“Corruption’s Canvas: Painting a New Pakistan Through Individual Change” – Part One – Meeting The Challenges

By Jaseem Pasha, MD
Monday, June 5, 2023

Abstract:

“Corruption’s Canvas: Painting a New Pakistan Through Individual Change” explores the deeply entrenched corruption in Pakistan and advocates for systemic change through personal transformation. The article highlights how corruption, extreme religiosity, and societal apathy are interwoven into the nation’s fabric, exacerbating socioeconomic disparities and undermining integrity. It emphasizes that national progress hinges on respecting inherent human dignity, adhering to the rule of law, and fostering critical thinking and personal integrity. The article examines historical examples of significant societal shifts and argues that transformative change is possible within a generation. Pakistanis must abandon harmful practices, embrace ethical principles, and lead by example to create a cohesive, prosperous, and just society. The article concludes that personal accountability and collective effort are essential for overcoming corruption and achieving lasting national progress.

Pakistanis have only two choices:

Either continue casting stones at each other from the cozy corner of their comfort zone,

Or

They begin by becoming the real change they wish to see in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Systemic Corruption: Reflecting the Mirror of Our Actions

Corruption is a formidable and profoundly entrenched issue in the intricate web of Pakistan’s challenges, reaching alarming proportions unseen in previous decades. This malaise has sowed many seeds of frustration, hopelessness, and despair. There’s no shortage of blame—fingers are readily pointed at the military, government, and the wider public. However, an oft-overlooked perspective is that our societal system, marred by corruption, fundamentally reflects the collective outcome of our beliefs, assumptions, and actions.

Pakistan’s placement at 133rd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2023[1] underscores the severity of the issue. It was 124th out of 180 in 2020[2], within a short period of three years. Root causes span a gamut from the absence of robust regulatory mechanisms and insufficient oversight to a tepid response to wrongdoers. But beyond these systemic challenges lies a deeper malady: societal norms and individual practices that either tacitly accept or actively indulge in corruption.

Challenge I: Developing an awareness that all human progress emerges out of understanding and observing the essential principles that regulate human relationships:

Facing the First and the Most Difficult Challenge –

Most Pakistanis do not realize that nations’ success, resilience, and prosperity are closely tied to their adherence to certain universal principles independent of individual opinions, cultural values, traditions, and sectarian theological beliefs. Those nations that respect these principles prosper, and those who do not, sooner or later, succumb to their eventual nemesis.

What are these crucial principles?

Here are several such principles crucial for the health and prosperity of a nation:

Principle #1 – Reverence for inherent Human Dignity (Haqooq-ul-Ebad)

This principle acknowledges the intrinsic value of every individual, ensuring freedom, equality, and respect, and emphasizes that every human being is born with human dignity, which is inherent, innate, intrinsic, interstitial, and inviolable.

Human dignity is not a concept. It is a foundational constituent that sustains ‘being human.’ Just like gravity is not a human concept, but it was only a discovery of a pre-existing force, so is also human dignity, which is not a concept but a rediscovery of Nature. But to be very precise.

Human dignity comes from the Creator-God and, therefore, can neither be given nor taken by anyone.

Also, it is essential to realize that respecting human dignity is NOT a human right. On the contrary, the inherent Nature of the status of human dignity demands respect and privileges and the fulfillment of obligations befitting the prestigiousness divinely conferred[3] by the Creator. Human dignity is like a glue that holds all human relationships, facilitating mutual recognition and treating each other justly.

A culture of reverence for human dignity without excluding anyone is a litmus test of a genuinely civilized society, irrespective of the extent of technological progress. Even Hitler used technology to decimate millions of innocent Jews. He and the culture he represented was not civilized. He was a monster.

The religiosity of people alone does not guarantee humility, justice, and respect for human dignity and justice.

Humility is a virtue and a state of being that involves recognizing one’s limitations and insignificance in a broader existential or divine context, leading to a modest attitude toward oneself and compassionate behavior toward others.

Several underlying challenges emerge in a context like Pakistan’s, where corruption intersects with extreme religiosity and a notable absence of respect for mutual human dignity. These challenges are not only multifaceted but deeply entrenched in the socio-political fabric of the nation, influencing its development, harmony, and the well-being of its citizens.

Pakistanis are traditionally very religious people, which is excellent and admirable, though not necessarily guarantee that such religiosity has also encompassed a broad range of behaviors, attitudes, and principles, including ethics based on respect for inherent human dignity, without excluding anyone, and embracing character founded in fairness, compassion, integrity, and responsibility (Haqooq-ul-Ebad).

The juxtaposition of high religiosity, arrogance, and widespread corruption highlights a significant dissonance between societal ideals and actual practices.

Extreme religiosity, particularly when coupled with intolerance, can lead to societal polarization. This division is exacerbated by the lack of respect for human dignity across different religious, sectarian, and social groups, challenging fostering national unity and communal harmony. Without serious efforts to confront these ethical challenges, it can potentially create a time-bomb situation – a guaranteed prescription for its nemesis.

The malignant presence of burgeoning religious sectarian groups, often violent, in Pakistani society is proof of a severe lack of understanding, awareness, or knowledge regarding Quranic principles of peace, love, empathy, and compassion to be applied among each other, as well as towards other fellow citizens affiliated to Hindus, Christians and Jews and minorities like Ahmadis and Ismailis. Their spiritual ignorance is glaringly manifested as a lack of introspection or awareness of one’s inner self, values, and purpose. They cannot recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. This unawareness includes ignorance of how their actions impact others and the environment, leading to behaviors that harm rather than nurture the web of life.

The excessive obsession with sectarian differences while simultaneously failing to emphasize the pivotal ethical Quranic principle of respect for inherent human dignity in routine religious teachings in sermons, particularly during Friday Khutbas, explains a lot about why there is a high prevalence of crimes, violation of human rights, child labor, misogynist culture, and bribery.

In other words, only genuine religiosity, by its very Nature, would prevent Muslims from dehumanizing their fellow human being, regardless of any circumstances.

Erosion of personal integrity, critical thinking, and respect for the dignity of fellow citizens, specifically women & children, fuel the predatory culture of apathy and corruption

True, Pakistan has been cursed by corrupt politicians and the psychopathic military for decades. Pakistani intellectuals have found themselves at loggerheads with each other on whether corruption in Pakistan is primarily a top-down phenomenon driven by corrupt leaders or a bottom-up issue emanating from societal attitudes: a chicken or the egg debate.

What dehumanizes Pakistanis? A chicken or the egg debate:

But ISEEK research (www.iseek.international) resolves the chicken or the egg debate in corruption. ISEEK points out that the power of the dehumanizers to exploit the people is not a primary condition acquired independently by the dehumanizers.

Dehumanizers’ power to manipulate people is secondary. It is derived from the pre-existing primary state of weaknesses in the dehumanized, as described in the preceding section describing the pre-partition religious culture. This weakness arose from severe deficiencies in personal integrity and critical thinking in the general populace, which emerged from several post-colonial tribalized versions of Islam manufactured as a part of British divide-and-rule policy consequent to the 1857 rebellion in Meerut, India. At that time, the robust Hindu-Muslim unity was perceived as a big threat to the hegemony of the British Crown.

Ultimately, the populace always makes the final choice of accepting or rejecting, depending on what their ethical and moral conscience permits. What the cunning dehumanizers do is take advantage of the ethical and moral weaknesses of the people. This chain of events finally clarifies who, out of greed, promotes and who decides to embrace the ethical values that carry the potential for predatory behavior. These events explain that corruption is initially a top-down phenomenon driven by a tiny minority of unscrupulous rogues of society. However, this small minority lacks the political power to make any significant impact unless the majority of the naïve populace, out of their greed, permanently empowers the tiny minority to take control of all the natural resources and the land that belongs to the whole society and subject themselves to the mercy of the bait thrown at them. This voluntary transfer of power makes societal corruption a bottom-up issue.

When citizens are more focused on immediate, personal gain rather than long-term communal welfare, it can lead to a neglect of civic responsibilities, including holding leaders accountable. The persistent neglect of the principle of respect for human dignity can lead to societal indifference toward corruption as long as one’s immediate community or family benefits. This type of ethical culture undermines efforts to champion transparency and integrity on a larger scale. There is a reciprocal relationship between corrupt leadership and societal attitudes. Corrupt leaders do not arise in a vacuum—they emerge from and are sustained by a society that, at least tacitly, allows or endorses such behavior. Over time, the persistence of corruption at high levels can lead to widespread cynicism among the populace, who may come to view corrupt practices as the only way to achieve any sort of personal or community advantage. This cynicism, in turn, makes it harder to rally public support for anti-corruption measures.

There are also some exceptions

One cannot over-emphasize that people can demonstrate moral excellence irrespective of their level of religious observance. Being a good human being is seen as a continuous process of self-reflection, learning, and growth. It requires an ongoing effort to understand and empathize with others, act justly, and refine character.

Respect for human dignity ensures that decision-makers are answerable to the public, fostering trust and integrity in governance, while its neglect breeds corruption, inefficiency, and widespread disillusionment with leadership.

Respect for human dignity provides a foundation for prosperity by ensuring fair access to economic resources and opportunities, but its neglect deepens inequality, fosters social division, and undermines national cohesion.

Principle #2 – Rule of Law:

The rule of law is 100% dependent on firm adherence to Principle #1 – Respect for inherent human dignity without excluding anyone.

The need for the rule of law is fundamental in addressing the challenges posed by corruption, extreme religiosity without respect for mutual human dignity, and other societal issues. The rule of law is a cornerstone of non-oligarchic[4] democratic governance and social justice. Its neglect leads to arbitrariness, abuse of power, and loss of public trust in institutions.

A strong rule of law is also foundational for economic development. It creates a stable environment that encourages investment, protects property rights, and ensures fair competition. This setup is critical for countries looking to improve living standards and reduce poverty.

However, imbibing reverence for the rule of law is another daunting challenge for those who want to see their motherland progress. One can somewhat grasp this challenge by examining how traffic flows in big Pakistani city streets. There is no such concept as “yield” in traffic language, which is practiced only when forced by a dangerously aggressive driver.

Principle #3 – Education and personal integrity in tandem with critical thinking based on science:

Most Pakistanis with Islamic background must recognize the fact that the pursuit of scientific knowledge is in perfect harmony with reflecting and researching everything that is part of the Creation by Creator-God, and ignorance of any kind is incompatible with the Quranic principles; education is incomplete and senseless without science.

Promoting personal integrity and critical thinking is crucial for societal well-being and progress, particularly in contexts where corruption, extreme religiosity, and a lack of mutual respect for human dignity pose significant challenges. These virtues are foundational for fostering a culture of genuine patriotism, free of tribalism and medieval misogyny.

Personal integrity involves adhering to moral and ethical principles even when no one is watching. It’s the bedrock of trustworthiness and accountability in personal and public life. In societies grappling with corruption, personal integrity acts as a counterforce, encouraging individuals to reject unethical practices and to hold themselves and others to higher standards.

Societies that cultivate critical thinking are better equipped to address challenges creatively and effectively. Critical thinking drives innovation by encouraging questioning, experimentation, and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Leaders and educators who exemplify personal integrity and critical thinking can be powerful role models. Mentorship programs can further support the development of these qualities in young people and emerging leaders.

In conclusion, personal integrity and critical thinking are indispensable for navigating and transforming societies marked by complex challenges.

Challenge II: Developing an awareness that no human progress is possible without critical thinking and personal integrity:
Critical Thinking

All that goes around comes around.

It is the phrase that tries to explain an ancient saying related to the principle of Karma, “As you sow, you shall reap,” found in many scriptural texts.

It is this principle that constantly operates within the social system of every society. Acknowledging the reality of this principle yields an awareness that finger-pointing does not help. One soon learns that within the confinement of one’s comfort zone, blaming everything on the corrupt political and religious leaders and the associated system is unhelpful.

Silence is complicity.

After all, most people choose and validate what goes around. Silence in the face of injustice is collaboration with the oppressor. This means that choosing not to speak out or act against wrongdoings or injustices effectively makes one an accomplice to those actions. Even the tiniest dehumanizing craze, fixation, or rage that periodically goes in vogue cannot be deterred by staying confined within one’s comfort zone.

The principle, “all that goes around comes around,” reminds us that the repercussions of our actions extend beyond our immediate perceptions, influencing the broader social and environmental context. This understanding fosters a sense of collective responsibility and highlights the inefficacy of blame-shifting to address societal issues.

Acknowledging this interconnected reality encourages a shift from a passive to an active stance in problem-solving. It brings to light several vital truths about individual and collective action:

  • Everyone plays a role in shaping the environment they live in. Individual choices, no matter how small, contribute to larger societal outcomes. This realization encourages a sense of responsibility toward the collective well-being.
  • Real change often requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Confronting and addressing societal issues means challenging one’s intellectual status quo, questioning deeply held beliefs, and sometimes facing uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our societies.
  • Small actions can have significant, far-reaching effects. By adopting a mindset of responsibility and proactive engagement, individuals can inspire others, creating a ripple effect that amplifies the impact of positive changes.
  • One must become a part of the solution by embracing the awareness of the impact of one’s actions on the broader societal canvas. This awareness includes understanding how personal choices, behaviors, and ethics contribute to societal norms and structures. It challenges the notion of passivity, encouraging individuals to see themselves as active participants in shaping their environment.

Dunning-Kruger phenomenon dominates Pakistani culture – The biggest challenge for most Pakistanis is not easy to eradicate.

The Dunning-Kruger effect, or more broadly, the problem of meta-ignorance—being ignorant (unaware) of one’s ignorance, is the chief challenge for most Pakistanis.

This issue transcends academic education and speaks to the heart of wisdom, ethics, and the capacity for self-reflection and growth. It’s indeed critical to recognize that education, in its traditional academic sense, does not automatically equate to an understanding or appreciation the principles necessary for a nation’s resilience and prosperity.

Ignorance is not merely the absence of knowledge but often the absence of awareness about that lack of knowledge. This ignorance can be more challenging to address because it requires individuals to recognize their limitations, which demands humility and introspection. The presence of educated individuals who engage in corrupt practices or fail to uphold societal principles underscores that knowledge alone is insufficient for ethical behavior or societal well-being.

Beyond Academic Education:

The development of a resilient, ethical, and progressive society relies not just on academic education but on a broader, more holistic understanding of education that includes:

  • Ethical education cannot be overemphasized. It is learning about moral principles, the importance of integrity, and the impact of one’s actions on others and society. Learning that respect for intrinsic human dignity without excluding anyone is the mother of all Islamic ethics and morality.
  • Critical Thinking Education is about developing the ability to think critically and independently, question assumptions, and evaluate information and arguments.
  • Addressing Meta-Ignorance involves combatting the ignorance of one’s ignorance by encouraging an understanding that education and personal development do not end with formal schooling but are lifelong pursuits.

Cultivating an environment where humility and the willingness to question oneself are valued traits is beneficial.

Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills: Integrating critical thinking deeply into the educational system early on is constructive to ensure individuals can analyze, reflect, and act thoughtfully. Also, understanding the essential role of building a critical mass is crucial to bringing the change one wishes to see.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect[5] – Pakistani brand

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which individuals with limited knowledge or competence in each domain vastly overestimate their skills and abilities. This phenomenon was first identified by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in their seminal 1999 study. The effect highlights a paradox: the less people know, the more confident they are in their mistaken beliefs. Conversely, more knowledgeable individuals tend to underestimate their competence, aware of how much there is yet to learn. The Dunning-Kruger effect has more to do with being misinformed rather than uninformed.

In the case of Pakistan, an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis were indoctrinated to adhere to medieval types of sectarian theological misinformation and consequently failed to demand from their religious institutions and scholars that their khutbas and teachings be based on genuine Islamic values like personal integrity, respect for inherent human dignity, justice and the rule of law germane to Human rights (Haqooq ul Ebad) Quranic injunctions, and thus failed to build resilient, prosperous societies capable of navigating challenges and advancing their wellbeing. Most Pakistanis are ignorant of the difference between “Islamic governance” and Islamist’s political term, “Islamic State.” They are unaware that the critical components of Islamic governance of the first Muslim pluralistic State[6] founded by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) were based on pluralistic and secular concepts that permitted citizens to freely practice their respective religions under the umbrella of a unified state that would not allow the use of force by one diversity over another.

Besides the Dunning-Kruger effect, there is another cultural variant of ignorance, where Pakistani civilians also act very arrogant and confident in their lack of knowledge. There have been many instances where this arrogance became highly violent in the form of violent street justice in the name of the blasphemy law, a pre-Islamic Judeo-Christian-pagan concept.

The Dunning-Kruger phenomenon of unintentionally contributing to societal issues we disdain, leading to an environment of mutual dehumanization, is both subtle and complex.

This passive contribution often occurs in ways we might not immediately recognize, woven into our daily lives, choices, and interactions. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for reversing this trend and fostering a more empathetic and respectful society.

How do we unintentionally contribute to our culture’s worldview we pour scorn on?
How does it happen?

We might unknowingly normalize negative behaviors through our engagement with media, conversations, and social interactions. For example, laughing at or sharing jokes that demean certain groups contributes to a culture that devalues those individuals.

This normalization makes such attitudes and behaviors more acceptable in broader society, reducing empathy and increasing division.

Seeking information that only confirms our pre-existing beliefs (confirmation bias) and interacting only with like-minded groups (echo chambers) can lead to a skewed perception of reality. These biases can foster an environment where other perspectives are ignored and actively devalued.

Witnessing acts of injustice or dehumanization and choosing not to act—either because of the belief that it’s not our place or due to fear of repercussion—can be seen as tacit approval or normalization of such behavior.

This passivity can embolden perpetrators and contribute to a culture where such acts become more frequent and accepted, exacerbating cycles of dehumanization.

Everyday consumer choices might inadvertently support industries or companies that exploit workers, harm communities, or unquestioningly support politicians or religious leaders who engage in unethical practices, contributing to sectarianism, bigotry, or systemic issues of inequality and injustice. Such patterns can entrench power imbalances and normalize the dehumanization of those who are unseen or deemed less necessary.

The anonymity and physical distance provided by digital platforms can lead to disinhibition, where individuals say or do things online that they wouldn’t in person. This mental state of disinhibition often takes the form of harsh criticism, trolling, or spreading hate. These behaviors contribute to a digital culture where empathy is eroded, and mutual respect is diminished, furthering real-world dehumanization.

Article Part 2 Article Part 3

[1] https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2023/index/pak

[2] ibid

[3] Quran 17:70: “Truly, We have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea and have made provision of good things for them [to eat] and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.”

[4] Non-oligarchic democracy, in contrast to oligarchic systems where power is concentrated in the hands of a few, typically a small elite group, refers to a form of democracy that is broad-based and inclusive, distributing political power and decision-making widely among the populace. Right now there are very few nations (Scandinavian) that have a non-oligarchic democracy. Most of the nations in the world, including the West have oligarchic democracy, though this fact is never acknowledged.

[5] McGill – “The Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Probably Not Real” By Jonathan Jarry M.Sc – 17 Dec 2020[https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/critical-thinking/dunning-kruger-effect-probably-not-real]

[6] The Madina Charter 622 AD gave equality to all its citizens and accepted the coexistence of different religions in the community. Under the constitution, all religious, ethnic and tribal groups had equal protection, rights and dignity. They would live by their own beliefs and judge themselves by their own laws.

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