At first glance, it looks like an only slightly unfamiliar parallel universe -- a funhouse mirror world.
An embattled and power-hungry leader who seized the reins of his country years ago, by means many still contend were illegal, suspends constitutional rights -- claiming it necessary to defeat the forces of terrorism and a nefarious "activist judicial" element.
A military crackdown is imposed on all those who protest or resist.
Violence erupts in the streets and the country itself is plunged into chaos, a situation made more frightening by the fact that the nation in question is a nuclear power.
On the other side of the globe, another questionable regime which inextricably linked itself to the failing stratocracy can now offer only feckless soundbites -- politically necessary pleas to that country's beseiged leader to end the turmoil and once again allow freedom and democracy to reign.
It's the most gruesome of ironies that the current state of Pakistan sounds an awful lot like the most conspiracist vision of where the United States has long been headed. Is it therefore even the slightest bit surprising that our president and his cadre of dangerous acolytes have willfully backed the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf -- a man who came to power by overthrowing an elected prime minister -- for so long?
Pakistan as it now stands represents possibly the most flawless archetype for the complete failure of the Bush Foreign Policy (with only the touchy situation our military folly in Iraq has created between Kurdish rebels and Turkey even coming close in any way). Our country has once again put itself in the firing line of those around the world who would call us hypocrites for bombastically routing one despot while coddling another, the latter indulged simply because he knows the magic word of the current era -- "terrorism" -- and is willing to use it to his advantage.
Musharraf's supposed stand against terrorism has been his golden ticket since day one.
If all of this seems slightly familiar, it should. Back in the 70s and 80s, this country intractably, stupidly, supported corrupt government after corrupt government -- killer after killer -- provided any be willing to state openly that there was no greater threat than communism. Not the systematic torture of its own people. Not the utter lack of any freedom of its own of which to speak. It's no secret that we've forged dubious alliances throughout the decades with those with whom such "friendships" are politically expedient -- a means to a supposedly greater end. (Think back to that picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein himself when the two men shared the common enemy of Iran.) Rarely though has one of our puppets turned on us so quickly, so drastically and in such a publicly embarrassing manner.
Watching George Bush politically tap dance while all but begging his ally to reinstitute democracy and stop crushing dissent -- while certainly good for a smirk at the flawless irony -- is so painful that you almost want to look away. "He's just so screwed," always seems to come to mind as I watch the Texas Bull-in-the-china-shop try to navigate the razor's edge dividing political necessity from outright farcical hypocrisy.
At the very least though, there may be a lesson for us in what's now happening on the streets of Pakistan.
The surreal sight of men in suits and ties throwing bottles, holding protest signs and chanting anti-government slogans is tough to wrap your head around, and yet it's strangely "right" on a number of levels. Those taking up the cause of fighting for the constitution and the rule of law in Pakistan are, in fact, the country's lawyers and judges; they're the ones now going to jail in droves (one quarter of the country's legal professionals are now incarcerated) for decrying the current state of martial rule. Yet once again, it really isn't surprising that police on the street and the rulers in the castle keep feel so threatened by this uprising of attorneys; let's face it, there's something ominous about the idea of hundreds of people in professional attire -- those from whom you'd never expect this kind of unrestrained venom -- willing to take a stand and go toe-to-toe with the soldiers of a corrupt government. It shows that they, quite literally, mean business.
Whether intentional or not, they're making a point about protest that we in America would do well to take note of.
A few years ago, journalist agitator Matt Taibbi wrote an outstanding column in which he condemned an American protest movement that's become thoroughly meaningless. The reason for this impotency, he rightly argues, stems from the fact that our model for modern activism is taken directly from the 60s, and that the ridiculous latter-day hippies who organize today's marches, protests etc. operate under the faulty assumption that "individuality" still has the ability to shake the system to its core.
It doesn't. Not even a little.
A bunch of idiots in slightly differing vintage t-shirts and goatees, neo-tribal piercings and face paint -- all forms of supposed individuality that have been co-opted, pre-packaged and done to death -- do little besides prove to the people in power that only a select group ("Those types") is against them, and that its members will always be too busy smoking pot and playing hackey-sack to get organized and pose any real threat.
But, as Taibbi puts it, imagine the looks on the faces of those inside the White House if 300,000 people dressed in matching suits marched silently up Pennsylvania Avenue. It would scare the living hell out of our government.
Maybe it's simply because there's something unnerving about the uniform which outsiders see as dictated by the system being turned against the system.
Maybe it just transforms a bunch of haphazard elements into one larger, cohesive unit in the eyes of an adversary.
Whatever the reason, its presence is being felt in Pakistan.
And once again, these days, Pakistan bears a little too much resemblance to the America that could be.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Posted by Chez at 3:42 PM