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30 November 2009

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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Some thoughts on Dr Doom and Gloom (Dr Shahid Masood)

Reflections on the media —Munir Attaullah

For optimum results, we need to make rational assessments in the present, not ruefully lament much later having been misled by attractive slogans, hypothetical promises, and alluring equivocation

And be these juggling fiends no more believ’d,
That palter with us in a double sense;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.

Do you know of anyone who has ever laid claim to improving the work of Sir William? If the answer is ‘No’, I may as well — in my usual modest way — claim a first today. How come, and why?

Look again at that those beautiful lines from Macbeth I have quoted above. They are a rueful reflection by the tragic hero (when it is too late), upon the treacherous use by the three witches of that verbalgenre known as the double entendre, to mislead him. This particular verbal artifice carries a twin message: the unintended one, which is the obvious interpretation of the words, and an intended one, which is hidden. Incidentally, though the most frequent usage of the device is to convey a hidden meaning of a risqué nature, technically speaking that is not a limitation.

So where is my improvement that I am so proud of? Well, only those amongst you who know their Macbeth backwards will know what I have done: I have actually combined two lines (the first two, spoken by Macbeth) from the last Scene of the final Act, with two lines (spoken by Banquo) in the third Scene of the first Act, to construct a quotation that the rest of you will surely admire. Can it not stand on its own? Does it not appear to have the stamp of authenticity?

Now why would I be indulging in such esoteric pursuits, you might be wondering? I will tell you. As I listen to certain well-known anchors and panellists on our political talk shows, and think of the impact of their words on the bulk of our populace, I cannot help but remember these lines.

I accept that — unlike the witches — these people are all honourable and patriotic men. They do not (as far as an innocent like me can tell) say what they say with malevolent intent. Nevertheless, their emotionally comforting rhetoric, lapped up by a goodly number of our ba-sha’oor awaam because it resonates powerfully with their own desires, ends up having tragic national consequences. At least, that is what I think.

For, it makes it all that more difficult for a nascent and struggling democratic dispensation to guide the nation out of those dangerous cul-de-sacs it is consequently tempted to explore by such rhetoric. Must it be our destiny to always end up looking a masochistic lot in our elusive quest of irrational heroism?

Am I being unnecessarily critical and unfair? Let me give you some examples from my last week’s viewing for you to judge for yourself. And, it will come as no surprise for regular readers if I choose for the exercise my favourite anchor, henceforth to be known in these columns as Dr D&G (for ‘Doom & Gloom’ not ‘Dolce & Gabbana’). Incidentally, I call him my favourite not out of any great admiration but only because his is the one programme I try not to miss. Who wants to watch those you largely agree with? Better to find out what the other half of the world has to say.

Of late, Dr D&G’s usual moans and groans have concentrated on the President’s travels, the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meetings and the Kerry-Lugar Bill.

“Mein nahin janta what the nation has gained from these trips, but I do know they have cost the exchequer $2 million — yes, $2 million — while there is no sugar for the ghareeb awam and people are dying, queuing for flour”.

With that same feigned innocence (“mujhe nahin maaloom”), he asked a former foreign secretary what sort of a creature is this FoDP, and can we really expect anything from them? The answer of the former FS was interesting too: his experience told him such groups were apparently ceremonial talking shops from whom nothing could be expected.

I am lost for words. Does the good doctor really not know how the international community has bailed us out from our financial crisis? Does he really think the President has made all those trips largely for private pleasure and profit (as was being hinted)? Does he really not know what the FoDP forum is all about?

I cannot believe that of a working journalist. So why this feigned and artful innocence? It is always legitimate to be critical, by comparing actual achievement against promises made, using facts and figures. But that was not what was being done here.

And that brings me to the Kerry-Lugar Bill. That the bill contains clauses that are unusually intrusive into our affairs is not in doubt. Many would the use (and have done) the stronger phrase ‘insulting to our sovereignty’ to describe them and, in normal circumstances, I could not agree more. Nor is the money all that substantial, particularly if a good deal of it will be dissipated in all that monitoring. So, what should be our response?

In the first place, the bill is not yet law. Perhaps, with some concentrated diplomacy, we can get the more irritating bits removed. But what if that fails and the bill is signed into law more or less as it is? So what? If we don’t like the terms we don’t have to take their money, and can preserve our tattered izzat and ghairat. That is entirely our decision, and nobody is forcing us to accept or reject the terms.

What would I do? I would take the money and swallow the unpleasant terms. We need whatever we can get. Most of the conditions are not onerous or difficult to comply with, and are anyway in our own interest. And, in practice, with a bit of fudging, the required regular certification of the US administration may even be forthcoming even if we fail to strictly meet all conditions. Anyway, what is the worst that can happen? Only, that the future instalments are stopped, no more. So, what have to lose?

As I have said ad nauseam, three of the four most important challenges we face are to uproot religious militancy; get the economy growing at a healthy rate; and purposefully re-integrate with the international community. Our future, as always, is largely in our own hands. For optimum results, we need to make rational assessments in the present, not ruefully lament much later having been misled by attractive slogans, hypothetical promises, and alluring equivocation.

As our media matures, and gains experience over time, I am sure this will happen. Already there is a big difference between what the media is now and what it was a couple of years ago. Just one illustrative example: have you noticed how quickly and magically that word‘muzakirat’ has vanished from your TV screens?

Yes, that quotation I started the column with conveys a powerful message. The bad news is there will always be room — and in Pakistan, plenty of room — for the likes of Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. But the good news is we are slowly building in the media a critical counter mass of rational opinion that is increasingly being heard.

The writer is a businessman. A selection of his columns is now available in book form. Visit munirattaullah.com (Daily Times)

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