The Politics of Personality Worship Cults

Source: Pakistan Today/geo.tv

Source: Pakistan Today/geo.tv

An overwhelming number of Pakistanis draw many of their life lessons from religion. It is an important part of their personal beliefs that extends to personal relationships, lifestyle, social habits, world view and politics, of course.

While religion has its due benefits, it could not have possibly affected an area of life more adversely than politics. Not only does it twist the concept of the government and its role, but terribly destroys the approach of the masses toward politics due to Messianic influences in its teachings.

While this sweeping commentary may seem far-fetched to some, it is not hard to observe clear displays in Pakistani politics supporting this notion. None is more obvious than the way we rally around our leaders and how far we are willing to go in our submission.

Religious indoctrination has conditioned people in Pakistan to turn political parties into personality worship cults.

A good number of political parties devote solemn attention and unconditional submission to their holy leaders. Not very different to the way the local religious people devote worshipful attention to their holy spiritual leaders.

Combine that with the Messianic effect and it drives home a very unhealthy approach toward politics, and life itself. It helps followers escape personal responsibility and build unrealistic expectations as far as addressing issues is concerned.

And if by accident, or by deliberated effort, a leader is killed, then they are raised to the status of martyred saints.

This approach to politics is probably a reason behind the support of dictatorships and monarchies among people in the Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Why bother about democracy when you are willing to give up your rights for a beloved leader?

Another problem with personality worship cults is that it deprives a political group of logic and reason, discourages progressive debate and gives way to unreasonable political tactics. But above all, it maintains the golden rule of religions.

The authority must not be questioned.

And where there are personality worship cults, there are blasphemy laws.

Even secular political parties can act like cults, forcing shutting down cities in protest of their leader being insulted. Likewise, you would often see these cult-like parties waste weeks, if not months, over needless juvenile squabbles and obscene name-calling. It always involves one cult party insulting the holy figure of the other, causing wide outrage.

As soon as the blasphemy is committed against the party leader, logic and reason are locked out of the debate. And well, then there is no debate.

The sooner we move to issues in our political debates, the sooner we would be able to help restore people’s faith in democracy. But while doing so, we need to learn an even more important lesson.

Let’s stop blaming others for our problems. Let’s use democracy as a tool for the same. Don’t render it useless by turning it into a war of cults.

No, democracy is not perfect. It does not promise you prosperity, or paradise.

But that’s no reason to wait for a Messiah, or blindly rallying behind one.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Serving the Servants

It is often said that Pakistan was created for Muslims. This statement should be amended to replace the word Muslims with Muslim government servants.

And for a good reason. Because government servants, especially the ones in the military and some particular departments of the civil bureaucracy (of course, some government servants are more equal than others), get the facilities from the state that even most millionaires in the country cannot dream of.

I know Pakistan is not the only country in the world in which such practice is prevalent. As a matter of fact, there would be very few countries in which government servants are not being offered special treatment of some sort. But then again, in many of those countries, the people are offered as good facilities as the ones the government servants are availing.

We, the people of Pakistan, have been taught since childhood, most probably by the same government servants, that Pakistan was meant to be an Islamic welfare state. So what exactly does a welfare state do? It provides for the welfare of the general public. Very few signs of that in Pakistan.

The military and certain civil bureaucrats get guaranteed free medical and healthcare insurance and facilities, almost-free, if not free, housing from the state and many many more perks.

Then there is this perception of government servants being superior to common people or civilians. Though not politically correct, you can hardly consider this perception false, as in every way, power, authority, security protocol, preferred treatment and luxury, these government servants, and their friends among civilians, seem way superior to other ordinary people.

This is why middle class children like me are strictly instructed to become a government servant. So that I can be granted entry into the echelons of power, luxury and authority, and not to forget, money, that the rich and lucrative powerhouses of government service offer. Doesn’t everyone want to live an exclusivist dream? Sour grapes for someone who would try and fail, but even if I got there, I would have only become guilty of doing the same which I criticize. But then again, is there something to feel guilty about at all?

Perhaps not. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with enjoying the perks that come with a certain professional position. But what indeed is wrong is being neglectful of the responsibilities towards the people that those offices sanction. What indeed seems inappropriate to me is the way these personnel are trained to treat “common people”, who they are actually supposed to answer to and serve, and who are actually paying for their lifestyle.

Not only have I been in contact with such people at one time in my life or another, but I have even seen the world from their viewpoint. They are welcomed into their training academies with the realization that they are the best among the people they have been chosen from, and certainly have a reason to be proud of themselves. Or at least have a right to consider themselves superior to their former equals.

Of course, there is no doubt that these personnel work very hard for their country and deserve all the care they get. My point is not really to deny them of their pleasures, but to at least provide just a fraction of that to the general public, who like it or not, are paying for their housing authorities, medical facilities, education, foreign tours and even their salaries.

It certainly does become frightening when people start making a distinction between the state and the people. Because after all, there is a distinction. Through very elementary observations, you would find that there is hardly anything in common between the state and the people, in which the former plays the captor, while the latter, the enslaved.

I am not even morally pissed off at the rightful arrogance of these able and qualified professionals. First of all, it’s meaningless to object to it, and secondly, a third person could possibly extract little to no pleasure to take their special attention away. All I am asking for is free health and education for the general public of Pakistan.

If a little girl living in Lodhran or Badin needs a surgery for a transplant, why cannot the state pay for that, if it can pay for the surgery of an army officer’s child?

Why is that the domain of the corrupt and incompetent politicians?