Reign of Terror


I like Syed Abidi, I really do. I think he’s a smart guy. But even smart guys are wrong sometimes. Abidi’s latest blog post picking up the new talking-point that what Pakistan needs is a French-style Revolution is one of those times. The French Revolution isn’t French Perfume. It was called the “Reign of Terror” for a reason.

Abidi selectively quotes Wikipedia’s article about the French Revolution, which makes it sound rather nice. “Old ideas about hierarchy and tradition succumbed to new Enlightenment principles of citizenship and inalienable rights.” But Abidi should have read beyond the first paragraph and down to the section on the Terror.

The result was a policy through which the state used violent repression to crush resistance to the government. Under control of the effectively dictatorial Committee, the Convention quickly enacted more legislation. On 9 September, the Convention established sans-culottes paramilitary forces, the revolutionary armies, to force farmers to surrender grain demanded by the government. On 17 September, the Law of Suspects was passed, which authorized the charging of counter-revolutionaries with vaguely defined crimes against liberty. On 29 September, the Convention extended price-fixing from grain and bread to other household goods and declared the right to set a limit on wages.

The guillotine became the symbol of a string of executions. Louis XVI had already been guillotined before the start of the terror; Queen Marie Antoinette, Barnave, Bailly, Brissot and other leading Girondins, Philippe Égalité (despite his vote for the death of the King), Madame Roland and many others were executed by guillotine. The Revolutionary Tribunal summarily condemned thousands of people to death by the guillotine, while mobs beat other victims to death.

At the peak of the terror, the slightest hint of counter-revolutionary thoughts or activities (or, as in the case of Jacques Hébert, revolutionary zeal exceeding that of those in power) could place one under suspicion, and trials did not always proceed according to contemporary standards of due process. Sometimes people died for their political opinions or actions, but many for little reason beyond mere suspicion, or because some others had a stake in getting rid of them. Most of the victims received an unceremonious trip to the guillotine in an open wooden cart (the tumbrel). In the rebellious provinces, the government representatives had unlimited authority and some engaged in extreme repressions and abuses. For example, Jean-Baptiste Carrier became notorious for the Noyades [“drownings”] – he organized in Nantes; his conduct was judged unacceptable even by the Jacobin government and he was recalled.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Just what Pakistan needs!

Of course, Abidi’s got a optimistic view of everything.

It took them 3 years, maybe it will take Pakistan only 3 days.

We’ve suffered through coups and dictatorships that promised to fix all of our problems and now over 60 years later we think somehow this time will be different? In fact, somehow this miracle will take place in only 3 days!?! Come on, bhai, you’re smarter than that.

And then there’s this bit:

It is clear the world does not trust our administration and the Government to help bail out this country from further collapse, and there is no economic way, Pakistanis will be able to recover from it alone. In comparison, the Balakot earthquake of 2005 got US$ 6.4 billion in a short period for foreign countries and billions worth of local aid and donations from citizens.

I think it’s funny that he’s lamenting the fact that nobody trusts our government only two sentences after he says, “our corrupt politicians were following the policy of ‘more damage equals more aid’”. Hey bhai, maybe if you didn’t go around declaring everyone “corrupt”, the world would stop assuming it.

Then he goes on to say

Pakistan Army is the most popular organized management establishment in Pakistan, if we were to choose from the best. Since the army has been the first and foremost to provide relief to the flood victims. The people of this country will welcome a step taken by the judiciary to instruct the armed forces of Pakistan to carry on its orders to its fullest implementation.

Here we go again. This was the same excuse used by Zia and Musharraf and everyone else who is too lazy to do any good for the country and only sits back and wishes for some ‘Angel in Khaki Cloths’ to swoop down and rescue them.

Albert Einstein famously said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Syed bhai, if you think a coup will somehow work out differently this time, might I kindly suggest you have your head examined?

What we need is not more suffering, more terror, more deaths. We need more hope. We need our smart people like Syed Abidi to stop fixating on “quick fix” solutions like “French Revolution” or “Bangladesh Model” and start coming up with common sense solutions to our problems. After all, look what Bangladesh ended up with? Politics is still controlled by Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. No change at all.

We need more people participating in the democratic process from start to finish. Fewer party jilayas and more activist citizens. We need to make it patriotic to pay taxes, not to tell conspiracy theories. We need to build pride in our nation so that the best and brightest of our youth will stay here and join the government, not disappear to New York or London, only looking homeward and complain from overseas.

The French Revolution may have unseated a monarchy and paved the way for a democracy, but it took years of violence and terror for France to work out its democracy. We are suffering too much already to add to the madness some misguided “revolution” as a quick-fix solution. We already have a democracy in place. We need to nurture it, not cut it down just as it begins to take root.



Author: Mahmood Adeel


  1. Now I have read again The Tale ofTwo Cities and The Reign of Terror to enable myself find those characters in the present time Pakistan.Next we have to find an equivalent of Bastille here and the tub of Robespiere in which Abidi can sit and
    send people to the guillotine.Now If he does not ask the French Government for commission or kick back they could donate one to his cause.

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