When I was a boy, I was would hide outside the door and listen when chacha would visit and he and my father would spend hours discussing and debating politics late into the night. Chacha was a diehard Jamaati, and my father was an unapologetic socialist. It was always interesting to me to listen as the paths of their opinions and beliefs would easily come together and then just as easily part ways. It was like a dance of ideas taking place to the tune of life and society. One afternoon, I tried to impress my father by telling him about something I had heard Qazi Hussain Ahmad say and how it was obviously nonsense. To my surprise, my father took a stern look in his eye and asked me to explain myself. I repeated again what I had said before. For the next half hour my father grilled me with questions, all defending the Jamaati Amir’s position. I felt confused and on the point of tears when my father finally dismissed me.
Later that night, he called me in where he and my uncle were talking. “Beta,” he said, “have you thought any more about our discussion earlier?” I looked down at my feet and told him that I didn’t know what to think, that I thought he would have agreed with me. I could feel the men looking at me and I was burning with embarrassment. My father put his hand on my shoulder and said, “What I think is not the point. You put forth an opinion that wasn’t really yours. Even if you think you believe it, it will always belong to someone else until you understand not only why you believe it, but why someone else might not. Only then will you have fully embraced the idea, and only then it will be yours.” My uncle smiled and said, “Your father and I enjoy these talks so much not because we have any hope of converting the other. I gave up on talking any sense into him years ago.” My father laughed. “The point is we loved these debates because it is through debate that we understand each other’s point of view, and it makes us think more about what we believe and why.”
From that night, I was invited in to join these debates. At first, I only listened quietly. What I thought I believed was challenged each and every night. It was not till over one year that I finally had the courage to ask a question about a point that someone had made, but from then I was constantly challenging both of them. Today, I agree with my father and my uncle, but I do not agree with them also. I have my own ideas that were forged in those late night debates, and that continue to evolve as I meet new people who bring new questions and new challenges, and my own beliefs are constantly made stronger because of it.
Yesterday, I received a copy of a letter directing universities in Punjab to ban certain topics from research and debate due to being “anti-Pakistan” in nature.
I will not take the time to question whether various security agencies have more important things to do than monitoring what topics are being assigned in universities for debate and research, or who gets to decide what exactly qualifies as “anti-Pakistan” in nature. Let us assume for the sake of this topic that the topic is assigned, “Pakistan should not exist.” What is the harm in researching and debating this topic? If we accept that it cannot be defended, the only way to know that is to try to defend it and fail. Doesn’t refusing to even allow someone to attempt to defend the question suggest a fear that maybe it can be defended?
Let us take this out of such sensitive areas, though, and approach the point from one of science or maths. We would never forbid anyone from attempting to prove that 1+1=3. In doing so, they will learn that it is wrong. If someone insists that the sky is orange, the answer is not to tell everyone that it is blue and threaten that they not look for themselves. This will only create a sense of doubt where none is necessary. The answer is to tell everyone, “Look up. Use your eyes. Is it orange or is it blue? Decide for yourself which is the correct answer.”
The impulse to try to ban debate about sensitive and controversial ideas is a natural one, but it is also one that must be resisted. If certain people are trying to spread malicious ideas to destabalise Pakistan, the best way to defeat them is to expose those ideas to the research and debate that will disprove them.