Dissent and The Dying Songbird

May 1, 2018
Dear Pakistani, Assalamu 'alekum, or Hi if you prefer that.
Virtuous articles are appearing in the Pakistani press on various aspects of Dissent and its patriotic underpinnings. Here is DT, DAWN, there may be others. The prominent talking-heads on television also pride themselves on their Dissent. Pakistanis of course tend to understand noora-kushti (a fixed match) quite well. And most Pakistanis, I like to believe, are also honest brokers; meaning, when they opine in public, they are genuinely offering their considered opinion without deception. In other words, while they may be wrong, or misled, or incomplete, they have no intention to deceive.
Unfortunately, little known to our Pakistani psyche, the West invented Dissent. It did not exist in Muslim societies historically. Dissent is not natural to hoi polloi Muslim psyche which has been conditioned to obey almost anyone in authority. The Muslim citizen in the Muslim empires over the past fourteen centuries had to obey the vali-e-amr regardless, or he or she was an outcast, usually killed. The Muslim mind still doesn't have the freedom to express his or her views openly in any largely predominant Muslim country today, except Pakistan! I happily think that we have genuine intellectuals in our country who weigh themselves on this metric rather heavily and come out rosy. This includes many illustrious names who have voiced their dissent in verse, in plays, in prose, in skits, in active defiance, and in jails. Many homes in Pakistan, past and present, can vouch for empty chairs at dinner tables only because of the little voice of conscience speaking up boldly. Not too many, but still many!
But, since the West really invented public dissent under the rubric of freedom of speech, and protected it constitutionally as an integral part of their democracy and the inalienable rights given to their public, like all things pertaining to modern statecraft that give the illusion of freedom to its public, Machiavelli did not leave dissent alone either. In Pakistan, we are perhaps unaware of this modality of engineering consent on the core axioms, core narratives, and core truths of the state, or authority figures, in the guise of dissent.
I invite your attention to my article The Dying Songbird, included below, which sketches out the modalities and purpose of this global deceit for making the public mind that equally drags the Pakistani intelligentsia, like every other nation's intelligentsia, including the United States', along. Unwittingly for many who are of able mind but fooled for want of sophistication, and some of course knowingly play in that space as they know which side their bread is buttered. I don't believe the two news links I have cited in this letter are anything but genuine consciences speaking up; the subject matter they respectively tackle in the two articles is straightforward, and each is expressing their direct personal angst. I thank them both for their courage.
But, as virtues of dissent are being brought up in the news in reaction to the newsmedia, and journalism in general, losing the freedom to mold the public mind with their “truth” (typically that truth is officialdom's truth in all its convolutions), it is necessary for Pakistani thinkers and their target, the public mind, to understand that the domain of dissent is not as simplistic, nor as conscionable, as it is made to appear in these cited articles and in the many television anchor-voices that proclaim the virtues of their own dissent like those on Geo, Samaa, etc. Not to forget that when the prominent dissenting opinion-makers live in the West, as Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States, Mr. Hussain Haqqani does, and many of the ordinary bloggers do who appear to be a pain for authority figures, and also as I do (even though I am a nobody), and express our concerns for our nation in public by way of articulated dissent, are we on the ball?
Are we being Type-2 when genuine, or mercenary Superman when deceitful? What about those ordinary folks in the news media who bring us awareness of issues, and those public intellectuals who get oped-space, and those who are editors and publishers, and the so called recorders of man's deeds, the historians? How can we tell that they are not working off of a crippled epistemology even if we believe they are telling the truth?
The GIGO protocol, Garbage-in Garbage-out, is an epistemological maxim that begs to be better understood especially when we are valiant partisans of truth, dogma, doctrine, narrative, loves, hates, patriotism, nationalism, religionism, and of course, our own narrow vested interest. Before we pick sides, we should at least be able to discern whether we are deceiving ourselves, and whether someone is selling us snake-oil in disguise when they oppose the status quo, lest we come to believe and act in a manner that is inimical to our own individual as well as collective interests. In this election year when everyone is disagreeing with everyone else, and the state, in the name of liberation from status quo, are they really liberating us?
We cannot deny the need for intellectual tools to dissect Machiavelli. More superior the Mephistopheles, more sophisticated must its audience become in order to protect themselves from its seduction. Here is a small subset from that toolkit with examples of specious dissent. I will admit that I learned none of this in school. In fact, it took me many years to unlearn the crap my mind was filled with by years of elite schooling and 'enviable' scholarship before I could discover what follows on my own. Your mileage may of course vary.
With Regards,
Zahir Ebrahim,

Dissent and The Dying Songbird - Zahir's Letter to Pakistanis