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Winning Through Unthinking

by Ejaz Haider

File Photo. Jack Guez—AFP

How is it that while thinking works for our enemies, it is supposed to sink us?

Presumably, we are under attack. Not just that. But we are being attacked in innovative, non-kinetic ways. For instance, if X were to say that we are doing this, that and the other which violates the very laws of the land and, therefore, we shouldn’t be doing all this, there’s a high probability that (s)he is a trojan introduced into our body politic. Let me explain how this works and bear with me.

Dissent is fairly normal in democratic dispensations, regardless of the form of democracy. Laws also require that a person should be given due process. In fact, as in the case of Pakistan’s stated Constitution, every citizen of this country is also entitled, as a matter of right, to a fair trial. There’s also an accepted concept of habeas corpus, which is supposed to prevent people from getting disappeared or held in unlawful detention. Similarly, there are other fundamental rights with reference to freedom of expression, association, assembly et cetera which can be exercised subject to reasonable legal restrictions.

But such is the nature of the current war being waged, or so we are told, that the enemy—or enemies—are using the very tools of democracy and democratic expression to subvert and demoralize us. It’s a matter of placing the trojans strategically. Take, for instance, teachers at the higher levels. All they need do is to tell students that the state is not an organic concept, that it is an ‘imagined community.’ In other words, the entity for which we are asked to lay down our lives might just be imaginary and perhaps didn’t even exist in its present form until some 300 years ago.

Now, I don’t have to explain that such an approach problematizes the very deity that we are supposed to pray at the altar of, stand up for, defend and, if need be, kill and get killed for. The enemy, in other words, is right in our classrooms.

Also, it should be clear that the enemy is not sending in tanks and fighter jets to attack us. It is conquering our minds by asking us to question. And questioning, as you might have noticed, is an itchy condition, like a skin rash. Once it sets in, you need to scratch it constantly.

Tanks and other military toys one can deal with. That’s what armies are trained to do. There’s clarity on who one is fighting and to what end. But how does one tackle the trojans that seek to subvert young minds?

Then there’s another problem: expression. The freedom to express oneself is deeply problematic if it begins to move in unapproved directions. Or, worse, begins to question the narrative that is supposed to govern our lives and instill societal and, therefore, statist harmony. Harmony, as you might note, is important, as Mustapha Mond tries to tell John the Savage who tells the Controller that “…I like the inconveniences.” That conflicts with the system because as the Controller says, “We prefer to do things comfortably.” Mond is convinced that the Savage is “claiming the right to be unhappy.”

That, as you can see, creates disharmony. The system wants you to be happy under all circumstances, to accept the state, to sacralize it and its narrative. The enemy wants chaos. Chaos begins with questions, more questions until questioning begins to snowball.

The trojan is in the classroom. (S)he teaches us to think and question.

(S)he could be using social media.

(S)he could be on television.

(S)he could be writing in newspapers.

(S)he could be exploiting freedoms given as fundamental rights under the Constitution.

Classic hybrid (or is it 5th-Gen?) war.

No tanks, no weapons. Just thought processes. Subverting the minds.

In which case, it makes eminent sense to take the war to where it is being waged: to those who question. It also makes eminent sense to abrogate those rights in and through which it is being waged.

Invoke national security.

Ensure that there’s no one left around to unpack and problematize the state and the concept of national security. In effect, to have what James Scott described as the legibility of a society, which allows for large-scale social engineering.

Here, of course, we run into a major problem. Those who are waging this war against us (to be precise, we don’t exactly know who they are) are presumably very smart and ideationally and technologically very advanced. In which case, it would be fair to assume that they have high-quality human resource. And that kind of human resource is generally a product of a system—or systems—that puts high premium on thought and innovation. If that is accepted, it should be clear that our enemies must also have some way of imparting thinking and innovation to their people. In other words, they must have some system of educating their people and getting them to think. And that system is likely to be working rather well for them to continue to produce thinking and innovating humans.

But we just determined above that thinking and questioning is what interferes with our model. That the teacher in the classroom, the writer, the thinker are trojans that must be destroyed. So, how does this work?

I mean, how is it that while our enemies can use thinking and innovation to wage wars against us and threaten our national security, our security is threatened by the very people who we could have possibly used to counter our enemies? Also, how is it that while our enemies use thinking to defeat us, we want to win the contest by creating unthinking clones? How is it that while thinking works for our enemies, it is supposed to sink us?

Which, if you ask, brings me to another question: what kind of dolts are we that while the entire world and Charlie’s aunt is waging wars against us and threatening our national security—whatever bird that might be and howsoever someone might draw it for me—that we sit there waiting to be conquered and our best defense is to stymie the very processes we urgently and desperately need to finally enter the 21st century?

Some seven years ago, this is what I wrote in Express Tribune: “States, ultimately, are as strong or brittle as their acceptance by the people that make them up. Nazih Ayubi… distinguished between ‘hard’ and ‘strong’ states. Ayubi argued that the authoritarian Arab states had little ability to control populations, trends and changes, which is why they could not enforce laws and break traditional structures. The hard state coerces; the strong state achieves its goals because it is accepted by its people. By this definition, the Arab states were/are weak states.

“Not entirely, but increasingly, Pakistan may be taking the route of a hard state. That would be terrible. And that is where, and when, things begin to spin out of control and external strategies come to work, giving the impression of a grand plan.”

So, whichever genius or collection of geniuses thinks the way to counter security threats is to interfere with thought, monitor who all are being invited by universities to seminars, send low-level operatives to every talk in town to report back on who said what, surveil academics or make menacing calls to them, tell TV channels and publications what can or cannot be talked or written about is only helping the shadowy enemies waging wars against us.

I say, sod ‘em to Hades.

Haider is the executive editor at Indus News. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

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