NOTES FROM A SOCIAL SCIENTIST
By Dr. Haider Mehdi
“The mad-man committed suicide, the hero offered himself up to martyrdom in the name of a cause, but both would die, and the embittered would spend many nights and days remarking on the absurdity and glory of both.”
In retrospect, it is ironic as well as interesting to note that the incumbent Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gillani, referred to a 1965 Frank Sinatra movie, Von Ryan’s Express, based on the melodramatic theme of sacrifice, as an analogy to his political role in the on-going struggle for a viable democratic Pakistan. Ironic because the analogy is incompatible; interesting because the Prime Minister made it with such absolute confidence. It would seem that the Prime Minister knows little of the facts about the said film, which involved a masquerade, a theft, a sinister encounter with the notorious Gestapo, a superb battle, and the ultimate heroic success in halting pursuers and a dash to liberty. In the end, in the final act of heroism, Frank Sinatra is gunned down as his comrades escape to freedom.
It is hard to completely understand and contemplate in what precise role the Prime Minister had visualized himself. I would guess that the PM viewed himself symbolically as Frank Sinatra, who willingly, knowingly, and diligently, offered his own life to save others – the martyrdom achieved as a remarkable act of courage and devotion in the service of human liberty and freedom.
Indeed, such self-perception is laudable, but is this assumed role of supposed political gallantry pure imagination? The questions that one might ask are: Who are the Gestapo here in this comedy of errors? Who is chasing whom to liberty and freedom? Who are the prisoners? Who is masquerading – as what and why? Who is escaping whom? Who are being sacrificed by whom and for what precise purposes? Who are the victims here and who are the heroes in this virtual theatrics of absolute absurdity? All of these questions require a comprehensive understanding of the PM and his ruling party’s mindset and future political discourse. The bottom line is that it is the Prime Minister only who can offer an explanation of his perceived political views and the imaginative symbolic necessity for martyrdom and personal sacrifices.
Another vital point that completely escaped the Prime Minister’s attention while delivering his heroic analogy of sacrifice and martyrdom on the floor of the National Assembly was the film Von Ryan’s Express and many similar movies (The Young Lions, The Guns of Navarone, and others) in the 1950s and 60s were Hollywood’s propaganda campaign to cover up the massive US military atrocities during the second World War, (Dresden bombing, dropping of atomic bombs over the civilian population in Japan, etc.) and to impact and alter public opinion in America’s favor. The revisionist historians have taken serious issue with the US perspective and philosophically question the American role in the war as deliberately misrepresented.
Indeed, likewise and justifiably, the Pakistani public expects well-informed, sagacious and judicious statements from their elected leaders: Did not the Pakistani Prime Minister consider this Von Ryan’s analogy of personal sacrifice as inappropriate at a national forum and for public consumption?
Let us call a spade a spade: The presently ongoing political battle for a viable democratic Pakistan is not about the martyrdom or personal sacrifices of the Prime Minister, the President or the PPP’s so-called democratic mandate for a five-year term. The fact of the matter is that in a parliamentary democracy, the public mandate is not for a fixed term; the privilege to exercise public confidence is conditioned by and subject to political economic performance and the management of the state’s affairs to the overall satisfaction of the public – in measurable and absolutely prismatic proofs of delivering in the service of people’s welfare. The fact is that the Zardari-Gillani regime has totally failed on all these counts, and democratically speaking, in ethical-political terms, its public democratic mandate stands morally revoked, automatically. In civilized democratic dispensations, failed elected governments have been known to offer their resignations in the overall interest of the nation. But in Pakistan, the Prime Minister is indulging in theatrical performances of political craftsmanship completely devoted to power-politics and personal cult-making. This nation’s misfortune cannot be overstated.
The Prime Minister’s recent ultra- melodramatic political performances remind me of David Bowie’s 1976 British science fiction film “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” (meaning from the sky). Newton (Bowie), a human-like alien, crash lands on earth with a mission to transport water to his native planet, which is experiencing a calamitous drought. In the process, Newton becomes incredibly wealthy as head of World Enterprises, falls into commercial rivalry, indulges in crippling deceptions, fails to understand the rules of the game on Earth, develops an incredible appetite for TV, gets so obsessed with his personal self interests that he neglects his true undertaking of saving his people, and amid intense media exposure, finally fails in his earthly mission. End of story. In my political judgment, I find comparable scenarios in Bowie’s and the Prime Minister’s failed political missions.
Is the Pakistani Prime Minister, too, seized by a political fantasy to do and manage political performances beyond the realm of possibilities? Is the PM confident that he can move the entire nation in believing that his and the President’s political survival is tantamount to the survival of democracy in Pakistan? Or has the PM, under intense media exposure, proved that his mission – the democratic mission and public mandate of serving the people – has already faulted, faltered and failed?
Perceptual fantasies do not help in nation-building. Neither do the assumed martyrdoms and self-believed tales of personal sacrifices. At the end of the day, it is the political performance judged impartially against the facts of whether the mission of public service is accomplished or not. That is how democracies work and are judged. Period.
Whether the hero offers martyrdom is inconsequential in a democracy! End of story.