Moral Issues

Salman Tarik Kureshi tries to make sense of political morality in Pakistan

Moral Issues
There needs to be a difference between what is printed in the news pages of a magazine or newspaper and the thoughts expressed by Op-Ed writers such as this scribe. More than even the distinction between News and Views, it is expected that the former will be bang up-to-date, the immediate events that have happened only a day or a week before, while the latter is about things that are more long-term, the fruits of reflection, analysis and insight. In a sense, then, the main pages and even the Editorial are grounded in Today, while the feature writer inhabits the dimensions of Yesterday and of Tomorrow.

It seems to me that this is where our TV anchors often get it wrong, failing to grasp that their role is analogous to that of a Features Editor, who permits knowledgeable individuals to present their varying opinions in one place for the readers/ viewers to gain perspective. Seen thus, the role demands a measure of sobriety that is not usually apparent in the expostulations and expletives that pass for discussion and too often become mere shouting matches.

This New Moral Order represents a fundamental intellectual discontinuity – one that is of quite recent origin. And this Order is violent, cruel and unforgiving

What is the news of today? It is, and rightly so, something about the Coronavirus – the numbers of its victims, how to avoid it, its effects on the economy, its effects on our present and on our future. Or it is about the feckless confusion in the circles of this government and, indeed, this opposition. These are the preoccupations of Today. But allow me, as an Op-Ed commentator, to talk about another issue altogether, one that has been with us since Yesterday and will still be around Tomorrow, after this Microbe from Hell has been overcome.

One has heard of no less a personage than Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman claiming that this epidemic is a divine visitation on all of us and that we must therefore crowd into mosques and places of worship and pray for forgiveness for the sins that have brought this upon us. This was the amazing ethical perspective of this particular religious scholar that could have pushed many persons into the jaws of Contagion…and possible Death.

But this is nothing. There are so many utterly appalling moral distortions that are a product of the kind of times in which we live. How little ethics and true morality seem to matter!

I recall watching on TV some months ago two bearded gentlemen, both claiming an expertise in religious matters we ordinary folk do not possess. And they were debating which particular transgressions would render a perpetrator worthy of being murdered. My goodness! Such a preoccupation with killing, revenge and violence! One would think that men who claim scholarship in the Word of God would speak to us about His Mercy and His Benedictions and His Infinite Love.
But these are the times in which a murderer could put 29 bullets into the body of his victim – and have a monumental mausoleum built for him at which people lay flowers through the year.

It seems that words, deeds, and concepts of a gentler sort are out of place in today’s harsh ethical climate. This New Moral Order is uniquely modern, a product of our present times. This will, of course, be denied by the protagonists of these ideas, who claim a more ancient validation. But even the most cursory reading of the works of, say, the Sufi sages, would make clear that this New Moral Order represents a fundamental intellectual discontinuity and one that is of quite recent origin. And this Order is violent, cruel and unforgiving. It is, in any sense of the word, profoundly immoral in its intolerance and violence and its glorification of the taking of human life.

The worst part is: that is not where it ends. Toss the coin of this pseudo-religiosity, which can justify the most appalling of crimes, such as child abuse, sensationally sadistic punishments, ritual rape, revenge killing, ‘justified’ murder and suicide bombings. What do we find on the other side?

No, not just the most obvious derelictions, such as sexual promiscuity, corruption, misuse of influence, misuse of public funds for personal gain, and grand scams and rip-offs of epic proportions. Just as bad is the conspicuous consumption indulged in by all segments of the elite in an environment of the most grinding, humiliating poverty among the masses. Just as bad are the bands of armed thugs that infest our universities, the violent street gangs that rule our cities, and the gangs of dacoits and so-called militants that have been known to lord it over the rural and tribal areas. Worse still are the wealthy, ostensibly “respectable” patrons of these.

What kind of body-politic is this where no prime minister has yet completed a full term? Or where the Constitution has been amended twenty two times in its mere 47 years of existence, and amended at times, not to advance some grand political or social vision, but only to serve the immediate purposes of a sitting regime? Or where four heads of government have been assassinated (Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Muhammad Zia-ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto – and possibly five if you consider Shaheed Suhrawardy), not to mention scores of lesser political fry? Where, in one regime, the apex court was attacked by rowdies and where, in another, the chief justice was physically manhandled and roughed up? Where sitting prime ministers are accused of having received massive overseas kickbacks, or have endeavored to amend the Constitution to become ‘Khalifas’? In taking partisan sides, have we forgotten these transgressions? Where the military has three times refused to stay on the borders or in the barracks and generals in power have blatantly bent and distorted the statutes for personal power? Where a vicious usurper, who claimed he would “hold elections in ninety days”, continued to flog, hang, and oppress the people for over eleven years – the longest anyone has yet held power – and all this in the sacred name of Islam?

Such are the hideously distorted ethical values of the leaders of our various elite groups. How can anyone speak of Morality in this cesspit of intrigue, corruption, opportunism and intellectual dishonesty?

Is one being negative? No, dear reader. But one must not remain indifferent to this pervasive immorality, this ethical vacuum. We — you, I, and everyone else — will all have to get angry, and soon, if the status quo is to be changed.