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Absence of thought by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

There are two things that make me quite uneasy. One is the useless rhetoric of the politicians and the other is the short-sighted views of our writers, artists and intellectuals. We can not emerge as a stronger society until we resolve contradictions in these separate but related trends. Most of the writers that have the courage to pick up the pen are usually busy telling people how bad we are at everything we do. Politicians, or vice versa, take a cue from them and engage in rhetoric that focuses on the ills of their opponents rather than provide a new vision and how to get there. We have relegated nation building to politicians, bureaucrats and soldiers but the real builder of a nation and its identity are writers, poets, scholars, philosophers and artists. These segments of the society are either marginalized or bought out.

The first stage in nation building is finding a piece of land. This new territory then experiences a rush for land grab by opportunists and oppressors. During this pillaging when the spirit of nation is down and it seems all is lost comes a stage when starry eyed intellectuals and artists rise up. They collect the nation under their wings and give them a new hope and vision of a yet inconceivable future through their stories, poems and books. In the final stage a nation emerges from the ashes with its own unique culture, a social bond between the people, a political order and an ideal that is larger than the piece of land. All nations go through this and it is now our time to define who we are as a nation, where are we coming from and where are we going. The crisis we have is not a political or security crisis but crisis of a lost soul. We need to find our soul. This task can not be done by politicians, bureaucrats or soldiers as they don’t have the necessary tools. No society has ever been able to reform itself without first reforming the thought. Politicians are not thinkers but vote gatherers. Intellectuals have to provide them the thought on which they can build a political structure. It was Iqbal who wrote almost daily to Jinnah to pour his vision of a future that had to be adopted and materialized. I have read those letters, like many of you, and even today they have the power to move the spirit.

When nations emerge on the world map they don’t have a well defined idea of who they are. It is after the fact of existence that they figure out an ideal that gives them the right to exist. America got independence because they did not want to pay taxes to Britain without representation but that reason could not sustain her after independence. Singapore came to be because Malaysia did not want to keep her later she found an ideal around which to organize the society. South Korea is still not sure why they are what they are but they have emerged as an enterprising nation. China is debating whether communism is still valid or they have to transform to a Confucian society. All these countries have realized that their focus should be to make the best of what they have to build their nations. They are still figuring out how best to relate history to their future but that has not stopped their progress. We are hinged to the past debating whether Two Nation Theory was right or wrong refusing to progress beyond that. We are chained to the past as a prisoner is to his past crime for which he has already paid the price.

There are many who are talking about revolutions and the magical effect it could have on our future. But in realty we need revolution of thought and the way we look at the world around us. We don’t need a Quaid-a-Azam as he has done his part to create a country rather we need an Abraham Lincoln, Deng Xiaoping, Mahathir Mohammad or a Lee Kwan Yew since we have to build a nation.

Before a leader of that stature emerges we need architects of a new vision and ideology on which an edifice could be built. We need poets that alleviate the spirit of the nation. We need a new generation of Iqbal, Faiz and Habib Jalib. We have to uphold them and encourage them to come forward and color the imagination of the nation for a new dawn. We need scholars that take the holistic view of the social, economic and political situation to write books that offer solutions that are not clones of the past.

You all may feel that we are already doing all these things. If we are then why are we still in turmoil? Either we are not doing it enough or we are not doing it well. We have to rethink our approach to igniting the thought of the nation. We have many more newspapers than before, we have plethora of news channels, hundreds of radio channels and entertainment tv channels. These avenues have become source to vulgarize our thought in pursuit of commercialization. We are driven by the popularity contests, eye balls, ratings or status. Our intellectuals do not produce for the posterity but want accolade in their life time. To satisfy this carnal desire they refuse to challenge the status quo rather satisfy their conscience by criticizing it in oped pieces. They forget that Confucius and Ibn Khaldun burned with the desires to reform their societies. They could not live to see how their words have revolutionized the communities centuries after they departed. Van Gogh could hardly afford a meal but his paintings are now sold for prices that are more than the budget of a small town.

Our intellectuals are refusing to form societies that promote new thought as without it there can be no future for a prosperous and viable Pakistan. We don’t have lack of political acumen but rather absence of thought to unleash the intellect of the nation. Our thought has become slave to the fear. Fear of losing a job, fear of inconveniencing people of power, and fear of agitating the dogma.

Great art and literature requires courage to embark on a journey of introspection facing the risk of crossing borders of sanity never to return or physical harm from forces of status quo. When Iqbal, Goethe, George Orwell, Voltaire, Minto and Faiz wrote their works they experienced first hand the traumas of life and felt it in their souls. Iqbal was labeled as an outcast by the religious establishment. Faiz was called a conspirator and Voltaire had to migrate to save his life. Socrates drank poison from the chalice while Galileo was incarcerated in the tower of Pisa just because they refused to pawn their thoughts for the sake of accepting status quo.

We are a nation that is afraid of its own shadow. We are afraid because we are walking with our back to the future and our face to the past. We are afraid because we have lost our soul to the carnal desires of the body while leaving the soul to wonder in the wilderness. We can’t find our soul unless our intellectuals and artist come forward and risk everything they have to break the shackles of the past and liberate the nation to embark on a new journey.

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