By manipulating religion, Pakistan’s ruling elite stifles the freedoms of speech and expression and leave no space for progressive thinking, writes Muzzammil Mukhtar
WALTER LIPPMANN was a US theorist of liberal democracy. He supported the use of propaganda, oriented to the existing class system, to control the public mindset.
He argued in favour of what he conceptualised as the manufacturing of consent to bring the masses into conformity with things they did not want to do.
Lippmann argued that, in a democracy, people can be divided into classes. The first such class is the specialised class. This is a tiny proportion of the population.
Its function is to make decisions and run the politico-economic and ideological system.
The second class is a bewildered herd. It consists of the majority of the population. They are spectators with extremely limited power to make any changes to the society in which they live.
They ought, in this view, to be governed by the specialised class.
Lippmann’s idea was in line with the prevailing thinking of capitalism.
In today’s world, the ruling elites would attempt to control the mindset of the working class by constructing highly selective narratives.
The US philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky has extensively analysed and debated the manufacturing of consent. This has mainly, albeit not exclusively, been within the context of the United States.
However, for the purpose of this article, the notion of manufacturing consent will be extended in the direction of Pakistan.
It is another framework within which to understand the role of a Pakistani specialised class, ie the ruling class, in manufacturing currents of significant consent in favour of religious fundamentalism within Pakistani society.
Such manufactured fundamentalism serves to silence the voices of reason and of compassion.
Indeed, I would suggest the manufactured ideological destruction of Pakistani civil society has encouraged popular delusions and a mass culture which bridges the way to barbaric killings, such as that of progressive minds like Mashal Khan — a left-wing student activist at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the Northern city of Mardan, Pakistan.
Khan was stripped and killed in April by a self-styled religious mob that had accused him of blasphemy.
On April 14, Reuters issued a picture of his university hostel room with posters of Karl Marx and Che Guevara hanging from the walls.
Within the neo-imperialist model, religion has long been used as an instrument to divide the working class and to keep them uninformed as to states’ elite powers and their corporate connections.
Before and after the birth of Pakistan, religion was used in this way and to keep the masses ignorant of politico-economic affairs. In the process of manufacturing religious fundamentalism, Pakistan’s ruling class also attempted to institutionalise religion by making it a part of the state itself.
However, during the 1980s — under General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship — the state’s specialised class took the process of shaping behaviours through ideological engineering to a whole new level.
They constructed narratives based on distortions of history and injections of the mass culture with religious mania.
Unfortunately, the state, in attempting to shape the masses towards behaviours it desired, effectively propagated religious fundamentalism within Pakistani society.
The Pakistani state has since failed to take any significant measures to undo the aftermath of such an intended fundamentalism. Doing so would likely challenge the ruling elite’s own labyrinthine power.
On the other hand, continuity of religious hysteria strengthens the elite’s private power by both continuing to divide the working class and also to create existential fear.
It would be reasonable to say that existential fear helps to entrench and enact control over the masses.
It does this by terrifying those who belong to the, as it were, bewildered herd while simultaneously retaining the capacity to lead their class in raising their voices against the fundamentalists.
In this manoeuvring, the tactic of terrifying the masses is often exploited by the state’s way of branding certain issues “extremely sensitive.” In this manner, blasphemy laws in Pakistan are branded as an ‘‘extremely sensitive’’ issue and they are frequently misused to silence f progressive voices.
The manipulation of religion by the state’s ruling classes has left hardly any space in Pakistani society for progressive thinking, or the freedoms of expression and of speech.
In this way, religious fundamentalism has become one of the primary challenges faced today in Pakistan. The violence has become scarily frequent.
The creation and maintenance of a bizarre fundamentalist delusion, now deeply functioning in the mass culture, depicts an ultra-religious facet of a fragile social fabric.
It once again illustrates that the psyche of the common people in a society is the psyche given by its ruling class.
The process of removing such indoctrination goes far beyond punishing the manifest culprits behind such atrocities.
It requires opening a just, extensive and profound dialogue to develop possible solutions.
It requires investing in quality education, with the eradication of a curriculum injected with anti-progressive narratives, distorted histories and demonisations.
It also obliges the society to allow a space for progressive thinking, dissenting ideas and resurgences of alternative ideologies.
In short, the progressive elements in the society should not be afraid of raising their voices to challenge state indoctrination.
Theories of the dialectical evolution of societies suggest that nations die when people stop raising questions and that dissidents provide conceptions enrichingly contrary to prevailing societal givens.
Let us not forget that progressive activists form a material personification of the Hegelian anti-thesis within a society.
Their existence is central to its development and very health.
The article was originally published in the Morning Star of London. We are publishing it with the permission of the writer.
The writer is a London-based solicitor. He Twits at Muzzammil Mukhtar@MuzzammilMuk