Politicians have always employed distractions to confuse the public and avoid scrutiny on substantive issues, but the right wing of Pakistan and the United States are especially adept at this skill. The issue both countries face stems from the Spring of Arab Democracy, which has inspired dissents around the globe to challenge the interests of the old-guard elite upheld by conservative leaders. Rather than address the underlying concerns of citizens, these conservatives are able to grapple the national discourse and turn attention away from the issue at hand to focus on an insignificant story of their choosing. While nothing can stop the party machines in both countries from using irrelevant distractions, the people should become more aware of what information they are receiving and why.
The American Republican Party has always used mudslinging tactics against its dissenters, and the practice continues today as illustrated in Paul Krugman’s article about Professor William Cronon. Professor Cronon wrote an article criticizing the legislation to ban unions in Wisconsin led by the Republican Governor, Scott Walker. Professor Cronon argued that Mr. Walker is violating a long-running respect for unions as well as challenging the ideal that collective bargaining is a key component to an industrialized democracy. Cronon went on to claim that this legislation, and others directed by the Republican Party, are capitulations to corporate interests.
In response, the Republican Party did not address the points raised by Cronon with regards to corporate control over the right- wing agenda. Rather, the Republicans have requested that the university, Prof. Cronon teaches at, allow them to search his school e-mail. This is a thinly veiled attempt to look through this scholar’s personal exchanges to find some sort of ‘dirt’ that can be passed onto media outlets like Fox News, and blown out of proportion. The objective is not only to scare any scholars who wish to challenge the Republican Party’s corporate agenda, but also is to permanently discredit this specific scholar publicly.
That is not to say that the American liberal intelligentsia is somehow silenced by the right-wing, but it seems that when the interests of the Republican Party are seriously challenged by some development, they will create distractions such as these. The reason the Republican Party should fear the words of Professor Cronon is due to the general atmosphere in Wisconsin and around the country vehemently rejecting Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation. There had been weeks of protests, marches, and sit-ins across Wisconsin’s state capital leading up to the legislation with thousands participating.
Much of these demonstrations were directly inspired by the events taking place in Arab nations, and it seemed that people from both sides of the planet were rejecting the interest of old-guard elites, whether political or financial. With the Republican Party constantly in bed with these elites, any challenge to this illicit relationship will be perceived as a threat. Thus, we see the Republican Party erratically attempting to create alternative narratives that silence the growing global dissent movement, and hide their illusive and illegal practices behind closed doors.
Pakistan’s right wing has similarly been confronted with a direct challenge through the Arab revolutions. Parties like Jamaat-I-Islami have rejected liberal secularism as a foreign concept to Muslim Nations, and have stated that if any revolution would come to Pakistan it would have to take the shape of an Islamic revolution. These presumptions have been disproved by the Nike-and- jeans wearing revolutionaries in nations facing democratic uprisings, be it Syria or Yemen.
The exclusively secular and tolerant face taken by the young generation of revolutionary leaders flies in the face of what parties like JI have said was impossible in Muslim nations. While no one can predict whether the regimes formed out of these revolutions will follow suit, it is clear that strong-man dictators across the region were removed not with Islamic chants, but with chants proclaiming the power of the people and democracy. Thus, young people in the Middle East offer hope to the young Pakistanis who see their society turning increasingly intolerant under the leadership of groups like JI. Nothing could challenge the rhetoric of parties like JI more than youth from across the Muslim world standing up together to call for democracy and freedom, not Shariyah and Gairat.
The way in which Jamaat-I- Islami has reacted to this challenging development is to raise the insignificant issue of the American pastor, Terry Jones, who burned the Koran last week. Prior to this public outcry was the Raymond Davis case, and both stories enjoyed a considerable amount of attention and focus by right wingers and their media affiliates. Indeed, such a myopic focus on attempting to find any American to blame for the nations problems does not address the very real changes occurring in the mindset of people in neighboring Middle East. Such developments indicate a threat to the Wahabi politicized Islam sold by Pakistani conservative party leaders to distract the people from their lack of freedoms and access to resources.
Such a game of distractions can wind up burning the player, as Maulana Fazul Rahman has learned this week with two attempts on his life by extremists. Mr. Rahman has habitually stirred up anti-American sentiment amongst the people and extremists. Yet when WikiLeaks revealed that Rahman attempted to make deals with the American government, his life was at risk by the same people he helped indoctrinate, for the same anti-American motivations he engrained in their brains. Thus, there are very real consequences from attempting to divert the public’s eye from issues and spreading ignorance amongst the people.
Nations will all deal with the Arab Spring of Democracies in different ways, all attempting to pacify their public and de-motivate them from engaging in protests, however, the conservatives have long-perfected a strategy of distraction. Protestors from Wisconsin to Tahrir Square have shared the hope of eradicating the dominance of old elite interests, which is why the Republican Party is attempting to smear the name of its detractors now more than ever. Pakistan’s right wing is similarly fixated on a Florida pastor, rather than addressing the fact that their brand of revolutionary Islam has been attacked and some would say defeated by the secular uprisings of the Middle East.