M Abrahim Shah
The elite’s capture of the state is the primary reason behind a segment of our population’s proclivity for intoleranceArguments that hold a lack of tolerance or a poor education system responsible for the horrific incident of Mashal Khan’s killing are not just elitist but also they fail to let us analyse the real cause behind the incident. Intolerance may have led to the incident, but this intolerance is a product of a system which promotes the interests of the top one per cent only.
The idea that Pakistan’s lower socio-economic classes are somehow more prone to violence and intolerance is a very common one in our society. This belief begets the false image of a common Pakistani as an emotionally-charged and irrational being — easily beguiled by demagogues into committing the most gruesome acts of violence. Such a way of thinking contrasts the urban elite — seen as well-educated, moderate and rational — with the rest of the country — portrayed as illiterate, devoid of critical thinking skills, and prone to violence. Some people also reason that the ability of our well-to-do classes to think rationally is a product of their education. And if, somehow, the rest of the country is given access to this education, Pakistan will be cured of its intolerance.
Such thinking is a remnant of our colonial past — where the British ‘raj’ justified its rule by portraying the natives as ‘prone to anger’ and ‘unable to make rational judgements’. We inherited this harmful line of thinking, and it explains why several people — including civil and military bureaucrats like Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan — believed, and continue to do so, that Pakistan is not fit for democratic rule. This way of thinking is also reflective of the class divide that plagues Pakistani society.
The elite’s capture of the state is, in fact, the primary culprit behind a segment of our population’s proclivity for intolerance. There are lessons on repercussions of this class divide in the Mardan lynching incident. Like most other state-run institutions in Pakistan, Mardan University had been allowed to fall into a state of dereliction because our government failed to invest enough resources and energy in it.
This failure stems from the government’s inability to cater to the masses through inclusive public institutions. Thus, places like Mardan University have become more prone to hateful ideologies due to the state’s apathy. It is only inevitable that perpetrators of violent crimes will emerge from the population segment that attends such institutes.
Thus, a system that perpetuates class divide and marginalises large segments of our populace is the main problem, not the education system or the quality of education imparted at public institutions. The class divide is evident not only in our educational institutes, but also in our public spaces and workplaces. Over the past few years, big cities like Lahore and Karachi have witnessed a sharp rise in the number of privately-run cafes and restaurants. These places cater exclusively to the upper and upper-middle classes. Concomitantly, the condition of public parks and recreational areas in these cities has declined significantly. This illustrates how our state is failing to meet the needs of the people, as those with money continue to enjoy various comforts.
Class divide gives birth to the elitist view that Pakistan’s less privileged classes are backward, and that access to education can serve as the panacea to Pakistan’s losing battle with hate crimes. In fact, the capitalist structure of our economy, and social and political ramifications of this structure have led to this situation.
It is not simply education, but our privileged up-bringing which prevents us from suffering the day-to-day struggles of the common Pakistani and helps us to think ‘rationally’. We must also question how radicalisation took root in our society, and bring to task powers such as the United States and Saudi Arabia who funded radical organisations within our borders for their vested interests.
The first step, however, must be to indict a system which has resulted in such a stark class divide in our society. We must, then, let go of our views that those less-privileged than us are somehow more irrational and violent than us. It is imperative that we act now and change Pakistan for the better. We owe this to Mashal.