Horrors of Narrative Building

The idea of writing this article came after attending the Asma Jahangir Conference recently held. Its inaugural session came into the limelight as veteran resistant and democratic worker Ali Ahmad Kurd criticized state institutions – especially the judiciary- for lack of independence. He was rebuked by representatives of the apex Judiciary present in the conference, though the audience cheered for him. The speech of Honorable CJP Gulzar Ahmad also shows how piercing Kurd’s speech was. This became the news of the day and then again a debate got generated on the moot point; who was wrong and who was right. I would have been debating the same unless the folly of the conference’s audience had not made me realize that this is a wrong direction to follow. Let’s see how.

The narrative building is a key to achieving the goals of any movement, be it political, religious, or any other. It helps in propagating your core ideas speedily, precisely, and attractively. It generates slogans and then becomes a movement of lips. With a single word, you can communicate your whole idea which has its long history, specific origin, and peculiar need. With time, it marks its existence and is accepted as a fact for its reasons of course. For example, every democratic Pakistani believes the fact that interference by ‘certain’ institutions derailed its democracy and continues to be. This narrative was built by sheer political resistance and everybody accepts it due to its historical reasons.

But there is another edge of this narrative sword that is very dangerous and that is the production of “uninformed supporters”. When I said ‘certain’ in the above paragraph every reader rightly inferred to whom I referred. But the agony is very few know the actual reasons. And the same thing I observed at the conference. It was a group of uniformed audience who was only entangled in the anti-establishment narrative. As soon as anyone referred to it, there was a round of big applause and slogans. But when reasons for this were put into question there was complete silence. Let me put examples from the very same conference.

President of SCBAP Ahsan Bhoon read his paper in which he suggested some amendments in the constitution. The content of suggested amendments revolved around articles 62 and 63 which talk about qualification and disqualification merits for members of the National Assembly. It has been a controversial subject and certainly demands debate. But no clap and cheering were made for it. No one, except very few, seemed concerned about it. While the very same articles are used as a tool by ‘certain’ people to pressurize chosen members of the people and to humiliate democracy. But then again clap tasted the aroma of hall’s air when Honorable Justice Qazi Faiz Isa was invited to speak. I suspect whether they knew what his case was and on what grounds the case was decided.

Though this is not a shocking revelation when we see the same situation in every matter, the situation becomes grave. Ask any PTI supporter whether Nawaz Sharif is corrupt or not. They will say yes but do not know the very reasons he was disqualified for. Ask any PMLN supporter and he will tell you the whole narrative but do not know how and why he was disqualified. How the above-referred articles were used as a tool. But this is not the concern of supporters of both parties. All they know is the narrative. To this situation, I will refer to it as horrors of narrative building.

Take the example of religion. Some support its control over politics and some deplore it. In the movie Inherit the wind same debate arises in a trial court regarding the position of religion in state affairs. A very interesting character E.K. Hornbeck, a secular supporter, plays the same role. He just criticizes religion and considers it evil. His support was not due to ideological reasons but due to his hate for religion, unlike Henry Drummond who was also opposing the relation of religion with state affairs. The same happens in our society. People of both sides are not aware of ideological reasons but just chant the slogans. Instead of a debate, fire is generated.

Narrative selling should not be the agenda of movements. It should be to educate, to enlighten, and to spark the reasons of people. It must appeal to logic and intellectual faculties instead of political aspirations. Otherwise, people become prone to hate as was seen there when ‘shame shame’ was chanted for the judiciary. The involvement of people in the system to strive for its betterment is necessary and not their hate. In whose name conference was being held participated and contributed in the system.

It does not mean that people are completely illiterate about the reasons behind a particular narrative. They do know the reasons. But many do not know the actual reasons. I am talking about those people. They are those who then become extremists and forget those ideals upon which they stand. When people will consider the presence of former CJP, Saqib Nisar, in the Asma Jahangir conference an irony than what ideals they are supporting and struggling for? They are being led towards hate which is one of the horrors of narrative building. It is also against the spirit they gathered and Asma struggled for.

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