Waris Husain: Liberty for Some at the Cost of Equality for All- Pakistan and America’s Existential Problem

Editorial to be published in Pakistan Post.

Liberty is defined as the right to be left alone, equality is the right to access the same rights as every member of the society regardless of religion, ethnicity, or race. The struggle for Civil Rights in America has been limited by the constitutional principle that preserving liberty is more important that enforcing equality. Proponents for of this principle argue that liberty was preserved in the Constitution because the document only listed what the government could not do to individuals, rather than what they should do for the people. However, one must ask questions as to “who” was being awarded the liberty at the creation of America? One will find the same socio-economic group that controls the nation now, was thought to have liberty exclusively then. When a nation is built on the foundation of discrimination and ill-treatment of a minority group, liberty cannot be achieved without the pursuance of equality. This lesson can be applied to Pakistan which is now suffering from the unplanned mixing of several ethnic and religious groups either due to the flood or a shared hate for the Pakistani state.

The Declaration of Independence in America is defined by one of its introductory phrases: “all men are created equal” which was both revolutionary and paradoxical for a society overthrowing rule by kings but still benefiting from the abhorrent practice of slavery. While equality was a central feature to the original American revolutionary documents, it lost its significance in the writing of America’s Constitution in favor of ultimate protection of liberty.

One should first explore the frame of mind for the writers of each document to fully understand their true motivations. The Declaration of Independence was a call of revolution to incite the American people to overthrow a monarch who they were required to pay homage and give taxes to as their Overlord. The equality principle was an anti-monarchial call to arms to say for the first time: the king is no more valuable than you or myself, and we have the right to rule ourselves.

However, when these revolutionaries won their war of independence, they wrote the Constitution not as a call for revolution but as the creation of a new order. They focused on liberty as a means to solidify control and dominance by their small group over the new nation. Equality was thrown to the side, and thus the right of liberty was given to those victorious over the British, property-owning Anglo-Saxon males, to the exclusion of blacks, women, and the poor.

Even though the Pakistani Constitution lists many provisions safeguarding equality, the liberty principle has been used to maintain a status-quo of power and property just like America. Throughout the Fundamental Rights section of Pakistan’s Constitution, the state is prohibited from enacting any discriminatory policies. However, there is no positive requirement for the state to ameliorate the unequal distribution of power and resources that Pakistan was built on.

When the British negotiated their exit from Pakistan, they awarded economic and political power to the Urdu-Speaking muhajirs led by Jinnah and the Punjabis who dominated the ranks of the British Army. These groups have benefited from ideals of “liberty for some” by avoiding the positive obligation to amelerioate the condition of religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan. One need only look to inequality of living standard amongst citizens of different provinces: compare the life of a feudal Sindhi serf to any Punjabis’, and one will see the inequity that permeates in the society to this day.

While Pakistan’s Constitution includes language about equality, it is termed in a negative fashion which allows for the private acts of discrimination to continue in education, housing, and employment. This has helped to further the economic and political domination by the ruling elite who are under no requirements to address the problems of Paktuns or Ahmedis.

The liberty principle is incredibly dangerous when implanted in a society which includes social inequities at its inception. And perhaps there is falsity to the examination of liberty and equality as irreconcilable concepts. In fact, in a society like America, which was built on slavery, or Pakistan, which has allowed the discrimination of Ahmedis and ethnic minorities alike, liberty can only be achieved by first achieving equality.

Without first realizing the status quo embedded in the founding conceptions of liberty, and the disparity of enjoyment of that right between the ruling majority and the suffering minority, some falsely assert the significance of liberty. In fact, in order to bring the Founder’s principles both for Pakistan and America’s constitution in line with modern social thought, there must be a redefinition of liberty by ways of equality.

 We now believe all humans are truly equal in a democratic society, but we must also remember that has not always been our society’s belief.  Therefore, the abject focus on liberty by some has been a means of suppressing progression in our society toward remedying historical wrongs.  But to be truthful to the preservation of liberty, one must ensure that all have the same base level of rights to embody this overarching right to be free. Without such an understanding, the wrongs of society whether it be street assassinations of Paktuns in Karachi or the lack of proper education for African-Americans, will continue corrode the society forever.



One comment on “Waris Husain: Liberty for Some at the Cost of Equality for All- Pakistan and America’s Existential Problem

  1. Keats says:

    Cross posting this from facebook.

    I largely agree with everything you write in this post, as I tend to do with most of your submissions over at sovmind. My only response would be an echo.

    Let me just say that I find the principles of liberte egalite fraternite resonate with me more strongly than those of the American revolution. That’s not an endorsem…ent of the entire French Revolution; it was a massively bloody affair after all, what with the Terror and the chaos and all that.

    If you are interested in equality as a guiding legal principle, look into Dworkin’s book “Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality”

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