In an increasingly Talibanised Pakistan, ‘liberal-fascists’ are being attacked for not falling in line.
After his visit to Lahore in February, K. Anis Ahmed, a Bangladeshi intellectual, wrote in Newsweek Pakistan about the tough Pakistani textbook narrative against the birth of Bangladesh and the refusal of Pakistanis to even acknowledge what the Pakistan army had done to the people of East Pakistan in 1971: “Bangladeshi intellectuals have long known and appreciated the opposition mounted by Pakistani liberals during 1971.
What was interesting for me to discover on this trip is the abiding hold of that liberalism across generations. As a narrative of extremism has come to dominate global perceptions of Pakistan, the fact that there is a durable, indigenous tradition of liberalism has fallen by the wayside.
“In my university days, I regularly came across Pakistanis who, liberal on most counts, simply could not square the globally mainstream narrative about 1971 with their sense of identity. Education in the world’s best colleges, or living in the most cosmopolitan capitals, was not enough to open up the space that was required to question received narratives. But in Lahore I came across many young people from local colleges who did precisely that with ease.
“Is this tiny but deep strain of liberalism any match for the more ferocious ideologies that seek to crush it? I know too little about Pakistan to make any pronouncements let alone predictions. I can only say that an encounter with this country that I had long resisted proved to be more full of surprises, and pleasanter ones, than I had expected.”
The Lahore Literary Festival is a rare annual gathering of the “liberals” in a notoriously conservative city. On Facebook, however, Ahmed’s article received the typical barrage of “India-did-it” kind of response from Pakistani readers, accusing East Pakistanis of betrayal of their state.
The “liberal” in Pakistan is under siege; he must fear for his life as the national consensus swings in favour of the Taliban. Judging from what the Urdu columnists write — mother tongues, alas, have become toxic in our day — they will all be lynched when the sharia is finally enforced. But the liberal is anathematised all over the world.
To be clear, let’s quote The Economist (February 5, 2009): “Barack Obama shuns the L-word. But his speeches brim with liberal ideas and ideals. What is it about the doctrine that dare not speak its name? Authors who defend liberalism must often struggle just to get the word out without facing incomprehension or abuse — even today. To the left, particularly in Europe, liberalism means the free-market dogma of clever simpletons who created the present financial mess. The continued…