You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of mankind in your own native soil. [Mohammed Ali Jinnah]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Civil versus Uncivil

By: Naeem Sadiq (

2007 will be remembered as a year of extremism. It was in this year that 'the extremists became very extreme', to quote from the president of the PCO Republic. It was in this year that the extremists on the mountains of Waziristan killed and captured more soldiers than at any other time in the history of Pakistan.  It was in this year that the extremists in Islamabad fired a long-distance, high-speed PCO missile that knocked out one's own strategic assets such as the Constitution and the judiciary.  It was in 2007 that we became the only country in the world that suspended and 'house-arrested' its own chief justice twice in the same calendar year. It was in this year that a militant legislation transferred all state powers to a single individual — perhaps the only person in the world who has a nuclear button in his pocket and whose constitutional amendments cannot be challenged.
Also in this year the political parties displayed unparalleled greed and spinelessness by legitimising extremely substandard PCO products like the PCO president, PCO judges, PCO PM and PCO Election Commission.  No wonder the Chinese calendar calls 2007 the year of the animal we do not like to talk about.

But there was also a new sense of energy and resistance in the air that began to give hope to the dark despondency of 2007. It was for the first time that Pakistanis, forgetting their many differences, closed ranks and began to take positions around a single dividing line. The line that separates the civil and the uncivil society. A divide along the lines of conscience on the one hand and compromise on the other.

What are the dynamics of this new development? While the traumatic events of 2007 may have been a triggering factor, this new wave reflects an accumulated disillusionment of people from 60 years of uninterrupted deceit, corruption and lawlessness. Gradually but firmly, people have come to perceive their leaders (both civil and military) as corrupt, self-serving and power-hungry whose only interest is to use the placebo of clichés, deceptive manifestos and hollow slogans to dupe the masses.

The educated middle class — lawyers, teachers, students, doctors, professionals, individual citizens and groups — which has traditionally kept itself at a distance from mainstream politics is awakening to a realisation that it has stayed on the sidelines for too long.

There is a growing realisation that years of inaction, silence and cynicism have only resulted in people being taken for a long ride. In a classic replay of Pastor Niemöller's famous lines, the home-made Nazis have already come for the judges, the lawyers and the media. A scary realisation that people must stand up and speak for themselves as there is no one left to speak for them.

What separates the civil from the uncivil society of Pakistan? One simplistic understanding would be that anyone who directly or indirectly was a party to the mutilation of the Constitution and launch of the draconian PCO, who took oath as a PCO judge, cut power deals with the US, tried to seek indemnity against past crimes, supported the military regime, accepted a position under this unconstitutional arrangement or granted legitimacy to these actions by taking part in elections is a part of the Uncivil Society. All others may prima facie be assumed to be part of the civil society.

One does not, however, become a part of the civil society by merely suffering in silence. Even a weekend vigil or periodic public protests are not good enough. A society is called civil when its members individually and collectively follow ethical principles and practices in their working lives.

They relate their work to larger social and political causes. They support ethical and principled stands. They protest peacefully and lawfully against tyranny and injustice.

They are willing to contribute their time, effort, money or expertise for a cause or community. They are willing to rise above their party positions and cushy jobs, to raise their voice when the rulers indulge in unethical practices, and finally they care and work for the betterment of a larger society instead of a privileged few. While it may still be many miles to the land of the civil society, there are clear signs and symptoms that people in Pakistan are already taking the most difficult first steps. May 2008 be the year of the civil society.

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