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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Borrowed revolutions

One of the most famous stories about the dazzling and indomitable Emma Goldman is when, at a party meeting, she was dancing wildly and a comrade attempted to restrain her by saying that her merriment was hurting the cause and betraying their posture of a serious revolutionary movement. Her response to this petty, puritanical, self-righteousness has become somewhat of a classic; apparently she responded by saying, “If I can’t dance, I am not coming to your revolution.” This is what youth and revolutions are supposed to be; pugnaciously creative and madly independent. Not in Pakistan, where they seem to be like the rest of the country; tired, bored and borrowed.

Revolutions and resistances are tough business, so here in Pakistan we have opted for the easier path of attempting to plagiarise other people’s revolutions. When the Arab Spring was in full bloom, there began talk of a similar Pakistani spring. A few of the inspired revolutionaries even attempted to have a roundabout in Gulberg, Lahore to be named ‘Tahrir Square’, conveniently ignoring that we did not have demagogues ruling over us for decades and hence had no parallel with the valiant struggles undertaken by the revolutionaries in the Arab Spring. As far as naming a roundabout ‘Tahrir Square’ is concerned, that is not only a geometric absurdity; it is also plain lazy and unimaginative. The significance of that square is not the name but rather the fact that it was a victorious battleground for millions subjugated by tyranny and repression. A monument in Lahore would not have any of these connotations.

Then, Anna Hazare became the new emblematic face of a revolution and we heard a lot of talk about whether Pakistan does or does not need Anna Hazare, about Pakistani Anna Hazares etc. The yearning for an Anna Hazare was repeatedly voiced without understanding or addressing the basic fact that it was an anti-democratic movement consumed by a ‘holier than thou’ mindset and perhaps, most significantly, that it operated in the context of local Indian politics. The stance of Anna Hazare of opposing corruption was simple to the point of being banal and hence is easy to admire for the uninitiated. Here again, the desire was of taking the template of a revolution and just filling in some of our peculiar features and, voila, we have got ourselves a ready-made, easy to use revolution.

The latest fad is the mindless mimicking of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement itself is probably the most potent grass-root movement to emanate from within the United States after the 1960s and 70s Woodstock era. Recently, I have seen calls for Occupy Islamabad and Occupy Lahore. Surely, they are not infuriated by the home mortgage crisis in Pakistan. They just want to take the ride and be part of a global bash, as long as it lasts. Substituting the word ‘capitalist’ with the word ‘feudal’ will not make any of these movements indigenous, home-grown Pakistani resistances.

I understand the argument that I am probably taking these particular examples a bit too seriously, since they are just the ideas of a few Pakistani, urban middle-class youth feeling productive and politically conscientious. I agree, but still one is entitled to be very disappointed at this display of cliché and plagiarism, especially by the young and energetic. Another interesting aspect is that the same youthful, would-be-Che Guevaras detest (or worse, are unaware of) almost every resistance which is native, for e.g., the Baloch struggle for justice and fairness. How about an ‘unoccupy Balochistan’ movement or ‘stop killing the Hazara’ movement?

Admittedly, it does not have the same catchy ring to it and will probably not be too popular on Facebook. Franz Fanon, in his masterpiece The Wretched of the Earth, writes about how in the first stage the colonised man will manifest aggression against his own people. While he will take any level of indignation and humiliation from the master or the policeman, at the slightest perceivably hostile glance from his brother, he will reach for his knife. It is probably our hangover with colonialism, or at least that is what I hope it is, as opposed to a general dullness.

Most of those who were teary-eyed on the demise of Steve Jobs are unable to understand the genuine grief and feeling of vacuum following the departure of Begum Nusrat Bhutto. She resisted Ziaul Haq with iron conviction, which emanated from within and which was our own special struggle in the face of a theocratic, repressive tyrant. Similarly, some people have woken up to the idea that the Gaddafi stadium should now be renamed. The bizarre logic of this is fascinating; for those who think that he was a demagogue, my question is: have they come to this realisation after witnessing his nauseating, indecent death, or do they only want monuments being named after living and thriving dictators?

My principal motivation here is not to undermine the foreign movements I quote or the learning value that they might impart — all of them have some merit, some considerably more than others — but to emphasise that the first step of a resistance is identifying the fight. We cannot have anyone else identify the battle we ought to be fighting in our stead. Revolutions essentially do not have boilerplates and the few that do are not worth the effort. The ‘Revolution for dummies’ model is condescending and insulting to those movements that we cheaply seek to replicate and, more importantly, to us. Homicidal religious fanaticism, corruption and bad governance are problems that need to be fought and fought consistently. However, as these problems have arisen from within, so will their solutions. Those who are delusional or dishonest enough to blame everything on Indian, Zionist or American conspiracies are exactly the people who will go around the world looking for answers. I would rather have the youth stop marching to a distant alien and start dancing to their own revolution.


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