The Need For Liberal Elite To Take Up Responsibility

By George Fulton (Courtesy Express Tribune)

Jinnah was like you and me. He was drawn from the professional classes. He received his higher education from abroad. His views were fairly liberal and progressive for a man of his time and his Urdu was horrendous. He also indulged in some distinctly haram vices. In other words, he was a fully paid up member of the English speaking elite. As I say, just like you and me. (Apologies to my readers who don’t consider themselves a part of the English elite. But this paper couldn’t exude more of an elitist demeanour if it wore an OGS [Old Grammarians Society] uniform whilst pontificating on Jean Paul Sartre and smoking a cigarette in Espresso.) However, that’s where the similarity ends.

Jinnah was aware of the enormous privileges that his wealth and education had placed upon him. He was conscious of the great responsibility that such privileges brought. It was his patriarchal duty to give back to his people. Despite his linguistic shortcomings, Jinnah was still a leader to his people. We are not. Nor have we been for a very long time. The English liberal ‘elite’ — and remember this was very much Jinnah’s social milieu — has abdicated all responsibility to govern in the past 60 years.

Despite enjoying similar levels of wealth and education, we no longer believe it is our duty as the brightest and most privileged in society to contribute to its development. Now it is our duty to get a foreign passport and our responsibility to land a job in a multinational abroad. Politically we are an irrelevance. This column and paper are inconsequential in fundamentally changing how this country is governed. We can sign up to Facebook petitions, write numerous blogs, and hold as many candlelit vigils as we like, but until we engage with our fellow countrymen we are just twisting in the wind.

But we don’t engage. The English language has created a linguistic Berlin Wall between us and the rest of the country. We remain cosseted inside our bubble. Not wishing to connect with the riff raff and bun kebabs on the other side of the bridge. Instead we have ceded political space to a reactionary, conservative, military, feudal and religious nexus. Tolerating this because, in turn, they have left us alone. They have allowed us freedoms that the rest of the country doesn’t have. Freedom to get obscenely wealthy. Freedom to party every weekend. Freedom to dress how we like. But these freedoms come at a price. And that price is our continued, complicit silence. A Faustian pact if ever there was one. It’s as if one day someone collectively told us, ‘We’ll let you do what you want, on condition that you leave the running of the country to us.’

There are some exceptions. Asma Jahanghir and Imran Khan have made valiant attempts to involve themselves with the national dialogue. But they are the exception, not the rule. In Karachi, we are especially politically apathetic and parochial. Here amongst the refined elite the word ‘party’ only stands for one thing — and it’s not prefaced with the word ‘political’.

But why should we change? The status quo is comfortable and has made us rich. But if we don’t, one day populist anger will turn on us. We can’t continue benefiting from this country whilst giving little in return. Just ask the white farmers in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

But we do contribute! We are the wealth and job creators, you may be shouting by now. If we were to leave this country would become another Afghanistan. Yes, you are right. But logical argument won’t protect you when the disparity between rich and poor becomes so great that a popular revolution is ignited. We need to contribute to the political debate. We need to get our hands dirty to create a fairer, more equitable and just society. To protect our own futures if for nothing else. And for that to happen we need to engage in the political process. And why not? As they say, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. At the moment we are most definitely part of the problem.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 16th, 2010.



Filed under Pakistan

18 responses to “The Need For Liberal Elite To Take Up Responsibility

  1. Rashid Saleem

    Elite have the opportunity to better education and that’s why the responsibility to change the tides falls on them more than the neglected community.

  2. ali hamdani

    It is time that this handful that has been quite should speak against the brutal activities in the country. Unless and until we don’t take responsibility, we will be steeped over and over.

  3. Ammar

    The liberal elite needs to get out of their comfort zones and make a serious effort to educate the masses. The intellectual talks of drawing room will have little impact as we need to make our presence felt in the media, streets and elsewhere. It is duty of the liberals to counter the Taliban propaganda.

  4. Farukh Sarwar

    An excellent comparison of liberal elite of today with Quaid-e-Azam; we must contribute to the betterment of our country, because if we’ll keep on with our usual ways, the country will certainly take the shape of Afghanistan.

  5. Tilsim

    Lazy articles such as these, even if I welcome and agree with them, don’t add much to some of the knowledge. There is very little detail here and just equates to painting in broad brush strokes.

    The Pakistani elites’ contribution to society is inadequate but not totally lacking. The elites in Pakistan are not a monolith. For example, there is a difference between the urban business elite and the rural elites. The former are on the whole not engaged directly in political issues unlike their rural counterparts.

    Socially the elites in Pakistan are cut off from society as they are often so across the world. Just hear the Chairman of BP yesterday referring on the need to engage with the “small people” on the Gulf of Mexico in regard to the oil disaster.

    If the author wants people to make a contribution, he should inform his writing with more examples and more importantly solutions from within this society and from abroad. Let’s motivate not just beat people up.

  6. Mohsin

    How can elite influence when they do not get invited to media, TV specially? There we see only Mullah. Even yesterday they were telling on Express channel that Ahmadies are wajebul qatal. How can this happen unless govt lets this happen (this is covet endorsement by govt)? By law such people must be prosecuted for inciting to murder. Do elite have any say, do their voices are heard? In Pakistan everyone is afraid of Mullah.

  7. PMA

    An honest assessment at last. Unless the Upper Middle Class gets involved, nothing will change in Pakistan. We can shout all day long at PTH that Jinnah said this, Jinnah meant that, but that is all talk and no action. As the man said, the RAPE needs to its hands dirty, down in the trenches…….Alright, you don’t want to get your hands dirty but still want to change things on the ground…….Then at least help one child from one poor family to get a decent education. You know, the English-Medium Education that you have provided for your own children. That will change the things…….Would ya? I dare you.

  8. Tilsim

    @ Mohsin @PMA

    I think George is asking Pakistan’s liberal elite to engage politically. Pakistan’s elite does get involved in charitable activities (always has) and even is now supporting charitable education in a minor way (considering the enormity of the task). What the urban liberal elites are generally not doing is getting their hands dirty in mainstream politics or within the religious organisations. And yes it’s a very dirty business in Pakistan (have to go to jail, might get killed etc) so that acts as a significant barrier. However that was also the case in Jinnah’s time so no excuses really. The urban liberal elites are also not sending their kids any more into the civil service, army or into academia. In the past these were professions that the elite considered. In contrast, conservative religious groups have flocked and are flocking into these areas. As a natural consequence of this the power in Pakistan has shifted to a new set of values and outlook. I think Karachi stands as a small exception to the rest of the country as the middle class is and has always been more liberal in its outlook and values than other parts of the country. However Karachi does not set the national agenda. Punjab exerts the most influence and it is the societal changes in Punjab that are the most concerning and where action is most needed from the so called liberal elites.

  9. Lubna

    Good article, though the key question is who will actually stick out his neck in the cess pool called Pakistani politics.
    The worse situation is that the elites are also leaving the areas of information media and education empty for conservatives and pro status quo people to take over.

  10. Tilsim

    @ Lubna

    I think you make a very valid point that getting involved with the media is a great first step for the liberal elite. Not too dirty a business as yet…! However, given the point made by Mohsin (that the channels are shunning liberal commentators), we need more liberal benefactors (with very deep pockets) to set up urdu TV channels which set the new standards of ethics and informed journalism. I think a product that differentiates itself from the lowest common denominator of ill informed, agenda laden sensationalist opinionated reporting and commentary will attract audiences and more importantly attract advertising revenues.

  11. shiv

    A recent report about TV channels in Pakistan (I have the report in my archives) says that viewership of English channels is about 1 million. This figure is higher than an earlier report (maybe 2001 or so) I have that lists the circulation of English printed media in Pakistan as being about 300,000 or thereabouts.

    That means that the English speaking elite of Pakistan form less than 1% of Pakistan’s estimated 165-170 million population. Despite good intentions it is very very difficult for such a small minority to have an effect on Pakistan.

    In my view the single most important thing that the Pakistani elite can do for Pakistan is to be honest. The elite must get past the need to save honor over honesty and hide Pakistan’s problems behind “The South Asian” problem.

    I have been regularly amazed by official efforts from Pakistan to say that Pakistan’s problems are mainly due to bad publicity, and that some nifty public relations will solve them. This is as delusional as any Pakistani can get and is the happiest (and funniest) news that a dedicated Pakistan hater can hear. The more Pakistanis of this genre that appear, the deeper into doodoo Pakistan will sink. Check for honesty first.

  12. shiv

    It is probably a safe assumption that the English-speaking elite own and set the editorial policies on the most of the Urdu, Punjabi, etc., media.

    Therefore this small class can be quite influential in the long run.

    Perhaps, but there is a clear conflict of interest. The media have to survive in a capitalist set up where money has to be made by viewership/readership. If anyone steps outside the bounds of what is palatable to the consumers the owners will sink.

    What I am trying to say is that Pakistanis have, for several decades, been brought up on a mythology regarding Pakistan and its eternal friends and enemies. For someone trying to run a media business an attempt to fight or break down that mythology might be suicidal.

    One of the reasons why goodwill still exists for Pakistan in India (apart from the fact that there is no automatic hatred of Muslims) is Bollywood. Oh yes Bollywood does produce movies where the Pakistani (not the Muslim) is the bad guy, but Bollywood equally produces non controversial mushy tearjerking India-Pakistan love stories because the producers hope to make money both inside and outside India. These guys are not doing anyone other than themselves a favor. They’re doing it for the money.

    Private Indian TV is another matter. The serials will make anyone think that Indians are a bunch of wealthy Hindi speaking Hindus whose women wear colorful saris. Their (the TV channels)money comes from doing this. They are under no obligation to show the real India.

    Some Pakistani, somewhere and at some time is going to have to break down the myths that have been propagated among over 100 million Pakistanis. I see that as a dangerous job.

    I see Pakistanis in general as having been fed with the idea that they are an inherently superior people by virtue of their faith, living in an inherently better land but are under threat from various foreign groups that are responsible for Pakistan’s ills. Foremost among Pakistan’s enemies is India, and Israel is a “natural enemy”. Now even the US is an enemy.

    If you ask my personal opinion – India is the only one of these three entities that actually maintains goodwill for Pakistanis in general. Israel is irrelevant and the US is only interested in Pakistan as a tool for its global battles. But Pakistanis see their interests in the opposite order. The Pakistani Urdu media seem to reflect this as far as I can tell.

    Only Pakistanis can reduce the number of demons they see. And some Pakistanis are going to get very very angry at other Pakistanis for trying to say that some existing demons are not demons, or that other “non-demons” are actually demons. No media owner will touch such controversy with a barge pole.

  13. Kaalket

    IMHO, Shiv has the right information but he draw wrong conclusion . Pakistan do have relgious cohesiveness and need no other glue beside religion to stick together and negotiate the treacherous path of daily conspracies by Kuffar to bring it down. Pakistan deserve better, India should let go Kashmir ,Punjab and all the rivers starting in Tibet and Himachal: Afghanistan must accept Pakistani suzernity and WEST must
    provide geneorus finnacial aid for whole next century. Only then ideological state of Pakistan , New Media can live with peace and become example of Pure Islam in this world for whole Ummah to follow as they all have forgotton the pure path . This destiny of Pakistan is divinly sanctioned and no one can hide this truth. Just read the Statement of Pakistani ambassador in DC that how shameful he feels by not being able to extract more money from USA in last 2 years …. The real mark of true successful Pakistani person. World must give and give because Pakistan is unique , symbol of living Islam. India, America and Israel are all 3 enemies and jealous of Pakistani success and superiority based on religon. Please dont let that go as one day Pakistan is gonna rule over all of them after Mujaheedeen conquer them in battlefield.

  14. banjara286

    well said, george. the insensitivity of the “haves”, not just the liberal elite, in pakistan is truly apalling. the poor have been driven to taking their own lives, yet the level of disengagement among all sections of the society that could make a difference is astounding.

    sure, the media reports the news in all its gory details, though it seems to me that the focus is more on “remember you heard it first on our channel”. politicians issue their routine sympathetic statements. no organization thinks of a long march to save the poor; they are, after all not the cjp. i saw a brief segement of edhi’s rally for peace in karachi. it had, i think a couple of hundred people.

    shame on us …

  15. Maryanne Khan

    Courageous, George Fulton! Well said.

  16. Ammar

    The voice of liberals will also be unheard unless the make the effort to come out of their comfort zone and make their presence felt in the masses. The irony is that the Taliban apologists are present in every strata of society but the liberals lack such deep-rooted penetration. Our presence must be felt in the streets and towns of Pakistan it needs to go beyond blogosphere and op-ed pages!

  17. Raza

    Now that was brilliant…
    And I agree with tilsim as he has made several intelligent points

  18. Raza

    Good points by Tilsim here…And an overall good effort