Such are the binaries in this country that we can either be shamelessly ghairatmand or proudly bay-ghairat. A satirical exposition of the notion of honour in this society, as expounded by some sections, one can live with. Irreverence and the ability to mock themselves are great assets in a people, puncture as they do the Apollonian seriousness of ideologies, chicaneries and demagogueries. But should satire and polemics be trotted out as analysis?
I am afraid not.
In this space a while ago did Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy celebrate bay-ghairati. The way the article went viral needs another study since it reflects on what all has gone wrong with us. I don’t intend to discuss that here. But since Hoodbhoy intended the article to be analytical, some reflections are in order.
Maria Waqar (in her piece, “I am still proudly ghairatmand”, May 14, The Express Tribune) did a good job, pointing to some of the problems in Hoodbhoy’s thesis, including the fact that both Germany and Japan, when they were swayed by nationalist ideologies, were highly industrialised nations, not herding communities. Waqar also made the subtle point about how “liberal” values can and have brought much destruction. Perhaps unknowingly she pointed to the same paradox Albert Camus did when he tried to figure out how and why we have to wade through bloodshed even when we want to achieve the state of innocence, the story of 20th century that has continued to wit.
It was perhaps for this reason that the British Bomber Command in WWII decided, invoking what Just War theorists call “emergency ethics”, to bomb German cities and kill civilians to break the German will to fight. Much the same happened in the Pacific. While the world continues to be horrified by the dropping of two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the story of Tokyo’s conventional gravity bombing that killed more civilians than Hiroshima and Nagasaki (almost) combined seems to attract less attention.
Sure, Germany and Japan brought this destruction on themselves. But the “liberal” societies that fought them did not do so on the basis of bay-ghairti. They were prepared to fight for their values, get killed and kill by the millions. If that is not tribal (“tribal man’s animals and women”, metaphorically speaking) I don’t know what is.
One of the best military historians, John Keegan, got it absolutely right: all armies are tribal and the best among them are most tribal, his best being the British Army in whose cradle institution, Sandhurst, Keegan taught for 26 years. In all-volunteer modern armies, we set aside the warrior, the tribesman, to protect our modern bay-ghairti. In states like Turkey and Israel, to name two, in times of war and mobilisation, all able-bodied men are required to be tribal.
But let’s get to the conceptual since Hoodbhoy’s article had that flourish.
Pray, what is ghairat? For Hegel, it presented mortal combat (Phenomenology of Spirit). There’s good discussion of it in Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Joseph Waterman at Boston University says this: “[Hegel argues that] the aim of Life is to free itself from confinement ‘in-itself’ and to become ‘for-itself’. Not only does Hegel place this unfolding of Life at the very beginning of the dialectical development of self-consciousness, but he characterises self-consciousness itself as a form of Life and points to the advancement of self-consciousness in the Master/Slave dialectic as the development of Life becoming ‘for-itself’.”
In other words, Man fights and fights unto death for self-recognition. Camus presents the same idea in The Rebel, the slave, at some point deciding, that the rebellion is for “All or nothing”. This is a recurring theme in many works of philosophy and history. Thucydides reports this to us from across millennia in the contest that unfolded between Athens and its empire and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta.
But back to the concrete. Hoodbhoy tells us that bay-ghairat Germany and Japan have thrived since they shed their ghairat, focusing their energies on socioeconomic development rather than war-preparedness (note how he selectively makes the two mutually exclusive!). He chooses to ignore that these two bay-ghairat states have managed to do so by allowing the ghairat of the United States to protect them through security arrangements, alliances and “extended deterrence”. Meanwhile, the US (is it ghairatmand or bay-ghairat with its slogan of ‘For God and Country’?) tops the list of spenders on defence, spending more than the next 14 states combined on SIPRI’s list of top defence spenders.
The rightwing paper Napoleons one doesn’t have to respond to but Hoodbhoy is a public intellectual of high merit and must realise the problem of creating binaries and passing as analysis what is essentially polemical writing. It is important that he contextualise his argument. Between the two extremes of ghairat (satirical rendering of a binding concept in a specific context) and bay-ghairti (extreme response to misconceived ghairat) there is the real space where priorities have to be determined and policy work done. This is where we have blundered and continue to but the recipe for correction is not a polemical juxtaposition of either/or binaries but understanding how the state, which will act as states do in a realist framework, has reduced the space for exercising its sovereignty, both internally and externally.
The history of ideas is the history of the Paradox: Enlightenment ending up in much destruction; scientific discoveries unleashing their tyranny; rationality committing murder. Hoodbhoy refers to Marcuse’s work in passing and presents it as a manifesto for pristine societies. This misrepresents Marcuse’s work which is highly sophisticated in its critique both of capitalism and the erstwhile Soviet Union — integrating individuals into modern systems through consumption and mass media. Modernity and modern states have similarly been criticised by other philosophers like Adorno, Horkheimer and Foucault. There are of course great poems like Eliot’s The Wasteland and The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and Auden’s The Unknown Citizen. One can go on.
The criticism of modernity, the modern state, mass consumption, and the state’s carceral control are well-known themes. It makes no sense to lose sight of them while criticising supposedly primeval ‘instincts’. In fact, when fighting wars or defending its values, the modern state combines the primeval spirit with technological advances! The Paradox reigns supreme.
This article was originally published at: The Express Tribune
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.