Freedom from fears of faith
04 July, 2007
By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu
The award of knighthood to Salman Rushdie and reaction to it became a reason for hot, but one-sided discussions on ‘culture’. It would have been wise on our part if we had made ourselves aware of the fact that religion is not relevant to the West, and Western society and culture are made up entirely of earthly ingredients. Our multicultural coercive environment, which has been imposed on us by our debauched and despotic elite, too has earthly ingredients, but they are different from the ones that the Western environment has.
Fifty-seven years ago when I was a five-year old and was living in Kashmir, one morning I was awakened by strange cries. I found out the reason soon. My maternal uncle, who was zaildar of the area, was beating a man with a stick. How long the beating and screams continued I cannot recall. A few days later the same man came to meet my uncle. I asked my mother why he came to the place where he was mistreated. She had no answer. How could she explain the human relationships in a feudal culture to a child? Many years after this ugly happening, I learned in Pakistan about feudal lords and their landless subjects.
Forty-seven years ago an old couple lived in a one-room house. The husband and wife were refugees from Delhi. Their new home in Rawalpindi was in Bhabar Khana. One of my friends was their neighbour. During my visits to my friend, I found all too often the couple shouting at each other. The old man uttered tallaq (divorce), tallaq, tallaq, tallaq, till the old woman would interrupt him and respond, ‘give it to your mother’, ‘give it to your sister’, etc. Many times I asked my friend what actually was wrong with them other than poverty and old age. He had no stories. Perhaps they had no children. Perhaps their children had left them. Perhaps their children were killed during their migration to Pakistan. A decade later I discovered that the old couple and many others like them had a culture of their own. It was a culture of the poor and connectionless people. Their miseries were their music, clothing, language, ethics and religion.
During my engineering studies I discovered another type of culture. Ahmed, in spite of my indoctrination, did not cough up on the face of his master. He was the servant of a fellow student from Mianwali. In Engineering University Lahore, he was sharing the room of his student-master with special permission from the higher authorities. My efforts failed to make him Camus’ rebel. Rather, he kept himself away from me after having a few meetings. The servant and the master represented a culture where to one man the other man was god. This culture still prevails everywhere in Pakistan. And so does the one that the old couple of Bhabar Khana had lived by. In Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference ended the centuries-old fiefdoms through genuine land reforms. In Pakistan, faith, greed, deceit and fears became the main hurdles.
One of the obsessions with us is that when we talk about culture, we first bring in religion and lay emphasis on it more than it deserves. Religion becomes an important part of a culture, when it is also a part of the economy of the system. India is the only example to this effect. Elsewhere religion played at the most a role in sustaining the existing order. Societies and cultures experienced revolutionary changes only when they became free of the fears of faith. Religion in India became a major part of culture due to the caste system that was based on division of work. In fact with the passage of time all major castes developed their cultures, wherein religion was an essential part. That is why despite visible development, the modern economic tools succeeded only partially in ending the old way of life in India.
In the Third World, culture may vary from street to street, sector to sector, district to district, city to city, province to province, and country to country. While there are hundreds of examples of variable cultures within Muslim majority countries, the one of our own — of the people living in Islamabad and its surroundings — explains it all.
Sector E-7 is the locality of the wealthiest. None here knows who lives next door. Each house has its own culture. The same is true about the F-sectors, though here one may come across exceptions as well. Falling incomes have brought a sense of harmony to many households. Most residents of the G-sectors belong to middle income groups, who have sustainable and similar resources. Still they have cultural differences. Those living in flats are taken as inferior human beings by the ones who live in houses. In the I-sectors, middle class dwellers do have a uniform culture.
In the surroundings of Islamabad, the best that can explain the difference are words from the wife of a Scandinavian diplomat. After adopting a female village child she said, “I saved one life from hunger and humiliation.” In the villages of Islamabad and for that matter in most of the villages of Pakistan, a majority of the people is poor. They have an almost similar culture. Women do not observe purda. They cannot, even if they wish to. Both men and women have little time to spare for religion and rituals, as they have to work hard in the fields and with their livestock throughout the day.
In government offices and the courts, a uniform culture exists. Officers and subordinates, whether they are generals, judges, administrators, bureaucrats, clerics, patwaris or constables, sit either idle or do only one job – property dealing. They sit on all those files that have a price. Such files move only when a part of the price is paid or the connections of the affected applicant prove more forceful. For the last eight years, the relationship between people and officials has become similar to the one between the ‘student- master’ and his servant. Today, whosoever has authority acts like a god!
The other obsession with us is that we compare ourselves with the Westerners and try to prove that our living is at least spiritually superior. That our analysis takes us nowhere adds to the problem. The end result of the comparison is that we become either confused or depressed or reactionary. Ruling elites, feudal lords, the urban rich, peers, men in uniform, judges and bureaucrats, to perpetuate their authority exploit this confusion, depression and reaction.
The Westerners of today have by and large one culture. It is a culture of similar societies, which have emerged due to rational knowledge, massive industrialisation, abundance of opportunities, little or no religion, the rule of man-made law, and the diminishing difference in incomes of various classes. In the Scandinavian countries where the difference in low and high incomes is 1: 2, society’s cultural development is at its peak — the best so far seen by mankind. The worst — absence of society and abundance of primal cultures — that could happen to mankind can be seen in the Third World countries, where rational knowledge is abhorred, industrialisation is minimum, opportunities are non-existent, religion is surplus, rulers are above the law, and incomes have a difference of a light year.
We and our youth and children are part of an open globe. We can see the difference, the momentum, and the truth. One-sided discussions do not attract us. The Space Shuttle does. The discovery of an earth-like planet 20 light years away does. The West’s Social Democracy does. The resistance of the Chief Justice does. Propagating the culture of coercion is an attempt to confuse and depress us, and to make us reactionaries. Our participation in the Chief Justice’s march proved that most of us are still very much human and have not become vegetables — food for thought for politicians, if there are any.