Are there any ‘liberal extremists’ in Pakistan?

Published: September 22, 2016

Even moderately liberal points of views are categorised as extremist hence clearly there is something wrong with our conception and ideological direction. PHOTO: AFP

One of the phrases being used repeatedly in the Pakistani mainstream, as well as social media, is of ‘liberal extremism.’ I have repeatedly heard and read that Pakistani society is polarised – and both the ‘extremes’ are equally harmful.

A few columnists and anchor persons continuously point towards the ‘dangers’ emanating from liberal extremists. Some way or the other, our media is trying to project itself as striking the vital middling position and professes ‘miana ravi’ or moderation in opinion.

This term is no longer just restricted to the media but has also found its way in everyday conversations and drawing room discussions.

Well, at least semantically, a phrase like liberal extremism or liberal fascism can only be termed as an oxymoron. From a philosophical point of view, you cannot be a liberal and a fascist at the same time. However, since in everyday political terminology, the word liberal corresponds to certain positions, therefore at least theoretically it is possible for someone to be a ‘hard core’ liberal. Even from that angle, you can only be called an ‘extremist’ if you are ready to resort to violence or take extremely inflexible and fringe positions.

It is important to know as to what liberal values espouse. Liberalism is not a strictly defined doctrine and has meant different things at different times and places. However, broadly speaking we can say that ideas with liberal underpinning are: women liberationreligious tolerance; preference of self-introspection over irrational patriotism; separation of state and religion, increased role of state for levelling income inequalities, less ambitious external policy; and a passive yet alert military with no expansionist aspirations built around romantic nationalism.

In Pakistan, those who espouse these values are rare and in media – they are restricted to merely English print and web. Moreover, they do not use violent tactics the way religious fundamentalists do and therefore to label them as fascists is a gross exaggeration.

In addition, the local category of liberals is fully cognisant of the fact that Pakistan suffers from acute religious sensitivity and therefore while projecting their point of view in the public sphere, they often carefully word their opinion. They have to otherwise run the risk of being slain. In fact, even their vocal opposition of blasphemy law was mostly on the ground that the said law was against the ‘true’ spirit of Islam, rather than on the fact that there is no place for religion inspired law in the matters of state.

The fact is that liberals in Pakistan are not the ‘hard-core’ variety but rather close to centre and have to argue from position of severe disadvantage. The media does not give them the space, and when they speak, they have to tread very carefully and consequently often end up projecting a much compromised point of view.

And despite this, a sizeable number of people categorise them as some kind of fascists or Western elitists. This in my opinion just shows as to how orthodox and schizophrenic our society has become. Here some of the people claim to be following a ‘balanced’ middle simply on the grounds that they do not out rightly support religious extremism. Yet a substantial number of such people may be giving what is known as ‘soft’ support to the militants through weird conspiracy theories and at times apologetic defence whereby extremists are acting violently due to some sort of ‘reaction’.

In my books, this mind-set is also ultraconservative and extremist though its manifestation is in a different way.

The central issue in my opinion is that in Pakistan, on the ideological spectrum, the orthodox positions virtually dominate. In fact the opinions which would fall under the category of fringe opinions in the West are actually the mainstream opinions in Pakistan. When extreme conservative opinions become the mainstream opinion then even moderately liberal opinions start appearing as the ‘other extreme.’

Moreover, unfortunately the mainstream media has successfully projected liberal values as some kind of a modus operandi cum intellectual vehicle to westernise Pakistan and to undermine the existing ‘rich’ patriotic culture and values.

Consequently, anyone vying for the liberal values is immediately bracketed as some kind of a western liberal extremist and even a fascist. When even moderately liberal points of views are categorised as extremist then clearly there is something wrong with our conception and ideological direction.

Moreover, this is proving seriously detrimental because liberal opinions are being simply shot down as liberal extremism without even being properly considered. Consequently in the battle of ideas, only the variants of one kind of narrative are reigning supreme and counter opinion is virtually absent in the public sphere.

Instead of a balanced middle which emanates from conflation of competing ideas, what we are witnessing in Pakistan is just the dominance of variants of conservative ideology. Hence it is no surprise that intellectually we are becoming bankrupt.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vinsin

    Two nation theory.Recommend

  • vinsin

    liberal extremism or liberal fascism, and state terrorism are terms found only among Muslims and Pakistani. Freedom of speech, expression and religion include law bound hate speech are part of liberalism.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Islam is a political religion, where it demands complete command and control over all the elements of a life of a human being.

    From how to breathe to how to wage a war against the kuffar, everything is clearly listed in the Shariah books originating from the Arab world.

    Arab-originated-Islam in its true form is completely incompatible with the modern world.

    One can pick up any activity of the modern world, as basic as taking a picture, and it is completely prohibited in Islam and is punishable under Shariah.Recommend

  • Baba

    Liberal Extremism is a reality. The Soviet project to destroy religion was Liberal Extremism. The Current unnatural attempt by Liberals to create so called “Gay marriage” is Liberal Extremism. The idiotic behavior of Qandeel Baloch was Liberal Extremism. Liberal Extremists are a reality in Pakistan, but luckily they are limited to fringes of society.Recommend

  • Solo

    I agree. Its completely incompatible and is backward. Most pakistanis are too brainwashed to see this through.Recommend

  • Parvez

    This seems to give the impression that being liberal and being deeply religious are incompatible…….and I think that’s wrong. I know people who are both liberal in their thinking and religious in their ways and they are beautiful human beings.
    Possibly its when people are neither liberal in thought nor properly learned in religion that causes problemsRecommend

  • Jabed Hassan

    Pakistan is a highly conservative country and liberals find it difficult to even present their views. We need to balance this out. Liberalism is more religious tolerance and we need it the most.Recommend

  • farhan

    haha…America is the most peace loving country ..right???Recommend

  • RHR

    I know, you tried to make it look like a response, but was the meaning of that incoherent rant?Recommend

  • farhan

    failed attempt to prove that its is because of islam we failed..No it is because of ourselves..we did not work hard..Do you even know about the house of wisdom??Recommend

  • AJ

    I agreeRecommend

  • Agha

    Yeah so horrible. But those fundamentalists are just fine. Recommend