By: Aziz Ali Dad

Since 9/11, the relationship between the Urdu media and the radicalisation of Pakistani society has become a burning question for the Pakistani intelligentsia.

Over the years, Urdu and English media have become synonymous with fundamentalist and liberal narratives, respectively. It is from these entrenched positions that both liberal and fundamentalist camps launch their polemics against each other. In this war of ideologies, truth is the only casualty because the situation in today’s post-normal times has rendered all frameworks of the previous millennium – including liberalism and fundamentalism – obsolete.

This scenario is not restricted to the two camps but is a manifestation of broader undercurrents in our society where all the vocabularies and certainties are now disintegrating.

Urdu is a language that has expressed mystical, pluralistic, aesthetic and progressive ideas since it emerged in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. In Pakistan, Urdu has undergone various phases and has ultimately become the lingua franca. The very discourse of modernity and progressive thought has been introduced by writers and thinkers who wrote in Urdu.

The existing radical outlook of the Urdu media is the result of broader historical, political, economic and social changes in Pakistan and South Asia. Owing to the intersection of the state language policy, power politics, the class system and the state’s ideology, Urdu has become a representative of the radical narrative espoused by religious parties.

Although the issue of the connection between Urdu and radicalisation appears rather convoluted, the solution propounded by the liberal intelligentsia is much too simplistic. In order to counter the menace of radicalisation in society, the liberals prescribe their own versions of liberalism as a panacea. One of the ways through which this menace can be countered is enterism. This involves entering the domain of the Urdu media and disseminating the values and ideas of liberalism.

There is no doubt about the sincerity of people who are engaged in launching a counter-narrative against regressive forces. But, at the same time, it is the liberal mindset in Pakistan that is a part of the bigger problem. This is because the liberals themselves have failed to launch a critique of the discourse within. The liberals in different regions of Pakistan do not practice the ideas they preach in the private sphere . The panacea provided by the new cadre of columnists cum intellectuals smacks of naivety and a condescending attitude towards the public.

It is now increasingly evident that instead of engaging the fundamentalist mind in Urdu to tackle the real issues, the liberals themselves indulge in petty things just like mullahs do. These wishy-washy liberals fail to understand the broader socio-economic and political factors and the sociology of knowledge production. This helps radical discourses flourish in the country.

The real failure of the liberal mind stems from the fact it is itself in the abyss of nihilism wherein fundamentalists are also its denizens. It is, therefore, important to identify the causes that beget nihilism – which, in turn, gobbles up both the liberal and secular minds.

Liberals in Pakistan are committing the same blunder as the proponents of the Enlightenment after the demise of the sacred in society. Those exulting over the success of the Enlightenment blindly trusted instrumental rationality, which eventually turned out to be a giant monster in the 20th century. Friedrich Nietzsche refused to go with the flow when the West was euphoric over the death of the sacred. By rejecting the meta-narrative of the Enlightenment, he warned of the dangers of looming nihilism in the future. He warned of impending bloodshed triggered by these modern ideologies. Nietzsche asserted that not only had the edifice of the old framework disappeared, but the very ground upon which this edifice was built had vanished.

The real problem lies in the mindset of different cultural entities and the Pakistani society. This mindset distorts various practices and ideas, regardless of whether they are liberal or religious in nature.

We now live in post-normal times which have created confusion within the liberal mind. The liberal mind has failed to see how it is corrupted by the worldview that it tries to defend. This is the problem faced by the mind that inhabits the time and space of modernity.

Unlike the liberal claim that Islamism is the product of a mind infatuated with the golden past, Islamism is very much a product of modernity. In fact, it is the modern conditions that have given birth to Islamism. We can therefore say that the “objective conditions” for Islamism are provided by modernity, not tradition.

Similarly, modern means, such as the print and electronic media, have enabled religious forces to disseminate their knowledge and message to all sections of society. An analysis of the sociology of knowledge in Pakistan shows that the religious forces publish their books at throwaway prices and rely on more organic spaces like footpaths, railway stations, airports and bus stands to sell their books.

Unfortunately, liberal forces have failed to develop linkages with organic spaces and mediums. There were times when progressive and liberal elements of different persuasions produced knowledge in Urdu about leftist ideology and liberalism. But this body of knowledge has disappeared ever since liberalism triumphed over socialism as the only viable political and economic system. There are some attempts on digital media to counter fundamentalism in the country by engaging in the Urdu print and digital media. But the approach of the liberals is a non-starter as they are
blind followers of the meta-narrative of liberalism.

Today, wars around the world are caused by economic liberalism backed by political liberalism. The violent forces in Muslim societies just provide a reason for manufacturing war.

It is normal for an unimaginative mind to revert to the past or puritan forms of ideology to tackle present-day challenges. With the death of old values and the framework of understanding, the mind faces anachronism wherein it tries to see emerging phenomena through an old worldview. The liberal intelligentsia in Pakistan fails to see a sanguinary role for liberalism in the world. As parts of certain ideologies, both liberals and Islamists cannot see themselves as prisoners of their own frame of mind.

To extricate society from the morass it finds itself in, it is imperative to launch a critique of both liberalism and Islamism. In our obsession with criticising mullahs, we ignore a powerful section of society that is equally responsible for the failures we are grappling with. Even liberalism of the regional variety in Pakistan is close to the mindset of mullahs than secular ideals as its proponents behave in a similar manner.

Nietzsche warned: “Beware that, when fighting monsters… for when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss gazes also into you”. Liberals have directed their gaze on mullahs to such an extent that they have lost sight of the bigger picture.

It is time to bury the ideals and certainties of the old millennium as they are disintegrating in the new millennium. Liberals in Pakistan have to muster the courage to act on what they teach others and abandon what fails to make sense of society, the self and the world.