Raza Habib Raja – A Critique of Prominent Liberals


Raza Habib Raja

As a philosophy liberalism is more inward looking and hence does not try to shift blame on the outside forces. By its orientation, it also does not have an overly negative assumption about human nature and consequently is not obsessed with crime and punishment. It believes in the rationality of humans and further assumes that human intelligence is capable of creating an artifice where ethnic, linguistic and other such “ natural” differences can be accommodated without creating rift. Its emphasis and belief on human rationality rather than instinct logically lead it to being more fluid and progressive. Conservative point of views by and large are grounded on instincts (which are permanent) and it is no surprise that conservatives are traditionalists. Yes, within conservative side, there will be variations but by and large they have a static view of issues. However, on some issues unfortunately those claiming themselves as liberals also have a tendency to take fixed positions.

One position which I have often found as somewhat of an anomaly is the stance of some western liberals on the war in Afghanistan. Their stance does not stop at opposing the war but stretches to paint Taliban as some kind of “victim” . A raving liberal from the other side of the border, aka Miss Roy, also has the tendency to view Taliban in some glorified “robin hood” kind of a way. Likewise prominent liberals/left wingers like Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky in their zeal to criticize USA for its imperial designs often cross the line and end up sounding as supportive of Taliban in a twisted way.

Particularly interesting was Tariq Ali’s recent speech at Marxist convention where he blatantly criticized US war in Afghanistan and also the drone attacks. Predictably the rationale given for the war was US business and imperial interests. What Tariq Ali failed to really appreciate was that there is much more to the war than mere “grand” conspiracy to maintain US military bases. And even if it is assumed that the sole purpose of the war was for maintaining US’s hegemony as well as protection of its strategic interests, the implications for the area would be weakening of the Taliban. The policy of appeasement as well as negotiation has repeatedly failed with the Taliban. Even if you have to ultimately negotiate you have to negotiate with a position of strength and that won’t be possible without some acts of aggression. Yes you can argue over the modus operandi of the war but there is much more to the rationale and outcome of the war than mere US capitalist greed.

I think the central issue is that some positions due to historical baggage have become too entrenched and consequently such anomalies often arise. For example US aggression has been historically viewed as for maintaining its hegemony (there is a strong element of truth in it) and over time this image has become synonymous with virtually its every act of aggression. I am not suggesting that Bush initiated war in Afghanistan is purely a noble war but at the same time to interpret that Afghan Taliban militants are “nationalists” and mere victim of adverse circumstances is stretching it too much. What these leading liberals of the West do not know is that their stance actually becomes a credible propaganda weapon in the hands of right wingers in our side of the world who actually cite these intellectuals in support of their own anti war arguments. In fact Mr. Zaid Hamid has a regular tendency to quote Noam Chomsky (without crediting him of course) and give mind boggling spins to his views to align them with his own rightwing non sense about US grand conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan. It is a funny sight to find western ultra liberals and local conservative conspiracy theorists actually in the same bed.

I think a major problem is the excessive usage and in fact abuse of the concept of self introspection. Self introspection is a great virtue but it should not come at the cost of credibility. People like Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali and Noam Chomsky in their zeal to show hypocrisy in their own societies do end up becoming less credible and even counterproductive. Instead of taking a case by case approach and evaluating the overall impact of particular acts on the ideological fabric of the society, the need to self fledge in order to be politically correct (according to liberal criterion) overrides everything. I have gone through many articles of Ms Roy and frankly she hardly seems credible in many instances. In her zeal to indulge in self fledging and to shift the entire blame on Indian government, she loses her credibility.

At our side of the border also the need to conform to some fixed “liberal” positions at times result in making liberals less credible. Although luckily in Pakistan, the liberal side does not suffer from twisted opposition of the USA and belief in “victimhood” of Taliban but problems emerge in other areas. For some of the liberals the whole paradigm of analysis revolves around few terms like Political Islam, Urban Middleclass, Punjabi hegemony, Establishment etc. Of course these factors are responsible, but not every problem in Pakistan is emerging due to these factors. Issues have to be analysed according to their individual merit. And yes while there are issues with the urban middleclass but that does not mean that its every concern is just an expression of bigotry and intellectual bankruptcy.

Lately I have heard fantastic theories of some grand alliance between Punjabi elite, Establishment, Media and Judiciary to destabilize the current government. Whereas I fully agree that PPP led government is lynched too much, but to conclude that all the “sinister” forces are acting under some joint conspiracy is stretching it too much. For that matter the interests of Media, Judiciary, Army etc though somewhat overlapping may not be completely corresponding to each other. And yes though PPP is the only electable liberal option but there are issues with its quality of governance. To deny these would be ignoring a reality. And above all not every PPP critic is a Taliban sympathizer or for that matter even closet conservative. You can be a liberal and yet be critical of PPP.

There is a reason as to why I think Fasi Zaka is the best liberal Pakistani journalist. He upholds liberal ideals of constitutional liberalism, independence of institutions, equality and freedom. And yet he does not mince words where liberal parties make mistakes. He does not spin the facts to absolve liberal parties of their mistakes. He recognizes that liberal mistakes are conservative gains. He understands that governance is important and that dynasty politics is counterproductive to progressive politics. He is a liberal in true sense as far as ideals are concerned and a realistic in interpretation.

What is more important for the liberal side is to stress on the liberal ideals of constitutional liberalism, equality and freedom. These ideals should remain fixed. In interpretation of issues, it is important to have an open mind.

Originally published on PakTeaHouse on 31 October 2010.