COMMENT: Politics of emotions —Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi - Monday, February 28, 2011

Source :\02\28\story_28-2-2011_pg3_4

Instead of allegiance to an ideology, most politicians pledge allegiance to the party patrons. This creates an environment in which key political decisions become tests of loyalty rather than a cold analysis of the facts to formulate available options

Politics is the art of inspiring people through manipulation of emotions to act on a vision. In established democracies, election campaigns are run on emotions while the government is run on rationale derived from tradition, laws and the constitution. That is probably the reason that elected leaders, who won in landslide victories, lose popular support within the first few years of their term because governance requires making hard choices. The emotional quotient forms a substantial part of Pakistani’s decision making process in all walks of life. Pakistani politicians understand this dynamic very well. They run election campaigns on feudal loyalties and alliances while governing through manipulation of public sentiments instead of focusing on tangible results.

In recent years the situation seems to be getting out of hand. The murderer of the Governor of Punjab, by appealing to religious emotions, is showered with rose petals and Valentine’s Day gifts — in the process mocking the rule of law on which a society maintains its moral authority. Even economic decisions are subjected to emotional arguments rather than factual analysis. Local politicians’ use of emotional tactics are being used when a foreigner killed two Pakistanis on the busy streets of Lahore. Instead of allowing the law to take its course to decide the fate of the accused, it has become an emotional drama on which all sides are seeking political benefit for their future election campaigns. The issue will be resolved one way or the other but any damage done to the national interest will take some time to recover. Pakistan is in a volatile region where it needs skilful diplomacy to ensure it has more friends around the world, especially among its neighbours and strategic allies.

The real question that we have to explore here is the basis for prevalence of high emotions in our society. It might be because of the interplay of three factors: the hierarchical structure of our society, low level of literacy and our outdated educational system. From our childhood we are taught to comply with the decisions of our elders without ever raising a question or seeking a logical explanation. A father or an elder brother, as a patriarch of the family, might well be insane in his decision making but the younger lot has to obey him, no questions asked. In villages many a family has been damaged by the wrong decisions of elders. Major decisions of our lives like choosing a discipline for higher education, marriage and jobs have to be approved by elders. This undermines a young person’s ability to have confidence in their independent decisions, which is an important step in gaining experience and maturity. In some cases, the consequences of a bad decision made by others are borne by the person who was not even consulted. We express the same command and follow behaviour in our professional lives where obedience to a superior’s orders is an important consideration for raises and promotions. This hierarchical structure has greatly undermined our ability to agree to disagree, which is an important ingredient for a democratic society where constant debate is held on national issues. Debating or reasoning are not equivalent to disrespect and should be encouraged.

Our school syllabus, for the primary and secondary levels, is filled with distortions of our history to provide us a false sense of pride. The language used is laden with words that are extreme in their expression rather than using diction that convey a neutral view. In our schools and colleges the emphasis is on memorising the content rather than have a discourse in the classrooms where concepts are fully explained and understood. Our examination system encourages reproduction of memorised content rather than encourage expressions of creativity, innovation and imagination. That might be the reason for our ability to copy or improvise ideas rather than create new ones.

Politicians and political parties are derived from within our society so they exhibit the same behaviour. An influential patron or feudal lord gains control of the party and the whole organisation has to subject itself to express loyalty and obedience to the wishes of that person. Instead of allegiance to an ideology, most politicians pledge allegiance to the party patrons. This creates an environment in which key political decisions become tests of loyalty rather than a cold analysis of the facts to formulate available options. Political speeches are loaded with emotionally charged words without shedding light on the solutions to the issues or inspiring people on a vision for future. A look at the sampling of speeches from all parties seems similar in content, language and ideology. Press briefings in response to terrorist attacks, accidents or natural calamities are an exhibition of the competent authority’s play on the emotions of the people by stating that severe punishment will be given to the culprits without providing a road map to apprehend those responsible.

A dynamic and progressive nation honours those that contribute to the advancement and well being of the community. ‘Shaheed’ and ‘Ghazi’ are the highest and most esteemed titles in a Muslim society. But even in bestowing these titles we are emotional and careless. A murderer who did not perform his duty of protection is entitled Ghazi, severely undermining the value of this sacred title. Similarly, the sudden death of a person killed in an accident or terrorist crime is termed as shaheed, putting him in the same league with a soldier who knowingly faced death to protect his nation. We exhibit the same behaviour in showering flattering titles on our political leaders whose abilities are at best average when assessed in the light of their past decisions. This erodes the inspirational value of rewards and becomes a disincentive for the younger generation to contribute to the nation with pride.

Emotions are an integral part of a person’s character and cannot be ignored. But in a civilised society it is important to keep emotions under check or they start tearing the social fabric apart. A segment of a local community in the US appealed to the emotions of the people through hate speech to stop construction of mosques in many American cities. But the majority of the people supported and city administrators granted the licenses for mosque construction as US law provides protection for the freedom of choice in religion. They did not allow emotions or let fear take control of their rational decision making according to the law. An open debate in the media is a positive step in allowing all voices to be heard to cool down emotions but we also need to re-evaluate our social and educational structure to develop a nation that appreciates emotions and allows prudence to prevail in making critical decisions.

The writer is Chairman Council of Past Presidents of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA. He can be reached at

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