By Dr Ghayur Ayub

I remember when I was training for my surgical fellowship in the UK; I saw patients suffering from tiny stones in kidneys and urethras being prescribed Beer, and patients with poor blood circulation were prescribed ‘short drinks’. There was a benchmark for such prescriptions; the patients should not be alcoholic and the prescriptions were within moderation. Once I asked my consultant what was moderation and who was an alcoholic? He gave a simple reply, “a drink which does not make a person tipsy is in moderation, and an alcoholic is a person who starts drinking in the morning.” Drunk people lose the inhibitory powers the higher centres normally have over their voluntary control. The absence of this control makes them say things or do things which they won’t when sober. The area which restrains us from acting unsociable is placed at supra-Tentorial part of the brain; unique to humans as higher species. The question is, was Gen (Rtd) Musharaf tipsy when he used derogatory remarks against politicians especially Nawaz Sharif. According to sources, he allegedly had had a few ‘shorts’ before going on stage and facing the media.

To understand his problem, let me go into the brief history of alcohol as to how it was introduced to the societies and how it was used and misused by the people. The history of alcohol dates back for millennia, so that no one really knows when it was first used, but the discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that intentionally fermented beverages existed at least 10,000 BC during the Neolithic period. It clearly appeared as a finished product in Egyptian pictographs around 4,000 BC. Osiris, was known as the god of wine and the Egyptians believed that he invented beer which was considered a necessity of life. They brewed it in homes “on an everyday basis”.At one stage, there were 17 varieties of beer and 24 varieties of wine used for nutrition, medicine, ritual, pleasure, remuneration and funerary purposes. The latter involved storing them in tombs of the deceased for their use in the after-life.

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In Sumerian civilisation, beer and wine were used for medicinal purposes as early as 2,000 BC.

By 1700 BC in Greece, the first alcoholic beverage to obtain widespread popularity was mead made from honey and water. Xenophon (431-351 BC) and Plato (429-347 BC) both praised its moderate use being beneficial to health and happiness, but both were critical of drunkenness, which was becoming a problem in the society. Similarly, Hippocrates (460-370 BC) identified numerous medicinal properties of wine. Later, both Aristotle (384-322 BC) and Zeno (336-264 BC) were very critical of drunkenness.

In Chinese society, alcohol was a source of inspiration and an antidote for fatigue. It was also an important hospitality means. Because of its misuse, laws against making wine were enacted and repealed forty-one times between 1,100 BC. and AD.1,400.

The Hebrews were reportedly introduced to wine during their captivity in Egypt and when Moses led them to Palestine around 1,200 BC., they regretted leaving behind the wines of Egypt. However, soon they found plenty vineyards in the new land. Around 850 BC., the use of wine was criticized by the Rechabites and Nazarites, two conservative nomadic groups which practiced abstinence from alcohol. From 539 BC to 300 BC, sobriety increased and pockets of antagonism to wine disappeared. In short, it came to be seen as a necessary element in the life of the Hebrews.

The historians tell us that between the founding of Rome in 753 BC. until the third century BC, the Romans practiced great moderation in drinking. After the Roman conquest of the Italian peninsula the traditional Roman values of temperance, frugality and simplicity were gradually replaced by heavy drinking, ambition, degeneracy and corruption.

With the dawn of Christianity, the drinking attitudes of Europe began to be influenced by the New Testament. The earliest biblical writings after the crucifixion of Jesus (A.D. 30) contain few references to alcohol. This may reflect the fact that drunkenness was largely an upper-status vice with which Jesus had little contact.. Austin has pointed out that Jesus used wine (Matthew 15:11; Luke 7:33-35) and approved of its moderate consumption (Matthew 15:11). On the other hand, he severely attacked drunkenness (Luke 21:34,12:42; Matthew 24:45-51). The later writings of St. Paul deal with alcohol in detail and are important to Catholic doctrine on the subject. He considered wine to be a creation of God and therefore inherently good (1 Timothy 4:4), recommended its use for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23), but consistently condemned drunkenness (1 Corinthians 3:16-17,5:11,6:10; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:3) and recommended abstinence for those who could not control their drinking. In later centuries, the Church advocated its moderate use but rejected excessive or abusive use as a sin. The Protestant leaders such as Luther, Calvin, the leaders of the Anglican Church and even the Puritans did not differ substantially from the teachings of the Catholic Church: alcohol was a gift of God and created to be used in moderation for pleasure, enjoyment and health; drunkenness was viewed as a sin

Quran in its unique style came up in advisory capacity telling Muslims to avoid it after evaluating its positive and negative points. On the other hand, Ahadith came very strongly against it’s usage. The true followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) do not consume alcohol for a simple reason that the prophet (PBUH) never drank it; and that is enough reason for them not to drink.

In recent times, a social movement known as the temperance movement against the use of alcoholic beverages .started in many countries such as America, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Germany, Ireland, Sri Lanka etc. These movements took different names but their aims remain identical to criticize excessive alcohol use, promote complete abstinence, or pressure the government to enact anti-alcohol legislation.

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It is clear that alcohol has been in continuous use by people throughout history. Keeping its vital role in mind, its consumption in moderation has rarely been questioned throughout most of recorded time both socially and religiously.

Before going back to the original story of Gen (r) Musharaf’s outburst against Nawaz Sharif while presumably tipsy, let us

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look at a few known politicians with alcohol problems. I am not including one of our CMs in the list who was seen swaying on the dais. In US Senate not long ago, Sen. Max Baucus slurred his words and verbally attacked a colleague on the Senate floor degrading the Senate decorum. Some claim President Kennedy took drinks, drugs, including steroids and cocaine. Same was the case with his Russian counterpart. According to one, ‘neither nuked the other at 3 am on a Friday morning during the early 1960s. Because there were more important layers of power in place.’ Though some ask, ‘ was President Kennedy stoned out of his gourd during the Cuban Missile Crisis?’

Some say, that Napoleon lost at Waterloo because he was ‘high’. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill drank from the moment he woke up until he went to sleep. Stalin was a big drinker and according to some he ‘might have been on a bender when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union.’ Boris Yeltsin was known to be drunk taking important decisions. Adolph Hitler is said to have taken amphetamines, which would account for his mood swings and his second in command Hermann Goering was addicted to morphine. In Indian subcontinent we know that leaders like Jinnah and Nehru drank alcohol but they never lost control and stayed within personality decorums. The list goes on and on.

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Gen (Rtd) Musharaf can be bracketed with those world leaders who lose self control when tipsy; but he is far off the line beyond which the other real leaders stand. If he keeps on uttering loose talks through his bad mouthing, spitting at his political rivals, and sending alarming messages about the father of Pak nuclear program and Kashmir cause, he will soon not only loose facebook friends he is proud of, but also whatever residual respect he has, which is hanging around his neck like a discarded tie. If he thinks he will get a positive response from western society, he should think twice, because there are groups from ‘temperance movement’ in the west which can caution him about his abuse of liquor.