We progressives have been discussing and acting in various ways to push back religious extremism. I want to put forward a few ideas in this regard from a broader perspective.
In the 1960s and 1970s, left and liberal culture was popular culture. The three largest parties in Pakistan openly espoused socialism (PPP, Awami League, and NAP). Faiz and Jalib were leaders of workers and peasants (and not merely leaders of a group of intellectuals) .
However, thanks to the Zia period (and assistence to his regime from US) this changed drammatically. The orientation of the Urdu media was changed, trade unions were restricted, student unions were smashed, progressive teachers were persecuted. The structural change that occurred as a consequence of these measures together with the international defeat of the Soviet Union, resulted in an intelligentsia that turned inwards. Preaching to the converted in small seminars became the stereotype (and not without justification) . NGO funding rapidly escalated this trend.
While we turned away from mass work (working to take modern ideas to workers and peasants), the mullahs understood its worth. They have published and distributed literature worth crores of rupees all across Pakistan. They built strong institutions to connect with people.
We, on the other hand, were content in our own bubble, our own circle. We built nothing for progressive ideas (individual efforts aside). We give no money from our pockets for these causes. Activism became a job, not a need.
That was not sustainable and today the right has pushed our backs against the wall. They have invaded “our” space. They have shown that they are so strong that they can kill and justify that to the public.
Only with our backs against the wall, are we now thinking of doing something. But the habits of the 1990s die hard. Our tactics remain those of the bubble period. In a word, they remain elitist.
To win this struggle, however, we have to go back to the “baby in the bath water” of the 60s radicals. They got one thing right (proven yet again in Egypt). Only the people, the working people, are the source of real transformative power.
To win this struggle against the religious right wing, we have to become not merely activists but activists that bring modern, secular, democratic, rational, enlightened ideas to the people on a mass scale.
Pressure groups and Sunday politics based on, at best, convincing an individual or individuals in power will never bring about real change. Individuals can and are now removed with a bullet that costs less than ten rupees.
What we need to do is to devise ways to take our progressive ideas to the common working people on a mass scale. This is the only way to beat extremism in Pakistan. ORGANS OF MASS COMMUNICATION are what we need.
Here they are in order of effectiveness
3) Urdu language print
4) Internet and English print
5) Word of mouth (seminars etc).
I am interested in hearing whether others have thought about these issues of communicating with the masses at the mass level. We need to pool our talents and resources and think about how we can counter the right wing pamphlet to pamphlet. Program to program. Otherwise, we will hold seminars till we are blue in the face and achieve only the satisfaction of knowing that we made an effort. But I don’t want us to merely make an effort. I want us to win. And I believe we can win but only with the correct strategy and tactics.