Date archives "November 2016"

The Revolution Rhetoric

Unfortunately, some have taken the liberty to cloud the minds of our youth and mislead them. At a time when the youth needs to work towards progress in education, industry and economy, a significant chunk of our youth has been ‘brainwashed’ to believe that for Pakistan to go anywhere a revolution is needed. What is even more scary is that some are almost convinced that this revolution needs to be scarred with bloodshed. ‘Hum Inqilaab layen gay.’ (we will bring a revolution) seems to be the every day slogan of many political parties, and it has become part of every day rhetoric now.

Before moving on, it would be useful to talk about the most widely quoted example in this rhetoric, the French Revolution. I donít find it hard to believe that those talking about it are mostly unaware of what actually happened in that revolution.

A decade after, and perhaps following in the footsteps of the American Revolution (which not surprisingly does not exist in this rhetoric), it is indeed true that the French Revolution in 1789 was a watershed event which changed France and Europe irrevocably.

While the exact causes are hard to pin down, historians generally agree that a number of wars had taken place before the revolution and this had taken a toll on the French treasury. This had further weakened the French bank already ailing from royal extravagance. Secondly, King Louis XVI of France, like many other European kings, propagated the idea that kings ruled by divine right i.e. were handpicked by God. This then made them accountable to no one except God, and the argument went that if God was not pleased with what they were doing He would remove them Himself. Thus, the citizenry had no say in the matter. In a time of highly secularised thinking due to the philosophies of thinkers such as Burke, Condorcet, Rousseau and Voltaire, who argued for rights of people, sovereignty and the social contract (particularly Rousseau), the divine right to rule became a concept hard to digest.

The strict French class system had long placed the clergy and nobility far above the rest of French citizens, despite the fact that many of those citizens far exceeded nobles in wealth and reputation. It was not a fight of the poor against the rich, the haves and the have nots as it is played out in this rhetoric. It was a battle to achieve equality and remove oppression. It was both a success and a failure. It led to several rapid changes of regime, culminating in a military dictatorship, the Napoleonic Empire, and the restoration of the monarchy. In the long term it established a fair tax system in which by law everyone was taxed according to their wealth and property rights were guaranteed.

Another quoted or rather misquoted example is that of the ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘Arab Awakening’. Sparked by the first protests in Tunisia in 2010, a series of rebellions have risen across the Middle East and North Africa. Again, the rhetoric goes that Pakistan needs such a ‘spring’. Looking at the causes of these protests one realises that the factors that have led to the protests include issues such as dictatorship, absolute monarchy, human rights violations, lack of an independent media, government corruption and economic decline.

What needs to be understood is that these revolutions had specific goals which could not be achieved otherwise. A monarchy and dictatorship has to be overturned by mass movements because there is no other way. Similarly, property rights and equality in taxing in that particular context had to be fought for.

Pakistan is a different story. It is not a dictatorship right now; it has been, yes, but didn’t we just overturn the last one through the lawyers’ movement in 2008? Pakistan has equal property rights. In terms of taxation it is actually the government that needs a revolution to make the citizens pay tax (only 2% of Pakistanis pay tax!).

We already overthrew our colonisers and oppressors when in 1947 we became an independent state. We established democratic systems and laws, and our Constitution guarantees us all our fundamental rights. I am not saying that there are no problems in the systems we have in place, but nonetheless these are the right systems. We need to rectify the shortcomings of these systems, not destroy them altogether. Some of the propagators of this rhetoric actually want to replace the democratic system we have in place today with another dictatorship or monarchy! They propagate the idea of a reverse revolution, and that can be very damaging to the country.

Actually, sometimes shortcuts seem appealing. Whenever overnight and drastic change comes on the table everyone gets excited, but unfortunately tangible change never does come overnight. It requires hard work and patience, and in our pursuit for the quick short cut we might just end up losing what our forefathers fought so hard for. If we are unhappy with a particular regime or government we have the ability and the authority to not elect it again in the next election. We don’t need to go out and kill everyone involved with that regime.

We don’t need a revolution; we need revolutionary development. This development has to be in the education and economic sector, and both are of course linked. By developing our human resource, expanding our economic horizons and realising our responsibilities as citizens we can rid ourselves of most of the problems we face and address the grievances we have.

The exact nature of this development and these responsibilities is a subject I will address in another column, but the only message that one can hope to give through this is that rhetoric can be dangerous. It can be specially dangerous when it is being used to gather emotive and not logical responses. The youth of Pakistan must understand clearly what their role is and how they can develop this country, and resolve not to be misled by those who choose to use them for their own purposes and designs.

‘Freedom has cost too much blood and agony to be relinquished at the cheap price of rhetoric.’ – Thomas Sowell

The writer is Youth Ambassador Geo and Jang Group.

*This article appeared in The News on the 19th of September 2011.