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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Radical Fatigue

There’s a theory: Whenever an extreme finds itself cornered and desperate, it becomes even more extreme, almost to the point of being nihilistic. Consequently, such an extreme starts facing a paradox. The brighter it burns or the louder it crackles, the quicker it starts to consume itself, until it is no more.

In other words, a heightened state of extremism becomes its own reason of fall and demise. This kind of a destructive and violent burnout is common with extremist political and religious organisations. They either consume themselves in their own fires of violent bigotry and intolerance, or to avoid such a burnout, they modify and soften their stance and find ways to join the mainstream.

Of course, in the process of burning out in the flames of their own nihilism, they do manage to inflict some serious material, human and psychological damage around them. And this is what we are witnessing today as far as Pakistan and the many extremist organisations that plague it are concerned.

The violent sectarian and Islamist outfits that have for so long unleashed unprecedented levels of havoc and bloodshed on the state, government and the people, now seem to be entering that nihilistic burnout phase.

This phase, extremely violent and indiscriminating in its desperation and vengeance against the people and the security apparatus alike, could have started a lot earlier if some misguided elements in the military had not pampered the extremists in pursuance of their rather delusional ‘strategic goals’.

As the state and the military now seem to be admitting (albeit grudgingly) the uncontrollable nature of the beast they had helped feed and grow, the beast is attempting to feed on the sympathetic bits on offer from another source of patronage and support: i.e. the political-religious and right wing parties and organisations.

It is true that compared to the beast’s erstwhile keepers in the now more cautious security agencies and the state, the other forces are negligible.

But lately these loud tiny tots have found support in the privately-owned electronic media. There is no great revelation in the already obvious suggestion that much of this media is vehemently right wing in its orientation. It’s not just about the media sounding populist and reactionary due to certain cynical economic and ratings-friendly reasons, there is much more to it.

Simply put, many of Pakistan’s news channels have a wall-to-wall covering of some of the most rabid right wing journalists in their midst. And it’s a colourful mix. Some have had direct participatory pasts with right wing outfits such as the Jamat-i-Islami and Hizb-i-Tahrir; some with certain shadowy intelligence organisations; some with both; and last but not least, there is now a growing number of ‘modern’ looking folks on TV who seem to have no clue about the complexities of politics.

To cover their incompetence many loudly mouth off incoherent, conspiratorial babble on politics, Islam, national honour, etc. Thus many news channels have become havens for tiny right wing tots who have continued to attempt attracting public sympathy for the extremists’ cause with their aggressive apologetic tirades and anti-America sloganeering. Nevertheless, these tiny tots and the way they are given a face by the largely right wing electronic media are not going to stop the beast’s nihilistic burnout. And this is because Pakistanis on the whole, and at least in this context, have begun to experience radical fatigue.

The way the Raymond Davis episode burst in the faces of the rightist TV anchors, who were clearly being maneuvered by those who wanted concessions from the CIA, and the way every rally and strike called by a leadership seeking popular approval on the issue fizzled out, was indeed revealing.

Fatigue and disillusionment are setting in. While so much radical hype does the rounds in the media about revolution, national honour, anti-Americanism, corruption and what not, every time the results of this maniacal hype on the ground is an anti-climax. This is simply because such animated hype has little or nothing to do with reality.

With the lack of ground support, all the tiny tots in politics and their media allies who are going on and on about their delusions have become unintentional parodies of themselves and silly caricatures of empty rhetoric.

Entertaining, but far from ‘revolutionary’. The state’s and the military’s growing weariness of the extremist beast and the fatigue setting among the public about empty sloganeering are positive developments.

However, though this may one day find the beast consumed by its own hatred and fire, one should keep a watchful eye on exactly how the media-proliferated right wing rhetoric over the years has affected society’s mindset. It is this mindset that will dictate Pakistan’s future: whether we will become a stable, democratic, progressive and tolerant people or continue to be consumed into oblivion by our own delusions about greatness and national honour.
Smokers’ Corner: "Radical fatigue" by Nadeem F. Paracha