Monthly Archives: May 2007

Social scientists have a role only in open societies

Social scientists have played a crucial role in helping the states to resolve problems standing in the way of peace and prosperity. When people and their standards of life make the subject of the study, they would come out with excellent solutions. Now, if political leadership has nothing to promote except its factional interest, only astrologers and palmists have got a good business in the polity
By Riaz Missen
The ex-governor of State Bank of Pakistan, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, has taken up the task at Higher Education Commission (HEC) of not only promoting social sciences in Pakistan but also making it a relevant discipline. To his judgment the future of social sciences is bright as the polity abounds in the problems that can only be resolved by its practitioners. Let’s pray for the success of the dear doctor, for the truth that comes from the mouths of the social scientists hardly pleases the sorts of the ruling elite we have.
Pakistan is fortunate enough to have social scientists of high stature. They strive for truth regardless of its implications for the interest of the powerful. They speak it without the fear that it will backfire. Dr. Inayatullah of Islamabad Social Science Forum (ISSF) is such a soul. When he emphasises on self-criticism as a method to improve the performance of the academia many faces turn pale. Dr. Tariq Rahman insists that Pakistan is a pluralist society for more than sixty languages are spoken from Himalayas to the Arabian Sea. His suggestion to demarcate the provincial boundaries to preserve this diversity does not auger well with the powers-that-be. Too, let us not forget Dr. Mubarak Ali’s consistent efforts to correct the history being taught in schools and colleges. 
Social scientists have played a crucial role in helping the states to resolve problems standing in the way of peace and prosperity. When people and their standards of life make the subject of the study, they would come out with excellent solutions. Now, if political leadership has nothing to promote except its factional interest, only astrologers and palmists have got a good business in the polity.
What hunger generates responses in individuals? What do people do when something untoward happens to them? What is the difference in their behaviour in happiness and grief? There are certain traits associated with humans. They react in the socially prescribed ways. They weep, moan and cry in the moments of grief and sorrow. They smile, laugh and dance when happy. Also, they turn mum and find it difficult to express their feelings in a particular environment.
Your approach can be termed anything but scientific if you are not dealing with an observable phenomenon. If you are obsessed with fate and waiting for miracles to happen so that some favourable development should occur, social scientists are not the right people to visit. Pick up any Urdu daily and see who else is promising to change your life overnight.
Believing in some phenomenon or rejecting it is the same thing in its essence. Both are done on the same principle: scientific reasoning. You only mean altercation if you don’t want to support your argument with concrete evidence. The whole building of knowledge rests on accepted reasoning modes. So, for any advancement in knowledge there should exist a consensus among the parties on the methodology to recognise the truth.
Successful polities of the world take the welfare of their people as their main task. They would concentrate on justice, health and education — employment as well. They not only want material and social welfare of society but are also concerned with how to make growth sustainable. Academia is always busy in conducting research, assessing successes and pointing out failures. The government comes out with a strategy which the opposition has the right to criticise. The debate does not take an ugly turn, for academia is there to intervene.
Now take the case of developing states. Leadership makes promises but fails every time. There are policies in abundance, but the means to carry them out exist nowhere. When the government starts to the west, the opposition heads to the east. Leaders talk about changing their lives overnight; they promise a future where all and sundry will stand equal in terms of privileges and honour. Academics will only laugh away their ambitions.
A country where 72 percent people live on $ 2 a day while chronic monopolies, in both the social and economic realms, hold sway in politics, talk about equality of people is only part of rhetoric. When perpetrators of violence stand for peace and stability, it is just a tactical move to bag votes. Would the rich change their hearts? Will they pay taxes and stop financing their luxurious existence from the national exchequer?
Science has no future in a society that is living on dreams. Sometimes people buy them. Other times visions, no matter how faulty and incorrect, are thrust on them. The vested interests outwit the majority through institutionalising their power. Their ill-gotten money is used to buy the loyalties of the people who are supposed to guard the interests of the common man. They support extremists that can flout the law and scorn legality at will. So they impose their will on people and none dares to stand in their way. One may cry, one may weep, but there is no way out. In this world of ours some have got the responsibility to write the fate of others. Criticism is taken as rebellion — opposition is not tolerated at all.
“The nation will eat grass to have its nuclear programme,” one of the premiers of Pakistan said. He had a vision to create an Islamic bloc. What did he mean? A social scientist would certainly have wondered what course he would adopt to realise his objective? How Pakistan, economically fragile and politically unstable, would lead a scattered and divided Ummah? Why the monarchs, autocrats and dictators should come under a central authority? Who has got the worth to become a caliph?
Turkish leader Mustafa Kamal refused to revive Caliphate system when he got his land freed from the clutches of the enemies. Earlier, the maulanas of united India had issued a decree declaring Hindustan under the British rule the abode of infidels. A large number of people set out for Afghanistan. Denied entrance into this poor country, many died on their way back due to cold and hunger. Even the mighty Moghuls had not entertained such an idea. They knew well how little role religion had in sustaining their empire. The Arabs, the first torchbearers of Islam, don’t think unity of the Ummah politically possible. Why is Pakistan’s leadership fascinated with the idea to lead the Ummah? Just keep on wondering — when you have nothing to do, engage yourself in fantasies.
When you don’t believe in science, you don’t belong to the world of knowledge. Think about luck and be ready about grabbing at a chance the circumstances offer you. Don’t believe in the notions called ethics and morality. Be unpredictable in your ways. Be ready to take the law into your own hands when it suits your interests. Don’t think of consequences of your actions if they are inspired by the dictates of the ‘law of necessity’.
If you are a ruler, you need not to go beyond promises of peace and prosperity for the commoners. Go to mosques and seek the blessings of mullas. Term madrassas as the biggest NGO network meant for the betterment of the poor. Perform Hajj and Umras frequently at the expense of the national exchequer. Import luxurious limousines on zero duty. Don’t listen to the voices of reason. If you want to succeed, just act in ‘your own way’ and don’t let social scientists roam freely on the face of earth you happen to rule.
Postscript: President Niyazov died a natural death recently after ruling his nation, Turkmenistan, for 25 long years. He made the opposition flee the land and became ‘father’ of his nation. He named ports, buildings and even months after the names of his parents. He did not pay any attention to the healthcare system. He got his included biography in the syllabus of schools and colleges. His legacy is intact till now. Another Turkmenbashi now holds the reins of power. He needs everybody to run the country but not social scientists.