This is in response to Tazeen’s latest blogpost: The disease of docility and deference. I began typing a comment but it just kept growing until I thought I should make it a blog post – self centered as I am, I would like to share my views with a wider audience (and would love to see the responses).
She talks about how the labor class in Pakistan suffers from an “inbred servility”, citing personal experience that recalled a protagonist in a book who had the desire to be a servant “hammered into his skull, nail by nail.” Her servant, upon hearing of Shazia Masih’s murder case, objected not to the physical abuse meted out to the servant, but to the carelessness of Shazia’s uncle who should have chosen a better employer. Tazeen refers to this as a disease of docility and deference.
My two cents are that it is a disease of docility, perhaps, but not of deference necessarily. What is inbred is not a desire to serve, at least not in my experience – I have interacted fairly widely with many from the labor class. Most of them have accepted their fate in life and carry on without complaining. Faisal Qureshi often makes the point that many Pakistanis are so inherently docile and accepting, that they rarely act to improve their lives. And for me this thinking is fatalistic and directly connected to the widespread misinterpretation of religion in the country. The poor thank Allah (swt) for whatever they have, consider themselves fortunate, and go to sleep praying for the best. They’ve been told that their destiny has been decided in advance already, so they can’t change much anyway. They have no powers, and the all-powerful Allah (swt) must have decided to make them suffer, so they suffer, mostly in silence.
In a way, it is wonderful to see the goodness of our people.
But everyone has limits, and once people are pushed far enough, they lose control. They riot on the streets when there’s no electricity, they burn tires when they hear of injustice meted out to ‘Muslim’ brethren in Palestine (many Christians are also suffering in Palestine), they swipe the gold bangles when they are left unattended. Cracking under the strain of constant struggle and oppression is understandable. Those who have been deprived of basic human rights all their lives will do everything to grab their share (often with deadly consequences) when they can.
That’s my most important point – when they CAN.
As Shehzad Roy noted in his excellent Laga Re video, only those deprived of opportunities (to be truly bad) are truly good. In Pakistan, many in the upper and middle-upper class systematically exploit those underneath and take advantage of their powerlessness. The same people who get slapped around by their employers can one day, if empowered, take vicious revenge. If not on the employer, then on someone else who represents ‘sahib’. This anger also fuels extremism and violence, I think, because the injustice provides a powerful catalyst to action that is redirected by power brokers (usually so-called religious leaders promoting extremism) who play the blame game, often suggesting that the root of evil is in other social classes, civilizations, cultures, and religions.
So two things that can be changed:
1) More people need to have the belief that with sustained and focused efforts, things can and will improve. They have to stop thinking that they are powerless, that they cannot change the status quo. Their self-belief will drive them to a better life, if only they HAD that self-belief to begin with. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is indeed good advice, but not in the context of those who were given too little. Qismet Apne Haath Mein, indeed.
2) It is the elite class in Pakistan that needs to be thankful for what they have. It is the rich (like me and most probably the reader too) who should regularly thank Allah (swt) and try to splurge a little less. It is not the poverty-stricken who need to be afraid of being too greedy, but the already-stuffed filthy rich.
I am not knocking on Islam and the principle of being grateful for what Allah (swt) has blessed us with. Not at all. Islam does not promote the acceptance of injustice, it does not encourage fatalism at all. In fact, this article states:
“taqdir as used in the Qur’an stands for the latent possibilities Allah has invested in the nature of things; and it does not imply denying human beings the freedom of will or action.”
Read More: Marmaduke Pickthall’s 1927 lecture entitled The Charge of Fatalism.