New Age Islam Edit Bureau
14 March 2018
De-Radicalising Face of Pakistan
By Gulshan Rafiq
By Mahir Ali
Saudi Arabia’s Dramatic Changes
By Talat Masood
The History Of Work
By Mubarak Ali
CPEC: Western Route And Balochistan
By Hasaan Khawar
The New Power Troika
By Zahid Hussain
A Crisis Of Empathy
By Farid Panjwani
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
March 14, 201
Radicalisation has risen as a gigantic challenge for Pakistani society. It is by and large accepted to be activated by reasons that are identified with political and religious numbness, destitution, disintegration of lawfulness, a biased social structure, unjustifiable government approaches, and psychological, local, provincial and worldwide components.
Numerous variables, perhaps unique for men and women, may add to radicalisation. The attention on women is essential with regard to Pakistan where women shape 48.76 per cent of the aggregate populace in a male-ruled society that forces limitations on women for the sake of religion and culture, regularly binding them to their homes. In any case, patterns are changing now as an ever-increasing number of women are working in all circles of life close by men. Yet, contrasts hold on in the lives of women in urban and country regions. Pakistan is a patriarchal society where social practices and oppression against women are overflowing. It is not unprecedented for women to be dealt with as chattel. They are not just victimised as far as human services, training and legacy, yet in addition much of the time move towards becoming casualties of aggressive behaviour at home, barbaric and banned traditions, for example, karo-kari and marriage to the Quran to keep the family property inside the family.
This circumstance mirrors the vulnerabilities of women, who endure avoidance, underestimation and concealment because of a moderate outlook towards them and are powerless to radicalisation. Clarifying the reasons behind radicalisation among ladies, Margot Bardan, author of Feminism in Islam, says that women who end up helpless against the blandishments of radical fanaticism are individuals who are poor and uneducated or under-instructed and the socially underestimated or uprooted.
The patterns of radicalisation among Pakistani women can be followed back to the Afghan Jihad when ladies assumed a dynamic part by giving logistical assistance on the combat zone. In any case, a dynamic part of women in Pakistan regarding radicalisation wound up to the world amid the 2007 Lal Masjid/Jamia Hafsa standoff where activist men and ladies tested the writ of the state in Islamabad. Publications by extremist associations have likewise filled in as a successful apparatus to spread radicalisation among women. Extremist organisations utilise their publications to advance their belief system, and their restricted meaning of jihad to persuade ladies to convince male relatives to participate. On account of an absence of access to dependable data, ladies can without much of a stretch succumb to such radical promulgation. Rex Hudson, author of The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism, expresses that ladies, being more hopeful than men, might be more headed to take part in extremist activities. Militants in Pakistan also rely on women for protection to continue their activities and to hide from the authorities, using them as “human shields”, as they are not exposed to as thorough checking when accompanied by women.
It is in this setting the investigation of radicalisation among Pakistani women winds up noteworthy in the present militant and political milieu of Pakistan. This foundation features the need to investigate the effect of socio-economic, religious and political factors on radicalisation of women, through accumulation of their observations. In spite of men being the vital workers, women in Pakistan have a generous part in residential undertakings as mothers, little girls, sisters and spouses. It is acknowledged that the mother is the principal wellspring of learning for youngsters’ moral training for her life partner, and gives physical care to her kids as well as plans their essential ideology. Therefore there is a need for an endeavour to examine the opinions of the women from both rustic and urban zones in all parts of the country to decide patterns and examples of radicalisation.
March 14, 2018
IT’S one of those photographs that indelibly sear themselves on to the memory. Every now and then, they pop up unbeckoned from the subconscious. I was about 10 when I first saw it, in a November 1969 issue of Life magazine. The expression of sheer anguish and despair on the face of the middle-aged woman at the forefront is unforgettable. The photographer heard gunfire soon after he began walking away from the scene.
Ron Haeberle had captured the final moments of a small bunch of civilians who were among the estimated 504 massacred 50 years ago this week when Charlie Company was deployed, on March 16, 1968, in a South Vietnamese hamlet designated My Lai 4. They found no combatants, but nonetheless decided their orders obliged them to kill everyone they found — from infants and toddlers to women of all ages and a few old men — and then to burn down their huts.
The photograph shows someone trying to gently restrain the woman with hands around her waist. To her left there is a much younger woman, holding a small child wearing a look of bewilderment and fear, who can be seen buttoning up her blouse. There is another petrified child in the background, clinging on to someone we cannot clearly see. The caption makes it clear this was the last time they were seen alive. It does not explain that the older woman was being held back because she had been kicking and scratching the soldiers who were bent upon sexually violating the younger woman, possibly her daughter.
Once some of the truth about what happened in My Lai emerged about a year and a half later, the extent of the indiscriminate killings inevitably overshadowed the preceding sexual assaults. They were both par for the course, but unprovoked murder figured higher on the scale of atrocities than the degradation that preceded it.
Another of the photographs that Life published showed a large number of bodies — of all sizes, some of them very small — lying slaughtered between two verdant fields. The toll could have been worse, though, had not the US helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson inserted his flying machine between his compatriots and fleeing civilians, and ordered his two subordinates to shoot at any fellow Americans trying to kill the Vietnamese.
Thompson’s alerts to the regional US military headquarters initially went unheeded, but eventually prompted a command to cease and desist. Thompson deserves credit for saving some lives. His testimony was a key factor in the prosecution of a few culprits. Charlie Company’s Capt Ernest Medina was exonerated; Lt William Calley, the only officer to be convicted of 20 or so murders, was freed from house arrest after three and a half years.
During his trial and incarceration, almost nine out of every 10 missives directed to the White House were pleas for clemency. If that comes as a shock, let us not forget that opinion polls after four young anti-war protesters were gunned down at Kent State University showed a majority of Americans welcomed their demise. The nation that picked Donald Trump as president in 2016 hasn’t changed all that much.
When George H.W. Bush, before attacking Iraq in 1991, declared his nation had overcome the ‘Vietnam syndrome’, he wasn’t referring to the war crimes, which only ever bothered a relatively small proportion of Americans. What he meant was that America’s defeat in Vietnam, despite its overwhelming firepower and monopoly of the skies, no longer seemed a barrier to choosing other killing fields. He foresaw a relatively brief war. Nearly three decades on, the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have extended well beyond the long period of aggression and defeat in Vietnam.
The continuity is illustrated also by the fact that Seymour Hersh, the first reporter bold enough to publicise the massacre at My Lai (as well as the coordinated cover-up that followed) almost four decades later broke the story of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, a reminder, that dehumanising the enemy remains a crucial component of the American arsenal. Of course, other military forces are perfectly capable of comparable atrocities. Not long after Life published photographic evidence of the war crime at My Lai, there were similarly appalling images to contend with from the Pakistani military operations to thwart the birth of Bangladesh.
The year 1968 stands out in modern American history for a multiplicity of domestic reasons, from riots to assassinations. But My Lai and its aftermath arguably trump much else as an illustration of what the US was all about at that juncture. The massacre wasn’t so much an aberration as part of a pattern, much of which remains unrecorded. But also, in some ways, unbroken — at home in America, but mainly abroad, where there will always be scope for mass murder.
The young and dynamic Prince Mohammad bin Salman — the virtual Saudi ruler — had come to realise that his kingdom was falling behind and it was vital to modernise and be a normal country. Its past rulers were too old, had become prisoners of tradition and too cautious in a world where bold decisions and innovative policies are needed. The prince’s ambitions seem to cover a broader canvas and he would like Saudi Arabia to retain a dominant position in the region.
Since asumption of President Trump in office the Saudi-US partnership has also continued to blossom as both countries need each other for their own reasons. Iran’s growing power and influence in the region had to be checkmated with revolutionary changes within the kingdom and by developing strong economic, military and strategic ties with the US. Internally, too, there was restlessness as access to the outside world brought forth to Saudis to judge the glaring disparities existing within the country despite its enormous oil wealth. Besides, Saudi Arabia was lagging behind in various fields and far too dependent on foreign expatriates for manning executive positions and labour-intensive jobs.
It seems Prince Mohammad with an open and expansive mind is determined to transform Saudi Arabia into a modern state. He perhaps visualises his country to be soon a model modern Islamic state by introducing economic, political and social reforms. Among the prince’s high priority is the emancipation of women and loosening of traditional taboos and customs. Already a glimpse of his vision is reflected in allowing women to drive, participate in sports and extend wider opportunities in government and the private sector.
In a highly traditional and deeply conservative society bringing about these radical changes is no easy task. Already there is strong opposition from certain conservative sections of the society and more so from his own members of the royal family. Hopefully, the prince will be able to overcome opposition with the broad support of people and foreign powers for his policies. Fortunately, he enjoys considerable support from the younger generation on whom he is primarily relying. He has also tried to take along the clergy and those opposed to his policies are apparently being sidelined.
President Trump and the West are fully backing Prince Mohammad’s domestic and regional policies. If the Saudi reforms are implemented faithfully and succeed it would have far-reaching impact on Saudi Arabia’s social and political structure. The emancipation of Saudi Arabia is expected to counter militant and radical forces if any within the country and have a salutary impact on the Muslim world.
The expectations are a relatively liberal Saudi Arabia that is economically powerful, managerially and the workforce less dependent on foreign assistance will be better positioned to be a leading force in the region. More significantly, it will be an effective counterweight to the growing influence of Iran in the region and beyond. This obviously has a serious downside, as divisions within the Muslim world are already dissipating the energy and resources of these countries.
Saudi and Iranian proxy wars in Syria and Yemen have destroyed these countries. It has caused unimaginable suffering to the people and allowed the US and Russia and major regional powers like Turkey to back their own favourites. Regrettably, the foremost beneficiary of this is Israel that has taken full advantage of the cleavage to expand its territorial boundaries and strategic influence in the region.
The Palestinian cause has been totally abandoned and new alliances have emerged wherein Saudi Arabia and Egypt are openly siding with Israel as for them countering Iran’s growing influence is more threatening than Israel’s annexation of Palestinian territory.
At a personal level, too, what facilitated Prince Mohammad to develop a close relationship with the Trump administration were his close relations with Kushner, the president’s son-in–law. It is also presumed that he played a major role in the Arab-Israeli bonhomie. This decidedly has come at the cost of setting aside the genuine interests of the Palestinians and a major reversal of the fundamental and principled position that Arab and Muslim countries had pursued in the past.
Growing cleavage between Saudi Arabia and Iran, apart from dissipating the national energy of these nations, places Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, in a difficult position. Historically, Pakistan during military regimes and under the PML stewardship remained very close to Riyadh but tried to maintain a balanced relationship with Iran with reasonable success. The exception was during General Zia’s period when Pakistan-Iran ties remained highly strained.
The other more pertinent question is how are the recent developments in Saudi Arabia going to impact, if any, the Muslim world? If the Saudi reforms succeed will other countries also open up their societies and move towards modernity. Will it help in the long term in countering extremism and promote progressive forces? Much would depend on how Saudi Arabia emerges from this bold experimentation.
We have the recent experience of watching the Arab Spring giving us hope then being suppressed. Although these two phenomena are not identical or objective conditions similar yet there are similarities. In Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammad is leading the change and the ruling establishment enjoys backing of a large cross section of the youth, women and the educated class. Arab Spring was a refreshingly dynamic grassroots movement but was ruthlessly crushed by the Egyptian establishment. The world has since moved at a faster pace, including in the Arab countries.
If Saudi Arabia succeeds in leading the change surely it will have a ripple effect on several Arab and Muslim countries, including Pakistan. First, Saudi Arabia itself will face internal challenges to democratise or at least to loosen its grip on the people and be more accountable. Demand for equitable distribution of national wealth will intensify and overall expectations would generate more noise and disorder. But nations have to pay a price to progress and its leaders should be prepared for steering tumultuous changes. Otherwise, Muslim countries will remain destined as mere pawns to major powers.
The History of Work
Throughout history, the concept of work has changed according to the structuring and restructuring of society. In the earliest period of human history, which was dominated by hunter-gatherer societies, the main task that was performed by people was hunting for food and the rest of the day was spent in leisure.
In the Neolithic period, human settlements were established and agriculture was introduced. As a result, working in the fields and cultivating crops became a laborious job. At the same time, there was a clearly-defined division of labour whereby men worked in the fields while women engaged in domestic work. A new class of artisans also appeared to manufacture tools that were required for agricultural and domestic activities.
With the advancement of human society, new classes emerged on the horizon, especially warriors and priests. Both warriors and priests were non-productive and relied on the surplus production of society. But warriors were expected to defend the settlement against invaders and protect people and property while priests devoted their time and energy to please gods and goddesses in order to save the crops. During this period, everyone had a task that was fulfilled in the service of society. Work became a guarantee for survival.
The character of work changed when the system of slavery was introduced. These slaves were either prisoners of war or those who failed to pay debts to their feudal lords and sold themselves in exchange for it. Slaves were engaged to work in mines and also served as domestic servants. They mostly did those jobs that were not deemed suitable for other classes of society. The result was that the dignity of work was lowered because it was associated with slavery.
In Indian society, where there was no concept of slavery; it was the caste system that divided people into different professions. The four classes – priests, warriors, peasants and servants – were within the religious domain of Hindu society. However, the untouchables were outside the remit of these four classes. They were assigned the task of ensuring cleanliness and were not allowed to reside in cities. Their settlements were outside the walled cities and they were only permitted to enter the precincts of these cities to clean the streets.
However, society has refused to recognise the importance of the work that the untouchables do. They have suffered humiliation throughout history. Although Gandhi called them Harijan (children of God), a mere change of name could not change their status and they still belong to the lowest strata of society.
In slave-owning and feudal society, rulers and aristocrats used to have a large number of slaves and servants. For example, a ruler had a separate servant for everything that was integral to his daily life. These servants were in charge of the ruler’s food, drinks, weapons, horses and other animals.
The author of ‘Bazm-i-Akhar’ provides a long list of servants who attended to the last Mughal ruler and fulfilled his wishes immediately. Even though the dynasty was on the decline, the number of slaves who serve the powerless emperor increased. The aristocracy also followed a similar practice and kept a large retinue of servants to serve them day and night. As a result, work was deemed to be beneath a noble or an aristocrat’s dignity.
It is believed that some members of the Ulema did not learn how to write because they considered it to be was the domain of calligraphers and scribes. Learning how to write was, therefore, below their status. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, also had contempt for professional calligraphers and scribes. He believed that the aristocracy should enjoy leisure and avoid engaging in any form of work. In his book ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’, Karl Popper points out that while Aristotle bore hatred for such professions, he himself served as a teacher.
During the medieval period, the Turks arrived in India and brought new modes of technology that introduced new professions, including manufacturing paper and new tools for the textile industry. It raised the standard of life of the artisan classes. At the same time, the new rulers and nobility required different forms of dresses, jewellery, furniture, buildings and weapons. As a result, the artisan classes became financially sound. This upset the aristocrats and nobility whose interest was to maintain their high status and keep artisans socially subordinate to them. This tension is fully indicated in the writings of Ziauddin Barani – especially in ‘Tareekh-e-Feroz Shahi’ – who criticised the new emerging classes as worthless, mean, uncultured, rustic and rough.
When British rule was established in India, the English officers also followed the custom of employing a large number of servants for their comfort. A captain of the British Army used to have at least 15 servants at his disposal, including a cook, tailor, washerman, gardener and a syce for horses. The Vice Regal Lodge in India had 3,000 servants to ensure that it was properly maintained.
After Partition, we also inherited a ‘feudal’ culture of work whereby any form of manual labour is beneath our dignity and honour. Glimpses of this culture are still visible in rural and urban areas. Landowners have a number of servants who work for them. In the urban centres, bureaucrats and the rich consider work to be something that is below their elevated status. A society where work is not respected cannot achieve a dignified place among other nations.
CPEC: Western Route and Balochistan
March 13, 2018
During his recent visit to China, a senator claimed knowing that there was no mention of the western route in the Chinese records of CPEC. The statement fuelled widespread speculations on social media about ignoring Balochistan in CPEC’s development. It is however important to look at the facts and ascertain if these speculations hold any merit.
There are three planned alignments within CPEC: eastern, central and western, routes, with the last being critically important since it runs through underdeveloped areas of K-P and Balochistan. The western route will connect Islamabad-Peshawar (M-1) motorway with Gwadar, through DI Khan, Zhob and Quetta.
Let’s first see if Chinese record has any mention of the western route or if it only exists in Pakistani plans. Initially developed by the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission and China Development Bank,based on an earlier much detailed document, CPEC’s long-term plan has been publicly released. The approved LTP therefore is a direct reflection of Chinese plans.
The LTP clearly mentions construction and development of DI Khan-Quetta-Sohrab-Gwadar road, while the Sukkur-Quetta link forms one of three critical axes of CPEC. The LTP also mentions developing Quetta as a key node, besides other cities, as well as establishing the western logistics corridor business zone. The detailed version describes this as the zone for logistics, mineral exploration and ecological conservation encompassing Gwadar, Quetta and DI Khan. With so many details in the LTP, it is hard to believe that the Chinese are unaware of the western route.
Let’s also look at the progress made so far on the western alignment. The 1,153km-long route consists of four parts. The first is the 280km-long Hakla–DI Khan Motorway (also known as Brahma Bahtar-Yarik Motorway), starting from Hakla interchange on M1 and culminating at Yarik, DI Khan. The contract to build this 4-lane road was divided into five packages and awarded to various contractors, including NLC, FWO and others. The construction on various parts is underway.
The second part comprises the already existing N-50 National Highway between DI Khan and Quetta passing through Zhob, which is being upgraded under the Asian Development Bank’s National Highway Development Sector Investment Program. The third part includes 470kms of upgrades to N-25 highway from Sorab to Hoshab near Turbat, which is also reportedly complete. The fourth and the last part is M-8 motorway between Hoshab and Gwadar that has also been built. The under-construction part of M-8 will continue all the way to Khuzdar creating an alternative route. The western route may be getting bulk of its financing from sources other than CPEC, but considering the substantial physical progress on ground, it becomes quite clear that the western route is a reality and remains a core priority for the government.
Balochistan governor for establishing more industrial zones
There is however a need to look for underlying problems that have caused such speculations. The government’s policy to share minimum information with the public has caused some serious mistrust. The public disclosure of LTP by the planning minister was a good step but there is a need to share more. For instance, the official CPEC website still shows that land is being acquired for N50 but the project is way beyond that stage. Similarly, there is no mention of Brahma Bahtar-Yarik Motorway on CPEC’s website. The website also does not clearly explain how these routes have been divided into various packages and the progress made till now.
Moreover, at a deeper level the issue is of the sense of deprivation of Balochistan being the least-developed province. More than 7 out of 10 people in Balochistan live in poverty, as compared to three-four in Punjab and Sindh. It has the highest illiteracy rate, lowest immunisation coverage and lowest number of households using electricity as source for lighting or gas as main fuel for cooking. There is an immediate need to attend to these development disparities and ensure that the province is fully integrated into future economic development plans. A peaceful and prosperous Balochistan is central to CPEC’s success, without which the project’s benefits can never be reaped.
THE Senate chairman’s election was an indicator of how the die is being cast against the ruling party. The defeat of the PML-N candidate may not have come as a surprise but the large margin was certainly striking. The outcome was craftily sewn up with bitter political rivals PPP and PTI coalescing into an unholy alliance.
It was not just about the control of the upper house of parliament; the main intent was to block any possibility of political revival of an embattled Nawaz Sharif. Surely a victory would have given a massive moral, political boost to the disgraced leader, yet the setback is not likely to blunt his defiance.
Instead, the battle for the Senate has intensified the clash between the PML-N and the security establishment that has been blamed for producing a ‘favourable result’. There is no denying that the convergence of interests had essentially brought disparate political groups together, yet the role of the pervasive deep state in the matter cannot be underestimated. What has been happening is not that incomprehensible.
From the political re-engineering in Balochistan to the emergence of an independent group of newly elected senators from the province, the chain of events over the past few months does not appear to have been coincidental. Across the opposition, consensus on a relatively unknown politician for one of the nation’s highest elected office too was not unplanned though the move was wrapped in the fancy slogan of remedying Baloch alienation.
Indeed, the mission was accomplished; it did thwart the PML-N’s attempt to establish control over both houses of parliament. Winning the Senate election was particularly important for the ruling party to change the laws in order to remove the disqualification of the former prime minister. The Senate election had also assumed greater significance because of rising political polarisation and the approach of the general elections.
A major challenge for the PML-N now is how to maintain unity in its ranks in the aftermath of the latest setback. There may have been a few defections widening the margin of reversal, but still, there is no sign of cracks in the ruling coalition. In fact, there has been a marked stridency in the tenor of the members of the ruling coalition with their no-holds-barred attacks on the security establishment.
Now Sharif loyalists are engaged in fighting on two fronts. The battle lines are drawn more clearly with the security establishment shedding pretensions of being nonpartisan in the ongoing confrontation between the civilian government and the apex court. The latest warning by the top military leadership that it stands with the judiciary leaves nothing to doubt about the new template of power. That has increasingly marginalised the position of the executive in this emerging troika of power.
Moreover, the deepening political crisis has propelled the the military back in the driving seat in what is seen as a nexus with the judiciary that too is perceived to have become an arbiter of power. Has the backing of the military given greater impetus to judicial overdrive and brought the executive under increasing pressure?
Many observers have gone so far as to describe it as ‘judicial extremism’ that is encroaching even on parliament’s powers to legislate. Some recent Supreme Court judgements striking down legislation passed by parliament are seen to have caused imbalance in the distribution of power among various institutions of state.
There may be some credence to the argument that the judiciary and military have filled in the vacuum created by lack of governance and ineffectiveness of the other civilian institutions, but it is not the whole truth. One may agree that the ineffectiveness of parliament to resolve political issues has increased the burden on the apex court, but the judiciary must also refrain from getting involved in issues that come under the domain of other institutions.
Whatever the reason may be, such growing assertion by the security establishment and the courts has further distorted the balance of power thus intensifying the clash of institutions. The emergence of a new troika of power is reminiscent of the 1990s, the decade of elected civilian rule when the military and president who then enjoyed sweeping powers along with the prime minister formed the troika of power.
The annulment of the infamous 58-2 (b) clause of the Constitution that had given the president sweeping powers to dissolve parliament brought an end to that troika of power. With the office of the president having been reduced to a ceremonial post, the military’s position as an arbiter of power has also diminished.
But the growing empowerment of the judiciary in recent years, particularly after the action by the Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif removing him from power, has created a new though informal power troika. It has provided the military with a new ally to keep a check on the executive.
Indeed, Nawaz Sharif is to a large extent himself responsible for the present state of affairs. His hubris and his small group of family members running the show had weakened civilian institutions and parliament thus creating a vacuum to be filled by the military and judiciary.
Sharif’s clash with the judiciary has been on personal grounds. Instead of clearing himself before the courts, he has chosen to undermine the apex court. There is certainly no principle involved in his battle with the two powerful members of the power troika. What happened in the Senate chairman election this week and the embarrassment caused by the defeat of the ruling coalition candidate reflect the declining hold of his party.
The deep state can only succeed by exploiting the weakness of the party whose entire politics seem to be revolving around the Sharif family. Instead of undermining the judiciary and confronting other state institutions, the party must try to protect the democratic system with the support of democratic forces.
A Crisis of Empathy
Empathy entails the human capacity to feel and understand other people’s emotions and think from their perspective. Although empathy is a natural and automated response, it is limited to those we consider to be one of us.
To those who are outside this circle, humans often display its opposing capacity: apathy. From Buddhism to Islam and from Athens to Jerusalem, moral teachings have valued empathy and guarded against apathy. Without empathy, the edifice of ethics and human relations as a whole is inconceivable. And yet, we seem to suffer from a crisis of empathy at the collective level. The violence, intolerance and exploitation that we experience requires a conscious and sustained effort to nurture empathy in the individual and national psyche.
There are two intertwined dimensions of empathy: affective and cognitive. The affective dimension involves the ability to recognise and respond to the emotions of others. This inherent capacity helps us feel the pain of others and motivates us to try to alleviate it. The cognitive dimension is about understanding another person’s perspective, social situation and needs at the intellectual level. It is a conscious and deliberative process. These dimensions can collectively ensure that our empathetic response is calibrated in the best interests of those whom we wish to help.
Lack of empathy or apathy is the disconnect with people considered to be the ‘other’ – ie, any individual or group that is considered to be ‘not one of us’. This classification of ‘us versus them’ has an evolutionary basis since the drive to identify with those whom we come to see as being similar to us has a bearing on survival.
Today, this ‘self-other dichotomy’ is frequently put to injurious use by forces that thrive on othering people by negating the fact that all of us – particularly in the modern world – have multiple identity markers. Instead, a singular identity marker is posited, thereby reducing the ‘other’ to a homogenous identity and motive. Two people may share a great deal in common. But in the process of othering each other, they reduce one another to a single ethnic, national or religious identity, creating a wide gulf. This image of the ‘other’ is then available for many projections – snatching jobs, warmongering, polluting the ‘pure culture’ and conspiring against national interests. Such blame projection often justifies apathy, ill-treatment and bigotry.
Over the decades, the process of othering has gained momentum in Pakistan. Suicide bombers who detonate themselves in schools, markets, mosques and hospitals display an unimaginable degree of apathy. School curriculum and textbooks help to promote otherness rather than inclusiveness. Hate campaigns in the media are common. The list of ‘the other’ is dynamic and diverse and can include anyone – Hindus and Ahmadi, Pakhtuns and Mohajir, the powerful West or a humble polio vaccination worker.
The fact that this crisis of empathy needs attention is widely acknowledged. However, we must ask whether empathy is even possible. Can we really put ourselves in another person’s shoes? After all, we have direct access only to our own mental states. We have no direct access to other people’s minds. So, how do we know that those we consider to be ‘others’ are not robots or zombies, as it is often provocatively put? If others do not have an inner life, the idea of empathy makes no sense.
Responses to this problem, such as analogical inference, state that since ‘others’ behave in a similar manner to us in many situations, we can infer that they too have emotions, beliefs and feelings that are similar to ours. None of these responses provide an irrefutable justification. There is no argument justifying our belief that other people have minds. And yet, the belief in other minds is so central to our identity, selfhood and everyday life that nobody doubts it. It seems that we are justified, at least in practical terms, to assume that other people have an inner life of which we can make sense – if not fully, then enough to share a common humanity while being different.
Empathy is innate but not fixed. It can also be fostered, particularly the cognitive dimension. This requires us to expand the circle of those whom we identify with and consider to be just like us. To do that, the easiest and most important steps can be taken within a family. How we behave towards children and treat others contribute to the ways our children fashion their emotions and thoughts towards the people they interact with. Small gestures matter. Our response to a five-year-old struggling to tie his/her shoe laces while we are getting late for a party will either convey empathy or apathy.
Schools can shape a child’s moral sensitivities as well. Since we have seen several cases of well-educated young people carrying out acts of violence, the role of educational institutions in nurturing empathy cannot be emphasised enough. In this context, the behaviour of adults also plays a key role.
Much can be done through the process of teaching and learning as well to foster empathy. As empathy is rooted in the human imagination, literature – with its evocative and symbolic language – is particularly suited in this regard. By conveying the moral struggles, vulnerabilities and emotions of characters, literature can provide young people access to the thoughts, feeling and beliefs of other people, including those who are not part of the culture that a child grows up in.
This helps young people understand the people they interact with in everyday life. Finally, our schools have become a bastion of a overly competitive spirit. This must be redressed by valuing cooperation. Competition has its own place in our lives. But it must not be allowed to become the defining feature of our individual or collective life.
The media, through its myriad and ubiquitous forms, has an equally important role to play in fostering empathy. Images, narratives and storylines are consciously choreographed to affect the attitudes of viewers. In some situations, this serves to create empathy for victims. But it has increasingly become a divisive force that portrays certain groups as the eternal other.
It is time we reflect upon ways in which individuals and groups are represented in print, onscreen and the virtual world. This does not involve making any compromises on journalistic responsibilities. Instead, it requires a stronger adherence to these responsibilities in explaining the contextual and historical factors that affect news items, and enabling cognitive empathy.
‘Ubuntu’, a word in Nguni Bantu, means ‘I am because you are’. It conveys the sense that “my humanity is inextricably bound up in what is yours”. Zainab’s cries may not have moved her killer. But they have affected many others in the country who feel connected to her and resulted in a moral outrage that remains strong even weeks after the incident.
The circle of such sensitive and conscientious people needs to be expanded to have the desired administrative and legal effect in deterring such crimes. For several decades, we have collectively created conditions that have led to a crisis of empathy. It is time to reverse it.