Death of an Idea

by Aasem Bakhshi

A dead idea is an idea whose origins have been betrayed, one that has deviated from its archetype and thus no longer has any roots in its original cultural plasma. (Malik Bennabi)

It is amazing to discover the similarity with which history repeats itself in the cherished land of the pure. We often talk about the repeated military takeovers, political betrayals, judicial activism and ongoing misery of civil society but never fully realize the extreme ephemerality of our memories. At least I did not, until last night when almost accidentally, I picked up Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad from my bookshelf and went through a piece that was done in 1981 by one of the greatest liberal minds of Pakistan. The article is titled General Zia is Now the Law”. Note that how explicitly the content becomes valid once you just change the names.

Now, General Zia has virtually destroyed the only peaceful recourse citizens had against the untrammeled abuses of power. On March 25, he fired at least nineteen senior judges when they refused to endorse his “constitutional order”, which restricts the civil courts, outlaws all political parties except the…[…]Among the senior judges who declined to take the required oath of allegiance to this new “constitutional order” was Anwar ul-Haq, the chief justice of Pakistan, an appointee of General Zia, whose earlier compliances with the junta had done much to lower citizen respect for judiciary. Three of the six sitting judges of Supreme Court and a state High Court chief justice also refused. Another Supreme Court judge, Safdar Shah, had earlier fled the country on foot through the Hindu Kush Mountains. Twelve High Court judges, well known for their judicial integrity, were not invited to take the oath and automatically lost their posts.[…]“A judiciary’s job is to interpret the law and administer justice, not to challenge the administration,” General Zia proclaimed at a March 27 press conference. As for lawyers, rule of law and civil liberties were none of their business. “They must mind their own business and not meddle in other affairs,” said the general[…]For their defense of the rule of law, lawyers have been hit harder than the judges. A recent crackdown on the democratic opposition to the junta added another two thousand political prisoners, of whom a significant portion are lawyers. Since March, some two hundred senior High Court advocates have been jailed in Pakistan; the number of young attorneys in detention may be higher.[…] Rarely in modern times have so many judges and lawyers shown such courage or suffered this much collective punishment in defense of the rule of law.

Eqbal Ahmad’s observations are telling in many ways. Even though they depict a silver lining in the form of constancy of purpose on the part of civil society to stand against the totalitarianism of despotic regimes, these also serve as a painful reminder. An admonisher that what we are witnessing recurrently may not be an experience entirely belonging to the momentary trivialities of the physical world; rather, most important nuances of this experience belong to the realm of ideas.

Its like a photographic reel that is playing itself time and again since last few decades. On the screen we can see a society, silent majority of which has not only learnt to survive without the food of ideas but over the years, has mastered the art of doing so.

In my opinion, it may be so that the present fulminations are not the result of continuing hegemonies of old actors with new masks but an idea that is breathing its last. Only time will tell whether we can collectively construct a new idea to hold ourselves together before becoming completely colonizable.

Aasem Bakhshi is a regular writer at the Pak Tea House

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