Intellectual Blockage

Aziz Ali Dad 

Ideas are an integral part of a society. They enable human beings to tackle the challenges of time and accommodate differences within a social whole. At the social level ideas and their materialisation in the form of institutions and norms help societies understand change and make new social arrangements accordingly. At different points in history, societies face situations where a problem becomes insoluble through the available conceptual assemblage of the prevalent paradigm. In philosophy this problem is called ‘aporia,’ which can be translated in simple English as impasse, obstacle or blockage.

The intellectual landscape in Pakistan has all the telltale signs of intellectual aporia. Today Pakistan is facing an existential threat because of various internal and external factors. Such a situation demands introspection in its society. However, the prevalent ideas of Islamism and secularism have failed to provide an alternative vision. In the war of ideas, the intelligentsia of both secular and religious persuasions stay in their ideological trenches and stick to their ideological guns. Therefore, no dialogue takes place between the two and discussions taking place within the respective schools of thought are monologues.

The failure of our minds to take us out of the current morass is the result of an intellectual blockage in Pakistani society. This blockage creates immense existential tension within the society. The killing of innocent people across the country is just a tip of the iceberg. The malaise within the social body can be diagnosed, and can even be cured, if the blockage in thinking is removed. Despite the gravity of the situation, the secular and religious minds are not prepared to break the boundaries of their dogmatic enclosures because they fear they will become irrelevant if the configuration of ideas is changed.

Ironically, it is the intellectual blockage that provides an opportunity to iconoclasts to break the status quo and paves the way for an alternative society. In his book Time for Revolution, Antonio Negri writes: “…after blockage, there is an epoch. And it is within this epoch that we must move and consciously construct the new temporality. The tension of the blockage is broken and reveals the force blockage held back.”

The intellectual blockage in Pakistan can be broken by every aspect of self, society and state being questioned anew. Only after the blockage is broken can we open new avenues and come up with imaginative answers. Another element contributing to the intellectual stagnation in Pakistan is the lack of radical questioning in our society. What is missing in the post-9/11 intellectual discourse in Pakistan is criticism of secularism from within. Our secular class has adopted the global vogue of religion being used as a scapegoat for everything evil on earth. Secularists uncritically accept whatever is available in the supermarket of ideas. It is important to criticise the version of religion we follow, but by solely focusing on this single factor, we miss the bigger picture: that various socio-psychological, political and economic factors intersect to form a new reality and consciousness, of which religion is a part.

For change to occur in Pakistani society, a critique of both religious and secular reason is indispensible. It is wrong to assume that secularism and religion are mutually exclusive. Rather, in the ideological battle in Pakistan, secular and religious forces derive their reason of existence from the very presence of the other force, because, in existing in the same time and space, they reinforce each other. Secularists tend to essentialise modern religious forces by attributing an immutable essence to them. However, the reality is that Islamism is as much a product of modernity as modern seculars are. On the other hand, religious ideologues wrongly equate secularism with atheism.

Although it is important for secular discourse to address the issue of religion in modern times, it should not make religion its obsession. The existing economic and political structure of the world is here to stay as a powerful factor affecting our lives today. It is social and economic transformations that are determining modern contours of religion, and not vice versa. For instance, Islam did not create cyberspace, but cyberspace has definitely created what can be described as a cyber-ummah. Religion is not strong enough to withstand the onslaught of modernity in the long run. It will eventually adopt, or co-opt into, modern systems, albeit not in their pure forms.

Second, the aporia is caused by knowledge being made subservient to the interests of power. In our media-dominated world, the discourse generated by power is internalised by people because of the media. As a result we tend to see and define everything through the vocabulary concocted by those with the power to manufacture consent. Once we imbibe this vocabulary as normative indicators in our discourse, we tend to reject alternative voices and their narratives. To overcome the intellectual crisis in Pakistan, religious and secular scholars have to heed each other in order to move beyond the self-righteous frame of mind and binary thinking.

We come to an intellectual impasse when we try to preach to the converted, and refuse to listen to the ‘infidels’. We can understand the ‘other’ and our own existential situation when we derive language from our existential experience. War on the military front can be fought with borrowed weapons, but the war of ideas can only be won through rational exchange of ideas within Pakistani society.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@gmail.com

Source: The NEWS

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  1. This thought provoking article written by our dear friend Aziz should be taken as preamble to the efforts of reconciliation between secular and religious mind sets. It is indeed a task of tremendous magnitude that needs courage and prudence on the part of people from both sides of the camp. Human affairs are dealt well with a flexible mind set; the absence of which results in aporia or intellectual blockage. The self-righteous and unpalatable mind set of religiosity has failed to align itself with constantly shifting paradigm of modernity. So much so that a world view of fifty years ago seems very ancient to a contemporary man keep aside the centuries old interpretations of the world that religion insists to glorify. The religious mind set is thus signified by a nihilistic kind of nostalgia that finds solace in glorification of the past while directing its focus sharply opposite to the future. This inward pessimism has created a feedback loop of all sorts of social and personal problems.

    Whereas the secularism was supposed to be emerged genuinely as an antithesis to the state of religious obscurantism, has actually grown as a reactionary mind-set in Pakistan. Thus secularism has inherited all the problems of its predecessor plus the superficiality and shallowness to its discredit. Separation creates a vacuum which is filled by the forces other than the two entities responsible for the creation of separation. A similar phenomenon is operating in Pakistan. While the religion and secularism are entrenched deeply in their zones, the centre stage is controlled by all sorts of monstrous problems threatening the very existence of the state.

    If any, the solution to the problems lies in the synthesis of two states of mind. The religion should allow the concession that human affairs are better dealt with rational human endeavours and that there is harm in it. Secularism should come to the rescue to create a futuristic world view. If the country has to stay long into the future, then the minds of the people should feed on possibilities of present and future than hinging on something that no longer exists.

  2. A good reflection on prevaling situation of our country, Two very important words, secular and religious need further clarification in context of islamic history because both of them have a chirstian historical background and muslim have borrowed it from cridtian world. i have some questions on it. Number one; What is secular and what is religion in islam? Number 2, what is difference in school and mosq as there is a big difference in school and curch. So, if iam not wrong first of all we have to clarify the abiguety that there is a difference between school and mosque in teaching of masenger of All. This has been created in later time and that is why today we face an unknown problem in our society.

  3. A person who wants to pull out of a car park will first look into his mirror, a cyclist constantly looks over his shoulders to see if any oncoming vehicle is approaching his safe riding lane. Likewise, the Pakistanis have been asked to look into their own history, by the ‘infidels’ themselves, this time with a dispassionate, critical eye, not least by many hindus themselves, with whom you have much in common and regard you as their brothers and sisters. They are not asking you to convert. It may help you to see how a foreign construct like Islam was imposed in your part of the world, bringing along with it an alien language, culture, food and farmings methods that may be regarded as unsuitable these days. It has certainly not brought any peace or stability to that regionever since. You may even want to read about the corsairs who terrorised the coastal communities of southern Europe. For these Islamists, the grass was always greener on the other side, (the girls and women ever so prettier). Islam is a militaristic religion and has little to do with peace.

    Fast forward to this century. Pakistan has gone nuclear, with billions poured into the country for the funding of this dark technology by the arabs – the Saudis, Libya, and some Gulf states, and no one even questions why. Could it be that Pakistan is viewed as a frontier, an outpost with a mentally unbalanced population that were issued from the loins of captured and raped hindu females or was there some other reason? The mosques are already receiving huge amounts (with strings attached) to ensure that the influence that emanates from the western side of your borders continues.

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