The Liberal Strawman
* Strawman: A fake argument, constructed solely for the purpose of defeating it.
What made “liberal” a dirty word in Pakistan? Lack of understanding of the term and deliberate attempts to manufacture a caricatures of liberals, is my answer.
Liberal is not defined by what liberal does. Liberal is defined by what liberal believes in. Having a glass of Chardonnay with every meal doesn’t make you a liberal. Believing in civil liberties, political freedom and equality in society is what makes you a liberal. If, while sipping the Chardonnay, you are arguing in favor of the government’s right to detain anyone without a formal charge and without probable cause, you are not a liberal. But if during the Juma prayer at your local mosque, you stand up and politely disagree with the Imam who said that choosing birth-control is not a woman’s prerogative, you are a liberal. Again, it is not what you do but it is what you think.
Oh, and another thing, everything Western is not liberal. Most Republicans in USA have identical stances to most Pakistani Muslims on most issues. George W. Bush is anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, against pre-marital sex and he also thinks Darwin was wrong (without actually knowing what Darwin exactly said).
Let’s now talk about the strawman side of the picture. Labelling someone is an art of winning an argument when you run out of arguments. One such oxymoronic label is “Liberal-Fascist” favored by some very prominent media personalities who utter this term with disdain while stressing the word “Fascist”. It is like calling someone righty-leftist or neary-farist or downy-uppist. Fascism is an extreme right-wing political ideology that advocates dictatorship which is against the very foundation of liberalism. This unfortunate term was coined by H. G. Wells in the early part of the last century trying to promote a new idea because Wells was disappointed by the failure of Fabian socialism. I wonder how many Capital-Talkers can tell us what Fabian socialism is without looking it up on the internet. Off course, users of this term are least interested with the philosophical background because they just like the term. Needless to say, H. G. Wells failed to get any traction with this term because it is a philosophical fallacy.
And then there is the label of “Liberal Extremism”. Why do we need this term? Because there are religious extremists so there has to be an opposite extreme to counter their weight so they can have an ideological breathing space. And what are some of the stated traits of these liberal extremists? They favor drone strikes. They want town after town razed to the ground where terrorists are suspected to be hiding. They want to ban the veil. They want schools to show porn to the kids. Wait, who wants all that? I have never heard any liberal arguing in favor of those things. In the American society that is modelled after John Stuart Mill’s liberalism, there are many military tacticians who can tell you how much better the drone program is compared to an out and out invasion when it comes to the collateral damage. But despite all the arguments in favor of the drone program, the entire liberal intelligentsia in USA opposes it on legal and ethical grounds. It is the liberals in United States that are against detaining people in Guantanamo Bay without adequate legal aid and all the lawyers that provided legal defense, free of any charge, to the detainees are liberals. And in Mill’s America, it is impossible to ban the veil. And all the liberals that I personally know in Pakistan have the same positions. So where this foaming at the mouth liberal whose slogan is kill-them-all? If you can find one, do let me know and I will gladly prove to that person that he/she is not a liberal.
There are always extremists but not all extremism is equal. A Christian extremist will gladly bomb an abortion clinic but a Buddhist extremist will watch his every step to make sure he doesn’t squash an ant under his feet. So however extreme a liberal maybe, rest assured that your life and limb are in no danger from that particular extremism. Yes, Mr. Ansar Abbasi, just like Taliban, the liberals want to change the constitution of Pakistan too but all parallels end there. You do not have an argument! Liberals want to change the law through a peaceful and democratic process and not by bombing innocent civilians. If I am a liberal extremist who doesn’t like death-penalty, I will try to get the law changed instead of breaking the jail and releasing all the prisoners on the death row.
OK, confession time. Let’s drop the “if” part from the start of the last sentence above. I am a liberal extremist and I am a member of a many liberal extremist organizations and one of them is called Amnesty International. One of the most extreme acts that I have committed in past is putting my name and address on a petition by Amnesty International condemning a law passed by a government. The government in question was the French government and the law being condemned was the ban on hijab. Do I want women to wear hijab? If you are expecting a yes or no answer to that question, you don’t know what liberal extremism is. This liberal extremist’s answer is: none of my or anybody else’s business to decide that.
Now let me grab my candle, go out and do some real damage.