Case Studies in Dignity & Self Respect: Turkey vs. Iran

Obama listening to Turkish PM Erdogan

Yesterday I wrote about Dignity, Integrity & Self Respect and how to get there. I argued that these qualities can’t be gained by intransigence, deception and denial, but must be earned through honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Today I want to follow up with some examples from modern geo-politics that demonstrate my point.

Earlier this month, Turkey announced that it will partner with the US to host part of NATO’s missile defence system.

Under the Nato plans, a limited system of US anti-missile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe – to include interceptors in Romania and Poland as well as the radar in Turkey – would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defences. That would create a broad system that protected every Nato country against medium-range missile attack.

This makes sense for Turkey since it will help protect the nation’s security. But it doesn’t mean that Turkey is an American stooge or a servant of Western hegemony. Far from it. At the same time that Turkey was cooperating with the Americans to secure its borders, they also expelled the Israeli ambassador when he refused to apologise for the Gaza flotilla raid that killed Turkish citizens and spoke out loudly in favour of Palestinian rights. If one were to listen to our ghairatmand conspiracy walas, this would be a seeming impossibility. How can a country be partners with the Americans and not fall prey to their US-Hindu-Zionist mind control? Because Turkey is reasonable and realistic, it is respected when it disagrees with the US and taken seriously on the world stage.

Compare this to Iran that rigs elections, spreads ridiculous conspiracy theories, and acts as a destabilisers in the region. When Turkey speaks out about a serious issue like the rights of Palestinians or economic markets, the world listens. When Iran rants and terms the holocaust “myth”, the world laughs at them. And when they speak out for the rights of Palestinians, nobody listens. This week’s UN meeting is a case in point.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, much diminished at home by his confrontation with the country’s supreme leader, has said the same thing so many times at the United Nations that it has taken on the aura of a ritual monotony. When a Western ambassador was asked what he anticipated from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, he quipped, “We are preparing our usual contingency walkout plan.”

Right on schedule, Mr. Ahmadinejad prompted a walkout by the United States and Europe by implying that conspiracies lay behind the Sept. 11 attacks and the Holocaust.

This is the question we need to ask ourselves. Do we want to be indignant or effective? Being indignant is easy. All you have to do is pound your fist and point your finger and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. You can feel self-righteous and superiour, but you will never succeed in changing anything.

The other choice is to be effective. That requires being realistic and being responsible. It requires taking a long view of history, recognising our limitations, and working towards achievable solutions even if they come only incrementally. When a country follows the Turkish path, it has the ear of world leaders. And when you have the respect of the world, self respect comes naturally.

Dignity, Integrity & Self Respect

In a debate on Twitter recently, Dr Awab Alvi wrote that “Pakistan needs a position of dignity, integrity & self respect vs being run by Foreign nations”. I agree completely. Actually, I suspect Dr Awab and I would agree on a lot of things. Where we diverge, though, is on the path to get there. Some in Pakistan who are jokingly called as the Ghairat Brigade (they call themselves PTI among other things) believe that these traits of dignity, integrity & self respect are found through intransigence, deception and denial.

Intransigence vs Integrity

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. But having strong moral principles does not mean refusing to admit when you are wrong. Anytime some criticism is made of Pakistan, we immediately point fingers in the face of our critics. This is especially the case when any criticism is made of the military. But our military is made of men, not angels, and like all men they make mistakes. This is only natural, and not a humiliation. Even the mightiest armies of history are known to make miscalculations. Oh how Napoleon would take back his invasion of Russia! The Japanese their attack on Pearl Harbor! The Americans their Vietnam! It is the true friend who warns you when you are taking the wrong path. It is your enemy who quietly lets you go astray. Integrity is gained by honesty and responsibility, not stubborn refusal to admit mistakes.

Self Respect vs Deception

To listen to the Ghairat Brigade, we can never have self respect so long as we accept foreign aid. We must stand on our own feet. But standing on your own feet doesn’t meant that you refuse help. Should students refuse scholarships? Should the poor refuse zakat? Actually, the student who humbly accepts his scholarship, just as the poor man who humbly accepts zakat to feed his family are able to stand tall with self respect even though they are accepting help because they are using it to improve their opportunities, to make something of themselves. They are taking responsibility for improving their lives and not blaming others as their excuse to not improve.

The Ghairat Brigades say that all our problems are caused by someone else. If we just cut ties with the Americans, there will be no poverty, no corruption, no violence. Just this week LeJ killed dozens of innocent Pakistanis, and the same day I saw the Keyboard Commandoes of Lashkar-e-Ghairat telling people that there is no such thing as LeJ – it is a RAW conspiracy! As long as we are lying to ourselves, how can we ever hope to respect ourselves?

Dignity vs Denial

In his latest piece for Express Tribune Raza Rumi makes clear the problem with denial.

The anti-Americanism paranoia about India, imagined plots to steal our nuclear weapons and the ultimate ‘terrorists-cannot-be-Muslims’ mantra have entered the popular imagination of Pakistanis. These days, there is an overt attempt by several analysts, opinion-makers and even academics to rationalise conspiracy theories. Reportedly, a UK-based Pakistani academic delivered a talk at a Karachi seminar, rationalising the conspiracy theory that the infamous Blackwater (a US contractor) was responsible for attacks on mosques and shrines in Pakistan.

This is no longer a laughing matter. It is a serious state of collective denial that needs to be unpacked and rectified for our long-term stability and survival. This will lead us nowhere: we deny that there is violence against women, we deny that there is rampant child abuse; and we reject that we have allowed for a large section of society to get radicalised in the recent decades. We deny that our textbooks are poisonous for young minds, for the hate they spread, and we refute that sermons given in the name of a peaceful religion actually talk about killing non-Muslims. Above all, there is a widespread denial that minorities of Pakistan are increasingly under attack, including the Shias, Ahmadis, Zikris, and not just non-Muslims.

Denying our problems doesn’t give us dignity, it gives us problems. Dignity is something you get when you admit your mistakes, admit your problems, and work sincerely towards solving them. When you refuse to admit reality, even in the face of all evidence, you cannot have dignity. Rather you become a laughing stock to the world. Every nation has problems. It is those who admit them and face them that hold their heads high on the world stage. It is tyrants and dictators who try to hide in the shadows so that people can’t see their true face.

The Right Path

Pakistan needs a position of dignity, integrity & self respect, but it’s not going to get this via a programme of intransigence, deception and denial. Dignity, integrity and self respect are the products of honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Most of my friends can recite a hundred year’s worth of mistakes and misdeeds by the Americans. But if asked about certain black marks in our own history, they look totally confused and say that they’ve never heard this before. And why? Because for generations the Ghairat Brigades have been editing history books, inventing conspiracies, and blaming everyone in the world for all of our problems. They have tried for decades to improve the nation by intransigence, deception and denial, and look where it has taken us. Enough.

If we truly want to try the ‘untested’, we should not repeat the same mistakes of the past by basing our hopes in intransigence, deception and denial. We need to take the path of honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Only then we will find ourselves in a position of dignity, integrity & self respect.

The Wrong Debate?

When I read Mosharraf Zaidi’s column this morning which suggests that moderates and liberals are having the wrong debate by discussing the finer points of why the blasphemy laws in our penal code warrant attention, or the utter insanity of people who celebrate a daylight murder, I could not help but be overcome with a sense of defeatism. Mosharraf makes a lot of sense, and in away, I think he’s right. But I also think he’s missing something important.

@kaalakawaa posted on Twitter last week:

“I would somehow like to magically upload my entire consciousness to this weird, liberal, awesome Pakistani land of Twitter.”

Me too. And though I know that I can’t, it has been a constant source of strength to be able to connect with a community of people who I know are sane, thinking people. That’s why I started blogging in the first place. It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re surrounded by people who make you question your own sanity. It’s easy to start feeling like maybe you’re the crazy one. And having a community of moderate and liberal people to talk to, even if virtually…it is a lifeline.

But I take Mosharraf’s point. We need to expand our discussion beyond why the blasphemy laws are misguided and why murder should not be glorified (seriously, I cannot believe I had to write that). And to this end, Mosharraf provides a wake up call.

Extremist mullahs, conspiracy theorists, right-wing wackos – they all play on the same sense of insecurity, hopelessnes and defeatism that makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do. And that’s what we need to start talking about.

This is a point that we must not lose sight of – a lot of what’s going on is not normal for people. I hear people I’ve grown up with saying that they understand Qadri because how can you love the Prophet (PBUH) and not feel defensive, not get angry when someone insults him and degrades him. I try to point out that Salmaan Taseer didn’t insult or degrage anyone, and they just look confused and shake their heads.

And these aren’t crazy, illiterate people. But they are people that feel like everything is completely out of their control. A lot of them are young, educated…and can’t find a job anywhere. That’s cute for a while, but pretty soon you start to wonder if you’re ever going to find a job. And if you can’t find a job, how are you going to get married, have kids, be a person of stature in your community?

And it’s not just the economy. It’s the damn war. It seems like its never ending. Nobody likes the jihadis. And sure the Americans are trying to get rid of them, but they’ve been doing that for years and they’re still here. Can’t we just get rid of both of them? I just want it all to stop. To wake up tomorrow like it’s a bad dream.

So what do we do? Well, I don’t know, exactly. But I’d like to have this discussion with my moderate and liberal friends so we can come up with a solution that’s alternate to Ahmed Quraishi’s dictatorship, Zaid Hamid’s Kalipha, and Mullah Omar’s medieval court.

And it can’t just be discussing the intricacies of macro-level policies like RGST and Foreign Direct Investment incentives. Those are necessary, don’t misunderstand, but they’re hardly sufficient.

Roti, Kapra, Aur Makaan was a brilliant slogan because its directly addressed the people’s needs. It wasn’t a 5-year program to enhance GDP growth. It was saying, “You matter. You deserve a life of dignity and respect.”

But we need more than slogans. We need to find ways to address those basic human needs that Syed Munawar Hasan and Zaid Hamid play to. We need to create space in our society for people to know that they are being heard, that they have some control over their own lives. Maybe I can find that space in the “weird, liberal, awesome Pakistani land of Twitter” but we need to make this space offline. We need to create it in every village, every school, every house, every shop.

I was touched by the words of Shehryar Taseer in an interview with BBC when he said to the extremists that “this is not your Pakistan”. He’s right. Pakistan belongs to all of us, and we should all be invited to dinner. Leaving no one out will not only counteract the spell used by our would-be dictators, it will make us stronger as a nation.

So what do you think? Where can we start?