Democratic Society and Importance of Criticism

Lately, I have focused extensively on offering public criticism of some powerful institutions both inside Pakistan and United States. Of course, no one asked me for it, but as someone invested in issues of democracy and social justice, I find it apt to share my views and insert my voice in the public debates about contemporary issues. I am, however, not a journalist; I am a literary and cultural critic by training and a public scholar by choice.

There is an important moment in the famous Foucault-Deleuze interview, where Foucault insists that the role of the intellectual, and I am paraphrasing here, is to provide a persistent and relentless critique of power. Power, for both Foucault and Deleuze, is not hierarchical as envisioned in the classical Marxist tradition but rather more “diffuse” ever-present around us. We all are, in one degree or another, caught up in this web of power, a web that does not give us a chance at reaching outside or the other side of power. Our existence, in a way, is always discursive.

So, when I criticize power from within my discursive space as an intellectual, I am within the fold of power myself, but my puny voice, it seems, still baffles those invested in normative drive of power, for they retaliate in so many subtle and unsubtle ways. Those using  subtle ways suggest that I am, somehow, a “disgruntled” former military officer trying to take a swipe at the mighty Pakistan army; the less subtle ones have informed me that my long hair and my life in the US, somehow, disqualifies me to be a critic of power in Pakistan. And this is being implied when all the powerful institutions in Pakistan–civil and military–are in the most intimate relationship with powers that be in the United States.

In the last few weeks, I have written a criticism of Israel, an indictment of Pakistan Army, a self-reflection on my Army career, and an introductory entry to an important Jewish peace organization. These entities sometimes do not have much in common but the only way I can plot a connection amongst them is by my views of power and its impact on our lives. My critique, of course, is narrow and often not very detailed: it does not need to be, for it is these little cuts, these small ruptures in the armor of power that matter the most. I think this is what Foucault meant by the term “persistent critique” of power: not a giant heroic blow but these small cuts and swipes to unsettle power, to make it stop to lick a thousand tiny wounds, to stop it from normalizing itself, from becoming natural.

The response has been mixed: quite a few young and hopeful readers have added their voices to mine and given me their strength: I see a rhizome in the making. But the minions of power, ever so gently, have also responded with their rationalizations and ad hominem attacks. It is almost comical: like an elephant responding to a bee sting. But then that is the problem with power: it must totalize itself to become normative and our small acts of defiance hinder that process.

These small instances of criticism are crucial to develop a more humane and responsive system of life and governance. These “micro-resistances” (Deleuze) are important just as it is important to squash those micro-fascist tendencies in our minds that force us to respect power and those who wield it.

So, in all humility, I offer my gratitude to all those who find some merit in my public writings, and to all those who are flustered and disturbed by them, I say: Peace!!!

Remember, we are a swarm and we are many!!!

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