Hijacking Literature And Journalism: Pakistan’s Intellectual Dilemma

May 9, 2017 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan

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Imad Zafar

Literature is a form or branch of knowledge that helps in the development of the mind by creating awareness and ability to think freely, be it fictional literature in the form of novels or in the form of non fictional writing and journalism; it always plays a vital role in creating the conceptions and perceptions of the general public.

During academic years, or after completing education, people are usually influenced by books, columns or analysis they are provided to read, building their thoughts and ideologies on this basis. Even the teachers or professors associated with education generally offer their opinions and ideologies through books and other written forms of literature and journalism. What one reads or watches defines his or her angle on perceiving the world. That is why books and reading in general are considered the fundamental part of intellectual growth and an integral part for the maturity in the collective thinking process of a society.

Unfortunately literature and journalism in Pakistan was used to spread narratives of the state and have always remained under the influence of writers and journalists from the conservative faction of cociety. Saadat Hasan Manto, a famous Urdu short stories writer, was considered a cheap writer who used sex to promote his writings. In reality he was writing on the issues that were considered taboo in society. Ismat Chughtai, Qurratulain Hyder, Abdullah Hussain and Intizar Hussain were all sidelined, poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ustad Daman considered treasoners.

Manto wrote specifically on our hypocritical attitude and exploitation of women and about our collective denial in admitting the basic instincts of humans. He was labeled a cheap sex writer. Faiz was considered a USSR agent; Habib Jalib declared a rebel and arrested many times. The famous Punjabi poet Ustad Daman had to face a case of possessing a hand grenade because of his poetry that was questioning the dictatorship. Even the famous Urdu poet Ahmed Faraz, who was called a poet of love and fragrance, had to flee the country to avoid arrest. This was the case with all authors who tried to write naturally and whose vision was different from the narrative created and spread by the state.

In contrast, people like Altaf Gauhar and Qudrat Ullah Shahab who, while serving in bureaucracy, facilitated the dictators and contributed towards a conservative and fanatic mindset and were presented as the greatest authors of their times. Their books were backed at state level and this gave birth to the breed of writers who even in fiction writing brought the motions of religious intolerance and glorification of wars. Authors like Naseem Hijazi, Tariq Ismail Sagar, and in recent times Umera Ahmad, are the examples in this regard. These writers books are based mostly on self imaginary past battles and glory, on the basis of religion, and Umera Ahmad and others like her attempting to portray religion as the attribute of a hero or heroine thus spreading the message of marginalizing the other minorities of society. Even a writer like Ashfaq Ahmed used Sufism as a tool and spread the message that to kill desires is the main motive of humans and to care about life after death is the only thing one should care about, thus contributing in creating a non productive mindset which refuses to admit that it is natural for humans to go and attain their dreams.

Literature was radicalized in the 1980s under the rule of Zia-ul-Haq with the abrupt Islamisation of literature and journalism coming into play at state level. Tariq Ismail Sagar and Naseem Hijazi became state patroned authors and a surge of nationalism, religious fanaticism and glorification of wars became the central topic of fiction and non fiction. This resulted in creating a large number of conservatives and extremist journalists, analysts and columnists who, instead of focusing on rationalism, creativity and the endless horizon of thinking beyond time and space, out of the box and paradox, preferred to just write on uncreative and self loving columns and analysis.

Any writer or journalist who tried to write independently or with his or her version of reality or ideology was termed a kafir or unpatriotic. The decline in creativity and inability to highlight the real issues faced by society both in fiction and nonfiction forms, led to the demise and low standards of literature and journalism in the country. People like Orya Maqbool Jan and Haroon ur Rasheed, whose only source of knowledge seems to be the fictional war history of Tariq Ismail Sagar and Naseem Hijazi, occupied the driving seats in journalism and opinion making, joined by self proclaimed analysts like Zaid Hamid and retired Air Force Vice Admiral Shahid Lateef with their only objective somehow revolving around enmity against India, the USA and democracy.

Likewise the new generation of Urdu fictional writers led by Umera Ahmad gave birth to fiction based on marginalizing Ahmadis and other minorities, presenting women as a decoration piece whose only aim in life is to please men and to do so she must submit to all the violence and torture committed against her. This hijacking of literature and journalism actually created a general acceptance in the collective behavior of society towards violence against women, honor killings, marginalizing minorities, living in the self loving worship of our falsely created heroes, and self created and perceived conspiracies.

On the other hand the writings of Ashfaq Ahmed and Qudrat Ullah Shahab gave the lesson of not addressing problems objectively but instead telling readers to think about all the individual and collective problems as a result of divine acts, hence asking for the forgiveness from the divine instead of solving the problems. How easy it is to live in big luxurious houses enjoying all the luxuries of life, taking benefits from the state and preaching to millions of people not to strive for these luxuries. This one sided and conservative style of thinking remains dominant in the literature and journalism in Pakistan.

As a teenager, growing up reading these writers of fiction or columns, or watching their programs, creates an image of a hero, heroin or a good man in the minds of teenagers. According to this image a hero should be a man having a girlfriend and saving her from the wrath of other male members and in the end should be leaving the world activities becoming a devotee, only adhering to divine instructions or converting a girl from another religion to his set of religious beliefs. A heroine should be a one man woman no matter how loose a character her lover or husband possesses. She also has to bear a character assassination by society and has to surrender to all violence imposed by the society even sometimes needing to accept violence from her lover and husband as well.

The nonfiction work or current affairs columns and analysis create the mindset that a perfect person is one who only says yes to the customs and traditions set by society with the hatred towards neighboring countries and the west. He or she would sacrifice everything in the name of Jihad or nationalism and in the case of Ashfaq Ahmed and Qudrat Ullah Shahab, an ideal person should always adhere to their defined or perceived divine Sufism and. by killing his needs and instinct in the name of Sufism. actually worship himself. So all these writers of fiction or nonfiction helped and contributed in building a society that actually lives under an injust and exploitative social order and where violent extremism or glorifying death is normal and where instead of looking for the solutions of individual and collective problems, running from them in the name of religion is considered highly appreciable.

Though authors like Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Wajahat Masood, Harris Khalique, Raza Rumi, Iftikhar Arif and Mohsin Naqvi have made efforts on their part to break the inertia encircling literature and journalism,there is still a dire need for writers like them to counter the lifeless and uncreative fictional and nonfictional pattern of the writing. There is a saying that the mind grows on the books and literature it reads. By producing and nurturing the rotten and visionless literature and journalism we have successfully created generations incapable of thinking and a society that usually accepts violence and extremism. It is high time that the manipulative journalism and literature should be stopped and the dissenting authors, poets and analysts given space so we can take a step towards a pluralistic and peace loving society.










Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.

1 Comment

  1. P C K PREM May 09, at 11:29

    Good. Thought provoking. Is it possible? A big question.


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