Rationality is essential to a state, just as it is for an individual. Without rationality a country can only fall into various traps including that created by conspiracy theories; chaos which has been deliberately manufactured; and other faults which hold it back from moving forward and developing as nations should. This is one of the reasons Pakistan continues to face a host of problems.
There is a distinct lack of rationality within the country, except of course from a few scholars, researchers, and young people who have brought a new vision in their comments about the state of the country and its people. However, these individuals are too few and their voice is far too limited to make any real impact on the nation and its citizens.
We now see the results of this lack of rationality. So many people have bought into Imran Khan’s narrative of the US cipher and America’s attempt to overthrow his government. They seem to have also bought into his narrative of a plot to assassinate him. Other conspiracy theories have also emerged although not by Khan himself. And with a disjointed party structure and many faultlines within the PTI, this has translated into sporadic protests across the country following a targeted attack on Imran Khan in Wazirabad, Punjab.
However, these protests have been enough to disrupt life and throw some parts of cities into chaos. We do not know what will happen next as Imran has announced the resumption of his long march from today (Thursday). He also plans to join marchers in Rawalpindi and take whatever steps he deems fit. We do not know what these steps are or what the PTI’s plans are. The party’s demands that the prime minister, the interior minister, and a senior army official step down are obviously not going to be met. And the party has not been able to register an FIR on its terms so far. An FIR has been registered by the state, not the PTI or Imran Khan, against the shooter who has cited religious reasons for the attack.
Why are we this irrational? Why do we, as a nation and as a political entity, fall into the traps that lie along our way? There are multiple reasons. Many of them begin at the primary level, as a child enters school at the age of four or five years. From the very beginning, s/he is taught not to question, think, use creativity, question teachers, and put forward views, but to learn by rote. Most of our schools, indeed almost all our schools, and our madrassahs, have no other way of teaching children and depend entirely on their ability to learn long texts by rote, and repeat them in one form or the other for exams, tests or on other occasions.
The problem is magnified by the issue of language, and the fact that children attending mid-tier privately run English-medium schools as well as those in government schools do not learn the language at all, and struggle to understand even the basics of their textbooks. This problem continues into the higher levels of education, and even university students are often unable to comprehend the basics of their subjects – mathematics, biology, physics or some other field of expertise.
On top of this, we do not have a culture of debate on important issues, with very few willing to come forward with rational views and to discuss matters openly or debate all issues that face us. When people do so, they often face threats and harassment in one form or the other. Multiple journalists have come up against this and some, as a result, have fled the country. Others have chosen to go behind the safety of silence or to stop putting forward any view that could in any way upset the dominant narrative that we are taught from an early age. The Arshad Sharif case simply adds to the reality of shadows of secrecy and intrigue.
While the PTI insists that Arshad was driven out of the country, we do not know what happened and why he was killed – by whom and for what reasons. The investigation taking place in Nairobi, Kenya will finally bring forward some results though it is unlikely that we will know the truth. Once again, in this story – tragic in the sense that Arshad’s family has already met death too often – the lack of rationality among people makes it even more difficult to uncover the truth.
People simply follow the party line of political parties they support without looking at the facts or attempting to sort them out by themselves. It has now become easy to predict what one set of media will say as opposed to the other, and in the same way, what one individual will say as compared to another individual. Everything seems to be based around the great divide which has split our country into two different halves, with people sticking firmly to their opinions about parties. Even after the current crisis, which has occurred after the events in Wazirabad, there is no sign that the parties are willing to talk or reach any kind of consensus on what should happen next or how things should move forward. This is nothing short of a disaster.
Another problem is that we know little about the world and history. While Imran Khan has quoted Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew as a leader to be admired and a man who turned his country around, ending corruption and mismanagement and making it one of the most developed countries in the world, many do not realize that Yew was also an autocrat who ruled with an iron fist, and Singapore is still known for its rather draconian punishments for even relatively minor crimes.
There are other examples. While Singapore is certainly a success story in terms of development, it is not the success story in terms of democracy or the rights it gives to its people. Quite a lot is banned in the country, and debate is kept within a limited circle, when permitted at all.
All these factors would have to be overcome to turn us into a rational and truly literate nation. The fact that our current education setup only makes things worse is not encouraging. It narrows down minds further and does not permit rationality or good sense to grow. And it makes us unwilling to move away from our strongly held worldview or to enter into debate so as to promote critical thinking across the nation.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org