Democracy, extremism and identity politics
One way of refining the concept of democracy could be to use a hybrid model of governance
The World War-II ended with a remarkable invention in the governance system of the world. The world was introduced to the idea of democratic governance on a wider scale. The cold war era predominantly witnessed a contest between the concept of democracy and other forms of governance.Democracy won the contest with a wide margin and the 20th century belonged to it. The US’emergence as single hegemonic power strengthened democracy by taking soft and hard measures across the world. Western countries championed the campaign of democracy on the basis of liberal values and presented it as an only viable solution for sustainable peace.
It was advocated that democracy is the best available method to avoid conflicts within and with other countries. It promotes cohesiveness and paves the way for more integrated society. However, history articulates that the story is not as rosy, rather comprised of flaws. The 20th century produced a good number of examples, which explain the other side of the story.
The 20th century witnessed terrible events of ethnic cleansing and genocide by democratic governments. Hitler was a democratically elected leader,but he ran havoc and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. Nonetheless, he propagated one of the most disastrous wars in the human history. Champions of modern democracy humiliated humanity and killed millions of people in their colonies. India, which claims to be the biggest democracy, is busy killing innocent Kashmiris for decades. Moreover, minorities within India are in search of peaceful existence.
Likewise, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Rwanda are other examples on this side. Rwanda went through one of the worst genocidesin the modern history.
Apart from the genocide and killing, democracy also perceives a wave of extremism across the world. Liberal democracy believes in freedom of speech and independence of views in the presence of government of majority. Although it is the expression of an idea introduced with good spirit, it has taken another route. It has become a mean of division instead of pluralism.We are currently witnessing the rise of division and emergence of extremist and divergent groups across the world, especially in developed countries.
The US president Donald Trump openly presented himself as nationalist and attracted the vote on the basis of divergent agenda. He advocated for golden old days with the supremacy of a specific class. He is discouraging pluralism and promoting extremist views. Germany is experiencing the rise of Nazi party with extremist views. In the last election, extremists secured considerable votes and now have become a part of national parliament. France also observed similar phenomena with a more severe degree. The phenomenon is quite frequent across Europe,and the European thinkers are under stress to counter it.
The problems of identity and extremist politics have emerged in the name of democracy. There is a need to refine the concept, practices and methodology of democracy or look for alternative governance systems
Another side of democracy is the rise of identity politics and fragmentation in society. Identity politics mainly belongs to minor groups where they promote their specialized agenda. Although an old phenomenon, it has been strengthened in recent times.The less privileged groups try to consolidate their supporters for effective bargain in the political system. Their main instrument is to highlight miseries and present identity politics as the only viable solution to overcome them.It is most prevalent in developing countries. But in recent times, it also got a footing in developed countries. Prominent examples from developed countries can be Spanish, Muslim, South Asian, and Hindu communities in the US. In South Asia, it is prominent in national politics as well. India is leading on this front. We can observe many parties which came into existence on the basis of identity politics.
Pakistan is no different on this front as there are many political parties which exploit the identity politics. These include MQM, Baloch nationalist parties, Pashtun nationalist parties, Sindhi nationalist parties and others in Punjab. MQM advocated Muhajar rights and won many elections in Karachi and Hyderabad over the years. Pashtuns have many major parties, which openly support their agenda in the name of rights of Pashtuns. In Punjab, Punjabi parties try to exploit Punjab card for their political gains. Sindh is no different on this front as it has a history of nationalist movements since the independence.
Even the major political parties also try to exploit the identity card for securing votes, like the PML-N in Punjab and PPP in Sindh. There is no harm in claiming the identity, but using it to cash votes is a terrible strategy. It sows the seeds of divergence and conflict, which become difficult to deal with the passage of time. Pakistan is witnessing the outcome of identity politics.The division is so sharp that blame game is at its peak. Some parties solely criticise Punjab. Punjabi parties pass the criticism to northern Punjab.Even mainstream parties like the PML-N, PPP, ANP, MQM etc. openly criticise each other on the basis of identity politics.
Social media further plays a role in advancing agenda of these identity-driven parties. The 2018general elections areal ready highlighting this dimension of identity politics through social media. The use of identity politics card is on the rise,and every party is trying hard to secure votes on this basis. However, social media has exposed this trend and strategy of political parties, especially the mainstream parties. Now it is not as easy for parties to cash these strategies as it was in the past.
The introduction of extremist groups (does not mean violent groups) in politics is another element of worry for the state of Pakistan. In recent history, many extremist groups in the name of identity, religion and sect have entered the politics. Extremist groups are threatening the existing system of governance and looking for revolution according to their philosophy. They even consider the use of force as a legitimate action to achieve their objectives. Sectarian politics is even more dangerous as it had introduced violence in the name of religious sects. Sectarian politics is also ugly in the context that it continues to re-emerge with different names in different time periods.In the past,Salafis, Deobandis and Shias were the prominent players in politics,and they played every tactic to attract votes. They even did not hesitate to use force for achieving their objectives. Now Sunni sect’s groups like Sunni Tehreek, TLYR etc. are pursuing their political agenda.
In the presence of all sectarian groups, MMA is an entirely different phenomenon, which tries to bring all sectarian groups under one umbrella to further their political agenda.
The 2018 elections are very crucial on this front as the phenomena of identity,and extremist politics are on the rise. A number of religious, sectarian and identity-driven political groups are pursuing their agenda in this election. Social media is helping in spreading their message at larger scale. Extremist views are being presented in such a way that it is influencing the innocent minds of people. It is an alarming trend which needs to be checked right here. Otherwise, it will be a significant threat to both the society and country.Pakistan needs to apply innovative tools, as conventional means cannot work effectively in today’s world. In the past, the government usually snubbed the voices on mass media,but this time the government is facing the threat of social media use. Moreover, religious parties are also using the mosques for their propaganda and attracting voters. Therefore, the government needs to come out with a comprehensive plan for countering it.
The present situation urges us to search for a suitable method and governance.The problems of identity and extremist politics have emerged in the name of democracy.Thus, there is a need to refine the concept, practices and methodology of democracy or look for alternative governance systems. Better would be to refine the idea and practices. Else it would be extremely difficult to sustain the present model.
One way of refining the concept could be to use a hybrid model of governance. Good elements of governance from different governance systems can be identified and merge into one yet healthier system
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.