New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 September 2015
The future of Pakistani journalists
Public intellectuals and their declining presence
Akbar Jan Marwat
By Asha'ar Rehma
Peshawar attacked again
Syed Kamran Hashmi
September 25, 2015
The life span of the news is just a few hours and then it goes to the belly of the reporting dustbin. As long as a journalist is writing, he is alive and well in the world of journalism but he is forgotten soon after his death. Even the news of his death does not become breaking news. Poets, philosophers, actors, singers and army men are remembered for decades but well-informed and outspoken journalists leave this world noiselessly and, after a few years, no one remembers them and their contributions.
Bhutto is alive even today, a lot of people know who Habib Jalib was, amateurs learn acting by copying Dalip Kumar and novices learn singing through songs by Rafi. However, after 30 years very few people would like to become like our present crop of prominent journalists. Perhaps, if I am not wrong, people might not even know their names at that time. Why? The answer is very simple. A poet understands the voice of the broken heart and writes the thoughts that make the heart a slave of the brain. An actor tries to simplify the controversies of society and presents an idea of success, truth and sincerity. A singer attaches the wings of emotions to the words of a poet and tries to amuse broken hearts. A philosopher endeavours to find a middle way between controversies and interests, and avoids the road that leads to violence and war. An army man sacrifices for his nation and nurtures the ideology of nationaism.
What does a journalist do? Usually the job of a journalist is to inform the people about day-to-day happenings and to arrange this information in the shape of an inverted pyramid answering the ‘what, when, where, who, why and how’. The reason for arranging this information in an inverted pyramid is to convey the important information in descending order and to discard the unnecessary details. However, now the news stories consist of ‘what and why’ and then the same why is made spicy. The news story is often opinionated and is partial analysis. Journalists and analysts try to impose their own opinion on the public. This has become more evident in television shows after the arrival of the electronic media.
Political analysis has flaws and it takes very long for the public to indicate its flaws but nowadays when journalists are trying to conclude the political scenario in a few articles or television shows, it is very easy for even the common masses to point out the flaws in the analysis. Even the predictions of meteorological departments are more accurate and appealing to the public than political analysis. Their analysis seems like an item song to the public, which might add flavour to the movie but is not relevant to the script of the movie.
It is a fact that neither in the past nor in the present have journalists been heroes for the common man and the reason behind this is that, so far, journalists have been unable to set an example and standard for the future of journalism. Poets, philosophers, actors, singers and army men are playing their roles to contribute to the future of their fields. What the journalist is contributing to his field is similar to a heap of sand. Social media and blogs have already changed the field of journalism. Today, journalists are becoming commodities for the electronic media. Journalists are also sold like commodities. This trade of commodities has no future for journalists.
People remember the lines of poems, the thoughts of philosophers, the roles of actors, the songs of singers and the heroic events of army men. But do they remember the role of journalists? Do they remember the journalists and reporters who die every year? Do they remember the predictions made by analysts? These are open-ended questions left for us journalists.
Farman Nawaz is a freelance columnist
The term public intellectual describes an intellectual who participates in the discourse of public affairs in society, in addition to his or her academic and professional occupation. Regardless of their field of expertise, public intellectuals address and respond to the problems of society and, as such, are expected to be fair and impartial when engaging in the universal issues of truth and judgment or the issues of the time. Edward Said describes the public intellectual as the following: “The real or true public intellectual is therefore always an outsider, living in a self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society. He or she speaks to, as well as for, the public, necessarily in public, and is properly on the side of the dispossessed, the un-represented and the forgotten.”
Historically, public intellectuals vehemently criticised imperialism, oppression and the violation of universal values like truth and justice, wherever such violations occurred. In the modern western era, such public intellectuals were like giants who were held in great esteem by the masses. Their opinion carried a lot of weight as it had the potential of mobilising thousands of citizens behind certain public issues. In the context of the west, well-known 20th century men of letters like Bertrand Russell, George Orwell, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus come to mind straight away as public intellectuals. Scientists and artists like Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso were also public intellectuals, as they were public figures who took an interest in the issues of common good and were not afraid to stand up to the authorities. They were all thinkers of immense intellectual prowess who spoke against social evils and abuse of power. They were always independent of authorities and on the side of the oppressed and the vulnerable. In recent years, however, the list of public intellectuals is unfortunately dwindling. The world’s foremost public intellectual still alive is the MIT linguistic professor Noam Chomsky. Unfortunately, he represents a dying breed and there seems to be no one on the horizon to step into his shoes.
In Pakistan, we have perhaps not had a similarly robust tradition of public intellectuals per se. But leftist poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz were certainly public intellectuals in their own right. They not only highlighted the miseries of the dispossessed classes in their poetry but also participated in actual political demonstrations against the authorities. They even braved jail terms for the cause of their ideals. Similarly, in today’s Pakistan, Dr Mubarik Ali can truly be called a people’s historian. He has written history from the perspective of the people, challenging the pro-establishment version of history. Dr Pervez Hoodhboy, the famous physicist, can also be considered a public intellectual, as his interest goes much beyond physics. He is against religious fundamentalism and believes in a rational and egalitarian society.
According to Noam Chomsky, “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyse actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.” Chomsky thus exhorts intellectuals to fulfil their obligation of supporting common public issues and exposing the falsehoods of the authorities. However, public intellectuals worldwide seem to be disappearing.
According to academic and journalist C J Polychroniou, the reason for the diminishing of public intellectuals is that the western world today is dominated by functional and conformist intellectuals whose mission is not to inform the public about social evils and the threat to their freedoms but to enhance their own careers and station in life. They thus support the existing order and dominant power relations. Such conformist intellectuals focus on narrow and highly specialised technical areas; they do not dare to engage in issues of the common folk. Their excuse is that dabbling in these issues is beyond their remit. But the truth is that they are afraid to lose their jobs and grants if they oppose the authorities.
In Pakistan, also, public intellectuals have suffered because of long periods of authoritarian rule and the ascendency of fundamentalism in every sphere of life, which is certainly inimical to critical thinking. The corporatisation of universities and the media has also created a stifling atmosphere for critical intellectuals, as profit becomes the sole purpose behind any form of activity, including intellectual activity.
The decline in the number of public intellectuals worldwide can be attributed to a number of interrelated causes: for one, universities throughout the world have generally abandoned their role of developing compassionate and critically engaged citizens, and only professionals fit for the global market place are being produced. Secondly, with the advent of neo-liberalism as the dominating ideology today, notions of social justice and common good have taken a backseat to crude consumerism and self-aggrandisement. The intellectual elite has been alienated from universal values like truth, justice and peace. Finally, the corporate takeover of mass media has resulted in profit as the sole motive of these media organisations and thus the role of critical opinion has been stymied.
The declining trend of public intellectuals forecasts a bleak future for democracy and its cherished universal values like speaking out against social evils and abuse of power. Today, it seems, we have come a long way from the time when public intellectuals not only challenged the status quo but also struck fear and awe into the hearts of the rulers.
Akbar Jan Marwat is a freelance columnist
THE last time there was so much hype around Sa’adat Hasan Manto was when everyone was observing the 50th year since his departure from the world which he had so brutally exposed. Which is kind of surprising given that, apart from the sporadic sessions where ‘we’ would so devoutly play revolution-revolution with a select few progressive comrades, Manto happens to be one character from ‘Pakistani’ literature we are apparently proud of showing off in public and possessively clinging on to in private.
It would seem that the short-story writer was capable of inspiring a year-round-mela of his own populated by the right mix of the downright weird and the high-heeled, as opposed to the reality of someone finally being able to complete the bold act of making a film on him.
Interpretations vary. Every writer must strike a personal bond with their reader. Yet Manto’s reputation as a controversial chronicler of deep and dark sides to people gives the reader greater cause to cultivate secrets with him. The basic-instinct choices endear Manto to the reader. The bond is struck instantly and its premise is basic enough to guarantee durability.
Not everything that his stories stir inside are to be shared with the crowd. There is so much that shall remain between the two of us. It gives a reader all the more reason to guard against any attempts at encroachment of this personal space. There is ownership. There is exclusivity. There is jealousy when this space is stalked by outsiders.
The basic-instinct choices endear Manto to the reader. The bond is struck instantly and its premise is basic enough to guarantee durability.
Now it is a film by the Sarmad Khoosat-Shahid Nadeem combine which has brought Manto to centre stage — a film that is likely to leave many grappling, cowering under the various narratives the venture has thrown up.
This is a dangerous scene. So much has been written about the rebel writer in recent days, so many interpretations, layers of meanings have been paraded and discovered that a viewing of Manto inside a cinema creates the ultimate possibility of losing the Manto you, him, her and I — as individuals and not as a collective enrolled into a club of Manto lovers — have lived with over all these years.
Just as it is considered for anyone who is into words to acknowledge the genius of the most celebrated short-story writer here, there has over time emerged a formula understanding of Manto that has to be adhered to in analysis and nodded to in public. Yet there is a conflict between what is the public flaunted view and the individual’s relationship.
Sarmad Sultan Khoosat may get actually old explaining that link to all those who must ask him why, and why this way. In a media interview he chose to call this his ‘connect’ with Sa’adat Hasan Manto. He said he is selfish enough not to let anyone else play the expert storyteller.
Now there may be so many who would disagree with what’s born out of the Khoosat-Shahid Nadeem-Manto connection. Yet Sarmad’s assertion of the personal stands out and provides a scale to measure the criticism of the film on Manto.
So many others — everyone — believe that it is only their connection which can help expose Manto in his elements.
This is proof of the popularity of the proud storyteller who might have appeared too chirchira or irritated or angry in Sarmad’s projection of him — at least in the initial few scenes of the well-made film. That may have been a basic problem: the makers not apparently bothering to cleanse their version of Manto of human flaws.
Many in the audience might have preferred a more routine witty, ever sarcastic but less irritated and less angry model. Somewhat like the image of Ghalib as it has developed over the decades, to which Manto might have actually contributed when he wrote the story of a film on the poet more than 60 years ago.
There may of course be so many other points to be raised with the makers of the film, who were apparently concerned enough with some aspects of their production to delay the release by a few months.
Individuals are — will be — possessive about Manto because he is someone just too personal — someone who cannot be shared with the public at large. There are always some intriguing, half-revealed dark and not so dark parts of him that are not for sharing, no matter how great the urge to join the long procession of people boldly chanting by the great man’s side.
As far as it is possible, the feeling has to be overcome for that ‘must’ visit to the cinema. The Manto on screen has to be confronted eventually. The reviews, including some by those who had the privilege of seeing Manto in flesh, have to be set aside for a viewing in the context of the biases that have shaped the image of Manto in the minds of Shahid Mahmood Nadeem, Sarmad Khoosat and others. This is one aspect of the challenge faced by the makers of Manto.
They are beholden to those who had seen the writer, who had known him closely. Unlike in the case of Ghalib, for example, they did not enjoy the freedom of inventing at will, the disclaimer about it being a work of fiction notwithstanding.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. Shahid Nadeem’s version of him has been around for some time, frequently taking the stage in Ajoka’s plays. Your own little concealed, secretly nurtured Manto has survived that invasion of your personal territory. There is no reason to think that Sarmad Khoosat’s additions and modifications will destroy the idols that you have crafted out of the man and the myth that surrounds him.
Settle down, watch and note just how much of your own version of Manto has registered with the makers of this film.
Let’s see who has understood him better. Maybe you would still prefer him without the justification that’s inserted towards the end of the film. Maybe you would prefer Manto without the certificate of no-blame that he is given by his alter ego.
Asha'ar Rehma is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Like an expert predator, the terrorists swooped down on Badaber airbase in Peshawar last week, killing 30 people, including an army officer, and wounding many more. Without counting the numerous smaller attacks that afflict two to three individuals every time, the jihadists have carried out their third successful major strike in the last one month. Put another way, we have lost three times against the extremists within a month.
A few days ago, on August 16, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) sent two suicide bombers in retaliation for the killing of its leader, Malik Ishaq, in police custody. Their target was the interior minister of Punjab, Shuja Khanzada, a vocal critic of banned sectarian organisations. According to reports, the suspects entered the facility without going through any security check points and zoomed in on the victim in the meeting place, moving closer, stealthily, avoiding attention. Once they had ascertained the former military officer stood in their range, they detonated the explosives. The ensuing blast was huge, causing the entire building to collapse. The roof gave way, entrapping dozens of people, most of whom died under the rubble, their bodies still buried.
What makes the situation worse is that the minister was warned before the assault to take appropriate precautions. I am not sure if he beefed up his security to prevent such a tragedy or not but, even if he did, those measures failed as he went to meet his maker in the attack.
After targeting Attock, the northern district of Punjab that borders Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the terrorists jumped over to Multan, a southern district, slaughtering more than 30 people in a bomb explosion. We were still recovering from its shock when they pounced on Peshawar again, like a master planner who pays attention to every detail and ties all the loose ends before the event. The question is if we, in response, are tackling this war as skillfully as it should be tackled. Or we are playing ‘the Hulk’ who gets angry and starts destroying everything that comes in front of him, shoots indiscreetly and bombs the area in jet planes without a specific target? I am not sure. What I am sure about is that the enemy eludes us and stays way below the radar, underground, well connected and well organised yet we fly thousands of feet above the ground in the air, aloof and oblivious. For us to win though we have to change that culture. We need to penetrate its organisation from within before we can destroy them through an overt military operation, a strategy that they are already working on and we may have ignored.
Our strategy till now has been to belittle jihadi groups and consider them imbeciles, lunatics with no agenda, criminals without any moral conviction. That policy of course has not yielded good outcomes. Sometimes, trivialising the enemy to boost the morale of the people and to ward off fear from their minds works, I agree. On the downside though, underestimating the enemy can induce laziness and inculcate overconfidence, an attitude that we come across everywhere. All over Pakistan people believe it is a matter of days — not even weeks — to uproot every terrorist hideout once the establishment has made up its mind. And since no one knows what the establishment in fact wants, the failure that mocks us through these killings is either attributed to the involuntary complicity of the agencies or is because of the involvement of ‘foreign hands’. In other words, we refuse to consider these attacks as our genuine inability to handle the situation, a capacity issue more than an issue of intent. Why is it so hard to admit that the enemy, no matter how insane and ignorant, has outsmarted us?
Do you not think it is time that we recognise the strengths of our adversary, which keeps on orchestrating such assaults, the resilience of its network that stays unscathed after a year of nationwide military operations, its determination to fight back even in the most unfavourable circumstances and its outreach from one corner of the country to another? We must focus on the pluckiness of these gangs, rather than deriding their weaknesses and appreciate their commitment rather than scoffing at their beards and outfits. That, in turn, can help us launch a better, smarter and more vigorous counterinsurgency campaign and prepare us for a war that will be stretched over years, not days or months as we expected. It may also pull us out of a looming defeat while we dream of a victory in our oblivion.
Remember, last year too, after the Peshawar school massacre, we thought the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be converted into a castle, a fortress that could not be penetrated, heavily guarded and religiously protected. We were committed to change it from being one of the most vulnerable cities in the world to the safest, united to send a message to the world that we know how to defend ourselves. To show that we are a country with a large professional army consisting of brave soldiers and talented officers. That we have the most powerful spy agency in the world, its significance recognised internationally, and that the time to show patience is over. Even though it took us a long time to conclude how to respond to these offences we are now determined to fight back and we will do whatever it takes to eradicate violence in the name of religion. Anyone from that day, it must be known to every organisation that plans or tries to attack the city, will be dealt with with an ‘iron fist’. Both the military and the civilian administration seemed to be on one page in their resolve. Then, how come a year later, more than a dozen people disguised as soldiers in paramilitary uniforms stormed a mosque located within the airbase and mowed down tens of worshippers? Where is our iron fist? Has it softened up after targeting the wrong spots for so long?
Syed Kamran Hashmi is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org