Meaningful introspection: A concept lost on us

Note: This article was first published in The Express Tribune Op-Ed on July 13, 2013.



The Abbottabad Commission Report recently leaked by Al Jazeera has put Pakistan’s state machinery in an embarrassing position and for all the right reasons. It is increasingly distressing to watch the blame-games and finger-pointing theatricals being broadcast on television. The civilian leadership is insistent upon hurling all sorts of accusations; while the representatives of the military, euphemistically known as the defence analysts, appear eager to elucidate that the civilian authorities are equally responsible for the colossal debacle.

It is a very simple principle to understand that the act of not owning one’s mistakes is equivalent to a gravely stubborn impasse which defeats the purpose of a thorough inquiry in the first place. In order to redress a failure, improve a system, and avoid similar disasters in future, it is absolutely imperative as the first step to own the fault. How can a mistake be corrected if no one is even willing to accept that they have made it?

Future stability at the cost of temporary humiliation is not an irrational trade-off at all, if larger national interests are as sincerely considered as fervently as patriotic sentiments are brandished. In order to break the pattern of national humiliations, there must be a consensus upon placing the future above the past, and national prestige above personal egos.

I have always found finger-pointing habits ingrained deep in our culture and character. There are numerous instances when we have absolved ourselves from our self-committed faults and allocated all energies towards external conspiracy-laden explanations. To note two recent examples: nine foreign tourists were brutally massacred near Nanga Parbat, and some of our well-known anchorpersons and analysts began to say that perhaps India may be involved in this. Similarly, in the case of the bombing of the Ziarat Residency, there was an almost immediate uproar about a foreign hand.

Surely with evidence, a foreign hand in any of the incidents can be proven, or disproven. But the point is that it is far more important for us and our state to own up to the blame that we proved incompetent in the case of the May 2 raid. Even in the case of the Ziarat Residency, the incident should, more than anything else, prod us to reflect upon how our own stubborn negligence bore separatist movements in the first place. But unfortunately, meaningful introspection is a concept lost on us as a nation.

For our pathological selective blindness, the diagnosis of the root-cause is not as elusive as the remedy. Most of us have been brought up, educated, and socialised to believe that we can do no wrong. Take for instance, Pakistan Studies which indoctrinates us with a conflict model of history through which we choose to portray ourselves as the innocent victim while the ‘wicked bloodthirsty Hindus’ incessantly ravaged our existence. Similarly, government textbooks emphasise the villainous role of the Indian army that led to the creation of Bangladesh, instead of displaying even a shred of regret at the way West Pakistan treated its eastern counterpart.

Our history lessons tell us that our country, our nation, has never been the aggressor in any war or conflict. That the provocative attack has always been launched first by the evil ‘Other’, is an idea embedded so deep in our minds that we fail to accept the objective view of history that might tell us a very different tale. My point is that, we as individuals and as a nation, find it practically unthinkable to see ourselves at fault, as a result of such indoctrination during formative years.

And therein lies the problem. Patriotism or loyalty to institutions should not mean blindfolding ourselves to our glaring failures, and to our history’s fiascoes. Love for one’s country must go beyond hollow sloganeering. A crumbling society cannot afford the luxury of blame games. Let us encourage among ourselves and also invite our rulers to develop the positive culture of introspection. The only hope of reformation and betterment lies within this noble habit of accepting our faults.

Let it be known that there is no treason in speaking up the truth.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2013.


Parts Omitted from the published version of the article 

Four points were edited away from the published version, due to “space and/or policy” reasons. But since these words came right out of my heart and are close to it, I’d want to share them with here anyway:

  • “Since nobody is carrying the load of charge, the matter gets beyond the grasp of human mind, as to what genies are then responsible for harboring Bin Laden within Pakistan for nine long years.”  – a clarification that as much as I find May 2 to be a shame, knowingly or unknowingly providing safe havens to OBL for a decade is equally or perhaps more reprehensible.
  • “In our early Islamic Studies lessons, Islamic supremacist ideas are drilled deep in our heads; Islamic history is taught in a way that most of us end up believing that Muslims are inherently unsullied by crimes or moral wrongs.” – this point was supposed to follow the Pakistan Studies’ point.
  • “Finger-pointing and allegation games, are therefore, not exclusive to the civil or military authorities as mentioned at the outset. Rather they are the product of a certain kind of socialization and indoctrination that make us blind to our own failings. This makes it easy to understand why a large majority believes the drone attacks to be the primary cause of terrorism on our soil. It is convenient to blame the ‘Great Satan’ USA and its unmanned aerial vehicles for all ills than to realize that extremism is like a cancer that has seeped into all segments of our society. For that we have no-one but ourselves to blame. Unlike grumbling about security lapses, it is difficult to realize that every individual and household that condones hate-mongering or fails to inculcate the values of tolerance and humanity in his child is complicit in the spread of extremism.” – It’s an important thing to realize, I wish there was enough space to accommodate this.
  • “A great deal of false consciousness has been propagated to declare that too much of in-depth critical analysis about certain state matters hurts the warm patriotic atmosphere. It’s a myth. ….. By not imparting balanced education, we are robbing our children of the ability to think critically and to introspect. It’s a huge disservice to a nation making it devoid of self-analysis and therefore incapable of self-transformation.” – Period.

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