated all aspects of Pakistani society, the entire process which eventually culminates in egalitarianism appears to be a distant dream. The random crowd meandering around the landscape of this country is without any definitive collective aim. Everyone is inexorably committed to pursue one’s own individual interests, which, more often than not, run counter to the interests of the collective.

The preference of the powerful individual over the meek collective is what concerns us in this article. However, before scrutinising the dialectical relationship between the individual and the collective, we must address some ambivalent questions which appear to be confusing the general masses.

Thus, we set out to analyse a Pakistani society that I am, somewhat audaciously, referring to as a random crowd instead of a nation, from the theoretical framework that Ibne Khaldun has provided us. The nitty-gritty of the cyclic nature of Khaldun’s theory aside, what if one turns the theory on its head, centring on the concept of social solidarity, a vital precondition for any social formation to grow?

To put it differently, what if the very sense of social solidarity, that which holds any society together, has loosened its grip to such an extent and the social norms and laws are being flouted at will? Is there any way that such a process can be halted if not wholly reversed? That question becomes even more vexed when all the three constituents of any society, social, political and economic, are in the process of erosion.

While considering the state of affairs that Pakistan is in, where anyone who abides by the law is commonly considered to be an odd and rather effeminate character, how can the chaotic situation be reversed? Khaldun gives primacy to the bond forged through blood relations in his concept of Asbiya, hence, this concept does not help us in finding any plausible solution to the problems besetting Pakistan. Instead the youth of Pakistan has been taught that an ideology is an instrument of cohesion and unity to bind together an otherwise disparate people.

Pakistan as an ideological state implies that the ideology takes primacy over the state itself. This preference for ideology creates a disconnect between the state and its history. The state of Pakistan, therefore, has been turned into ahistorical polity. Ideological societies are generally not embedded in history because ideologies are normally expressed as supra-historical formulations which even flout the bounds of geography. As well as this, ideologies claim to represent and espouse the interests of the collective, usually controlled by the powerful few. The recent examples of Italy under Mussolini, Germany under Hitler, and the Soviet Union provide sufficient testimony to this effect.

The proposal to turn Pakistan into the state of Medina is an impossible proposition, because such an aspiration is in itself ahistorical too. The past can never be replicated, neither in the present nor in the future. Prof. Shariful Mujahid argues that Pakistan is not an ideological state, but that it is rather a state with an ideology.

By putting the ‘state’ before the ‘ideology’ amounts to according the former primacy over the latter, the ideology ought to be defined by the state rather than the other way around. Whatever the case, the state’s engagement with ideology leads to empowering the already powerful who ostensibly wield their power in the name of the collective.

Such questions of fundamental importance — the notions of culture, social values, nationalism and morality — are also defined by the powerful few through the prism of the ideology. Education is used to foster the ideology which underpins the national narrative. The past is imagined differently and reconstructed accordingly in such a manner so that it proves the importance of the ideology to the project of nationalism. That exactly is what has happened in Pakistan, but in such an era of globalisation, any state predicated on an ideology finds it impossible to stand the test of time.

What is extremely daunting in such a situation is the mobile nature of the contemporary world, in which societies interact so freely with the outer world. An ideology, on the other hand, can neither function nor sustain itself without some sort of iron curtain, some protection from the outside world. Without an iron curtain, an ideology ceases to be anything but an abstraction with no connection to the reality on ground.

Gradually, this realisation dawns on the general masses who are forced to pay lip service to the ideology. In such a situation, people are no longer part of any functioning nation or society, they at best are just a random crowd, which is, sadly, the situation in which we find ourselves.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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