Intellectuals vs Despots

By: Ali H. Bukhari      Published: 06:54 PM, 2 Sep, 2021
Intellectuals vs Despots

A few days back, I stumbled upon an interview on social media. Ahmed Faraz was the interviewee. Like any other progressive thinker, writer, or poet of his era, he too, was grievously expressing the tyrannies and the restrictions that were imposed by the despotic dictator of his time. He told in the interview that a few days before the coup, “Chief Sahab” called him to his office and said, that we do not really care what commoners have their view about us; however, the criticism by intellectuals makes us feel outraged, and ultimately provoked, to take some serious actions against them.  

Intellectualism versus totalitarianism is not afresh rivalry. It has a history full of conflict, far beyond the limits of sanity. Albeit, it will not be wrong if I say that when a society is caged with the keys of freedom in the hands of an autocratic ruler, ideas do not endure, but are labelled fake. Although the one sitting on the throne has no legal ground to be an authority, through his touts seeks to push the society into oblivion by seizing the right of "questioning", in order to establish dominance without opposition. As a result, societies lose the capacity to produce extraordinary minds. The ruler does not let his generations adopt anything different and modern but dictates them the same lessons from the same chapters of the same books, published under the same observatory authority, every time. That’s the reason why knowledge and literature never prevail in the aforementioned circumstances. The intellectuals are never permitted, in any way, to breathe the fresh air freely. And if, as the poets say, somebody tries to raise his head to think out of the box, either his head is pulled down or chopped, by force.

Let’s adhere to what history has to say. People around the globe have seen a good sum of eras full of suppression, tyranny, and authoritarianism. Hitler came to power and encouraged “anti-intellectual” propaganda. He provoked the youngsters to burn the books, and ultimately ouster a huge part of German literature from the records. Mussolini was found doing the same somehow, in Italy. Joseph Stalin was intelligent enough to not just abandon the books but publish new additions of them as well, with knowledge, facts, and history of his own choice. Liberal historians can be found saying that a fabricated history has no space and justification. However, totalitarian rulers, considering the fact that without making changes in history they cannot justify their rule, come up with an argument stating that history can never be preserved in its real form. Therefore, it’s better to make a few changes in it, to bring “coherence” in people’s mindset; or in other words, allow history to be a source of help for the ruler. A source that can be manipulated in order to create the impression that every step he takes is in the right direction. Thus, the black cloud of dictatorial rule rains sanctions, censorships, and whatnot. Every thought that is anew is classified as morbid in front of the audience to prove that what displeases the ruler is bound to be a source of displeasure for the whole public as well.

Another point to ponder upon is that whenever somebody distinguishes himself by criticizing a dictatorial regime or speaks for the freedom of speech for the intellectuals, he’s rebutted with ignorant questions. The inquiries state “Is it not possible for a writer to pen down his thoughts in such a manner that he conveys what he wants to, without letting the ruler feel it? Would it not be possible for art and literature to thrive where indifferent thoughts and ideas are rare, but uniform thoughts are prevalent? Well actually, the problem with those asking such questions is that they consider a literary work and a literary person just an entertainment and entertainer, respectively; or worst come worst, pointed as “treacherous” or “traitor”, respectively.

A society that does not groom itself enough to think out of a box, is meant to remain in a cage, stranded in fake ideologies. In a place where everyone’s thoughts are borne from the fear of non-conformity, new thoughts are not allowed to flourish; rather the words imprinted on the page are those of the ones in power. In the world of literature, in those gardens where thoughts are not given the freedom to breathe, autumn is bound to arrive. Where intellect is for sale, knowledge, and literature are destroyed, dwarfs are born. Thus, there is no difference left between humans and animals. For both live and die in their respective circuses at the behest of the authority’s stick.

This reminds me of a few verses from one of Mustafa Zaidi’s poems:

لِکھو کہ تابع ِ شاہی نہیں مزاج ِ عوام

شکست کھا کے رہے گی چراغ سے ہر شام

ہر ایک عہد میں ہوں گے ہزار گُل اندام

ہر ایک عہد میں آئے گا عِشق پر الزام

جہاں بھی مطلع حق پر سحاب اُٹھے گا

کسی قلم سے کوئی آفتاب اُٹھے گا

Indeed, Mustafa Zaidi was an amazing poet.

Categories : Opinion