Nadeem Paracha leaves aside his usual wit and satire today, but his column in Dawn is still a must-read for anyone that believes in Pakistani democracy. Paracha’s point, in short, is that the new right wing in Pakistani politics is much more sophisticated than the military dictatorships of the past. As part of this sophistication, the right wing parties are less likely to show their full beliefs, instead hiding their intentions behind ambiguous approaches to democracy, religion, and other areas where their controversial positions might alienate the masses.
The one area in which I might disagree somewhat with Nadeem is when he says, “much of the New Right in the country is rather ambiguous about its views on democracy.” While this is true for the more mainstream elements such as PML-N, there are other quite popular right wing voices such as Ahmed Quraishi who continue to openly call for an end to democracy in Pakistan through a military coup.
But Nadeem’s larger point is quite correct: The ‘New Right’, as he labels it, has become much more slick and clever in its marketing its backwards ideology. TV characters like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi might be peddling the same neo-Maududi’ist that have been rejected since the birth of the nation. But now they do so with expensive western clothing and fancy hair-dos. It’s a classic ‘wolf in sheeps clothing’ approach to misleading people.
Boiling within the mix of the New Right politics and sociology in Pakistan are also characters operating as televangelists, ‘security analysts’ and TV journalists. In appearance and content they are consciously avoiding the persona of the greying guard of the old right, and attempting instead to sound and look a lot more contemporary.
Behind all their manufactured ‘cool’ though is the same attitude that has been responsible for all of Pakistan’s ills over the decades. They may be on Facebook, but they are anything but modern. Most disturbing, though, is that even the mainstream right wing groups are providing political validation for the blatantly anti-democratic and backwards ideas promoted by smaller fringe groups – in an extreme example, Taliban.
Whereas the top tier of the Pakistani New Right (PML-N and certain senior TV anchors) are merging lofty political notions such as constitutionalism and accountability with vigilante-type ‘judicial activism,’ the second tier, mainly made up of small rightist political parties and a new breed of TV preachers and personalities, are (for want of a better word) glamorising retro-Maududi’ist and Tableeghi notions of ‘Islamic society’ by encouraging a neo-conservative reading and practice of religious texts, history and ritualism.
More dangerously though, undaunted by the obvious failure of political Islam in the Muslim world, the country’s New Right is trying to rekindle it and that too at a time when various Islamic reformist movements the world over are consciously trying to detach Islam from the political moorings it was convolutedly given in the 20th century by men like Maududi and Syed Qutb. Moorings that may have played a major role in plunging many Muslim countries in the state of cultural stagnation and political turmoil they are in today.
Let us hope that Nadeem’s words do not go unheeded. We are at a moment in our history where we find ourselves at a crossroads. Backwards ideologies and anti-democratic politics dressed in fancy clothes is still backwards, and it is still anti-democratic. We have been down that path before, and sacrificed too much to get back to a place where we could rebuild our democratic, modern government. We can’t let them steal this opportunity now.