If the right got its way – Dr Ayesha Razzaque

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The other day I was watching Amazon’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’, set in the 60s of an alternative past, in which Germany develops the A-bomb first, and ends World War II by dropping it on Washington DC helping the Axis powers to victory.

In the show’s universe, like most of the globe, the US is divided up between the two major axis powers. The US states west of the Rockies are occupied by Japan. The eastern and central states become part of the German Reich. The culture and iconography of both halves are amalgams of the respective occupying powers and Americana. For instance, the 50 stars on the American flag are replaced by a white swastika, government buildings are all drab concrete grey adorned with the Nazi Reichsadler on top. The series creators did an amazing job at world building.

German-occupied US is portrayed as a patriarchal society that frowns upon working women, in which women are expected to be wives and mothers foremost.

It is a society obsessed with purity of all kinds; Racial purity demanded certain physical traits (light eyes, light skin, tall stature, etc – several of which Hitler himself did not possess), and anyone born with or found out to have a physical deformity or congenital disease is euthanized.

Ideological purity demands that certain religions, books, music, art forms be banned. Questions have only one right answer and dissenters are not tolerated. This obsession is reflected in the unnatural cleanliness of the depicted New York. People in other parts of the world, not under Nazi control, are pitied as unenlightened lots that need saving.

Why am I telling you all this? The frightening part is that, where almost all dystopian fiction settings go overboard at some point, this one stops at depicting a world in which the historical Hitler’s policies are enacted in peacetime.

There was something oddly unsettling, yet familiar, about the German occupied American society that I could not put my finger on at first, but then it came to me: a lot of the values and ideas I was seeing in that imagined Nazi fascist utopia would meet with approval from a frighteningly large segment of our society. We saw a lot of them on International Women’s Day, when they crawled out from under their rocks to confront, provoke, malign and falsely accuse Aurat March participants – because they are incapable of stomaching women publicly demanding their rights as human beings and equal citizens on one day of the year.

Like the fictional American Nazis, these people frown upon working women and only approve of a cookie-cutter template for their lives. Some of these counter-protesters declared themselves ‘triggered’ by placards with messages encouraging women to get married only when they feel ready or, if they so choose, not at all.

Other counter-protesters declared Aurat March participants deviants and ideological threats to the nation. Their ideas are deemed impure and pollutants of their self-proclaimed social values. YouTube and other social media is full of videos and posts in which they label Aurat March participants as agents, enemies of the state and tell them to go into exile. This my-way-or-the-highway attitude perverts the principle of “your liberty ends where my nose begins”, to something like “my liberty ends at your nose, and your liberty also ends at your nose.”

If these people had their way, Pakistan would be the definition of a fascist police state. A state in which you better adhere to the majority religion or hide out of sight and live as second-class citizens, where women are valued only for bearing and raising children, a state that demands uniformity of thought and ideals with no space for diversity and dissenters. While we have come to expect such repugnant and regressive views from some public figures, what is truly scary are the demographics of the counter-protesters we see – young men in their teens, twenties and thirties.

In most societies, it is the younger segment that is more liberal and open to new ideas, and as you move up the age bracket, populations tend to grow more conservative. I have no survey data or other evidence to support this, but ample anecdotal evidence in the form of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube content in the wake of the Aurat March and personal experience suggests that our younger generations are growing more conservative and less tolerant of differences. That makes us the Benjamin Button of nations, where people’s attitudes develop in reverse.

They cling to their dysfunctional moral compass and will lie, twist and even fabricate evidence, the textbook definition of making a strawman / hollow-man argument, to score points. This is the fourth year in a row of the rejuvenated Aurat March in Pakistan. By now, the meaning of the slogan ‘Mera jism, meri marzi’ has been amply explained and clarified for anyone who wishes to understand. Nevertheless, detractors continue to ascribe it their own made-up meanings.

Their dogmatic and obscure notions of ‘cultural norms’ trump common sense and the well-being of other members of society. Way too many young people, both men and women, are headed down this road. A large segment of our young people graduate into their early twenties, the start of their adult lives, pre-radicalized. It is worth asking: what influences are efficiently contributing to this outcome? Societal norms, home environment, school education, religious instruction, public discourse, and (more recently) social media are all candidate factors worth investigating.

Some who are fortunate get deprogrammed, deradicalized later in life. For those that are fortunate enough to travel, it can be the experience of living life as a religious minority as an expatriate or traveling and meeting and working with people from other cultures. For others, it can be the influence of raising families, and seeing things from their partner’s and children’s perspective. For everyone’s sake, let us pray that Pakistan’s right remains politically marginalized and irrelevant and never gets its way.