Schadenfreude

Husain Haqqani and General Tariq Majid

The hot news item this week is that Husain Haqqani has been called to Islamabad for a ‘briefing’, which, according to news reports, means that he’s been sacked. Of course, we should remember that this is not the first time media has reported that Husain Haqqani has been sacked, only to see the reports fade into the cesspool of rumour-mongering and conspiracy theories that feed our media machine. Remember, for example, when Maleeha Lodhi was taking over his seat in Washington? This time it does seem more serious, though, as Haqqani has reportedly sent a letter to President Zardari saying that he had not defamed or undermined the military, but would willingly to hand in his resignation if it will remove the distraction and allow the country move forward during these important times. Sadly, this is not the first time that an official has been the victim of this type of rumour campaign. Gen Zia used trumped up accusations against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to remove him from power, and Gen Musharraf did the same to Nawaz Sharif. We should ask ourselves why do we keep seeing a repeat of this scenario, and why is it so successful?

“Schadenfreude” is a German word that means, ‘pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.’ In other words, that gleeful feeling you get when you see someone else fail. The German philosopher Arther Schopenhauer described such feelings as “the worst trait in human nature” and that “it is a feeling which is closely akin to cruelty”. It’s the worst trait of human nature, and it is running rampant in society. From the moment we are born our parents try every trick to save us from nazar laghna, but it is when we are adults that we find ourselves the mercy of unaccountable reporters and internet rumour trolls.

In his book, Imran Khan describes suffering these sorts of attacks when he was opening Shaukat Khanum (page 154):

One day, somebody in my social circle accused me in front of some friends of doing it all for publicity, just as celebrities endorse charities to get their names in the papers. I nearly hit him. His sneering was typical of certain sections of Pakistan’s elite. They are completely decadent, and utterly cynical. Desperately envious of anyone who has succeeded in the West, they are keen to drag you down to their level if you so much as aspire to help the country.

It seems that we’re seeing something of the same thing now directed at Ambassador Husain Haqqani. Rumours and innuendo are given more credence than facts so long as they ar useful for tearing someone down. In the latest reports, Admiral Mullen explains that the reason he didn’t remember the memo is that “He did not find it at all credible and took no note of it then or later”. Considering how much ridiculous garbage finds its way to my email every day, I can only imagine how much peopel try to pass on to someone who actually has power. And I couldn’t tell you about half the silly things people send me.Whether you agree with him or disagree with him on certain issues, the way he is being attacked says more about the attackers than it does Haqqani.

Now think for a moment about what Haqqani told reporters yesterday.

“I’ve been consistently vilified as being against the Pakistani military even though I have only opposed military intervention in political affairs,” Haqqani said that he wrote. “It’s not easy to operate under the shadow of innuendo and I have not been named by anyone so far, but I am offering to resign in the national interest and leave that to the will of the president.”

Ambassador to the US is surely a thankless job. Every day trying to convince the Americans to understand and appreciate Pakistan’s position. Everyone wants to be the voice of defiance, but that’s not diplomacy – a competent Ambassador is supposed to be the “good cop” who brings another country closer to us, not pushes them away. But what is the thanks? Anyone who tries to convince Washington of Pakistan’s interests will inevitably annoy the Americans…and then you get called a traitor at home also? This is ridiculous. I may not always agree with Nawaz Sharif, Husain Haqqani or Imran Khan, but I do not doubt that they are all patriots.

We have allowed this Schadenfreude to go unchecked for too long. It’s time that we came to realise that when we constantly tear down the people who are trying to do some good for the country, we are only hurting ourselves.

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