Delusion of revolution
Syed Muhammad Haider
Revolution is easily the buzz word these days. Honchos, or at least their supporters, are besotted with the idea of some kind of a frenzied uprising against the status-quo to somehow throw the incumbents out of the window, cherish the ‘change’, make some noise, and then, if needed, decide the future course of action.
Metaphors of massive upheavals of catastrophic nature are frequently being flaunted by the politicians. ‘Tsunami,’ for example, is used by the Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Imran Khan to define his political might. Never mind that even a superficial analysis of this term is enough to make one sick to the stomach. The blood-cuddling horrors related to tsunamis notwithstanding, Khan’s proposed plans also do not commensurate with the radical choice of his words. I’d rather he used a milder metaphor, because what he is claiming to do is obviously not ‘revolutionary.’
Not only him, but all political leaders in the opposition have jumped on the bandwagon to woo the impressionable electorate.
So what, really, is a revolution?
First, a revolution always transpires abruptly, and not slowly, over the course of months or years. Plans of ‘gradual’ reforms in a system, however momentous, cannot be called a revolution. The overall system should change in one go, because if the transformation is slow and gradual it wouldn’t be able to change the entire system.
Second, a revolution revamps the entire system, with drastic concurrent changes. The underpinnings of a society should change. For example, if the judicial system remains the same and only few judges are replaced – or reinstated – it can not be called a revolution. It is merely a case of few persons who are given their jobs back.
No matter how much clean water you put in a cesspool, it still stinks, and will remain filthy forever. Likewise, without major structural transformation, and a realistic alternative plan, introducing ‘clean politicians’ to a system that is rotten to the core will never have the desired effect.
Sociologists have discerned three major kinds of revolutions – those caused by society’s economic polarisation, and the deep cleft between the haves and have-nots; those of a liberal and democratic nature which purely have roots in the human nature, and its urge to live a free life without coercion; and third, those revolutions that are ideological in nature and have least to do with economic aspect.
History contains quite a few with examples.
French Revolution, 1789, was more liberal and democratic in nature than materialistic. The study of its causes reveals that although there were widespread economic and political grievances amongst the Bourgeoisie and the Peasantry, the main instigator of the revolution was the realisation amongst the masses of their right to live free. Philosophers like Rousseau propagated the ideas of freedom and human rights, and paved the ground for the rebellion. “Man is free, yet everywhere he’s in chains,” said Rousseau.
To quote a more recent example, the Arab Spring is also a manifestation of man’s freedom-loving nature. There was an Arabic sign frequently used during the uprisings: “Ana Rajul” – I am a man – a free man. The New York Times’ columnist, Thomas L. Freidman, discussed this ostensibly simple, yet profound symbol in one of his articles: “If there is one sign that sums up the whole Arab uprising, it’s that one,” observed Friedman.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran is an example of ideological revolution where the masses rose to the call of their spiritual leader, late Ayatollah Khomeini, to establish an Islamic government.
But we, in Pakistan, have a very unusual understanding, if any at all, of the word revolution. We focus on superficial aspects rather than digging deep into the theory.
To a person whose basic understanding of a bird is ‘anything that can fly,’ even a polythene bag flying out of the garbage heap is a bird. Similarly, due to lack of necessary cognizance, anything that is loud, frantic, and emotional sounds like a revolution to most of us. A public meeting of thousands, a crowded press conference, a well-attended dharna, a brawl at a talk-show, or even a pop concert – everything seems to bode for a ‘revolution.’
That’s because in a society emotionally as hyper, religiously as zealous, and academically as illiterate as ours, selling utopia and dreams in the name of revolution is not an art. To be fooled is a natural tendency for such an impulsive nation, and politicians know it quite well. There is, I believe, no point in lamenting after being hoodwinked that the leader is a demagogue – interestingly defined by Henry Mencken as ‘one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.’
After all, we are the ones who lack the vision to distinguish fact from fantasy. We are the ones who revel in delusions.