When liberals opposed progressives

Saturday, December 17th, 2011 7:30:05 by

Today, liberals are in the crosshairs of the Urdu columnist. They are called ‘liberal fascists’ because they stand up for the underdog if that means nitpicking the unchallengeable ideology of Pakistan. A liberal will ask: why didn’t the Chief Minister of Punjab go to the scene of massacre of the Ahmadis in Lahore? He will start squealing about Christians being hounded by the blasphemy law and Hindus being ritually murdered in Sindh.

The allegation of infidelity to the ideological state comes from the rightwing majority expressing itself in the vector of nationalism: Urdu. It means that where stringency of ideology is required to produce ideal results, the liberal demands slackness. Somehow, it is ideology that he can’t stand. Pathologically, he finds flaws in the perfect social prescription.

After 1947, the liberal was not the man who spoke for the underdog. In fact, he was the eccentric who opposed the ideology devoted to the defence of the underdog. In Urdu literature, it was the progressive who was in power and the liberal was his bête noire. You should read Saadia Toor’s extremely interesting book The state of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan (Pluto Press, 2011) to understand the progress or transformation of the liberal person in Urdu literature.

An All Pakistan Progressive Writers Association (APPWA) was the result of the division of the All India Progressive Writers Association (AIPWA), which in turn was given birth by a collection of short stories, titled Angaray ‘Embers’, published in 1932 by a new generation of writers ‘in explicit rebellion against the old feudal order’. The collection caused a sensation and was banned after protest from the religious orthodoxy (p.56).

The progressives took inspiration from the Communist Party of India (CPI) which condemned both India and the newly created Pakistan as reactionary states that had abandoned anti-imperialism. In Pakistan, Lahore was the bastion of the Progressive Writers who took the CPI call as their manifesto. Publishers like Savera, Naqush, Sang-e-Meel and Adab-e-Latif were the vanguard of the progressives, counting among them: Sibte Hasan, Hajra Masroor, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Abdullah Malik, Arif Abdul Mateen, Zaheer Kashmiri, Mumtaz Hussain, Khadija Mastoor. They were known as the Savera Group.

The state opposed the progressives. Liberals, too, rebelled against their dominance, this time at the cost of carrying the stigma of being on the side of the coercive state. Three top ones were Muhammad Hassan Askari, Samad Shaheen and Mumtaz Shireen, all muhajir, devoted to the idea of an ideological Pakistan. Askari and his friends were more for ‘art for art’s sake’. They tended to support the task of the post-1947 ‘nation-building’, another name for indoctrination.

The progressives were likewise driven by the indoctrination coming from the CPI. The clash was inevitable; the battle was joined, Askari questioning the loyalty of the progressives to the state in a provocatively titled 1948 essay Adeeb aur riyaasat se vafaadaari ka mas’ala. Toor describes the progressives as ‘vocal carriers of a hegemonic socialist and anti-imperialist tradition which dominated the intellectual space in West Pakistan’. The liberal writers thought of themselves as patriots committed to putting their talent in the service of their new nation-state.

Liberals, therefore, were once the defenders of the state. Today they are blamed for being disloyal to its ideology. Right-wing critics often make the mistake of equating them with the leftists that dominated the literary scene after 1947. Liberals were located where the rightists are entrenched today, the difference being in the harshness of today’s right-wing discourse.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.

Lahore News Sources -2

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