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Plato, allegory of cave and Pakistan

Tuesday 10 May 2016, by siawi3


Posted by Umer Ali

Friday, August 14, 2015 ·

Plato is one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever seen. Establishing one of its kind academy for higher studies in Athens, he, along with his teacher Socrates and student, Aristotle laid the foundations of Greek philosophy. People are inspired from his work even today and often find it relatable to their lives.

One of his best works which I recently came across was Allegory of Cave. He compares the approach and attitude of an educated person with that of one who is uneducated. He equates the uneducated with chained prisoners held in a cave, incapable of turning their heads around. They can only see the wall in front of them. At the backside of where they sit is fire and between them and the fire is a passageway. Along the passage walk puppets, casting their shadows on the wall. Unable to see these puppets, the prisoners only see their shadows. These unfortunate prisoners mistake the shadows with real objects, without knowing what the truth is.

One day, a lucky prisoner escapes the cave. The bright sunlight blinds his eyes. As he struggles to see the things around, his eyes start adjusting to the light slowly. He starts seeing all the objects clearly – and their shadows to differentiate. He realizes how he was deceived back in the cave. Pitiful for his fellows in the cave, he decides to go back and free them off their bubble – a deceptive world they have been living in. Once back, he finds his eyes unable to adjust to darkness. His fellows laugh at him, taunting him of how going out inflicted him with blindness. It is concluded that the prisoners, no matter what, are not going to come out of the caves because they are comfortable in the bubble that they perceive to be the reality.

Manto famously said, “Hindustan was freed. Pakistan got freed right after coming into being, but people in both countries were still slaves – of prejudice, of religious extremism, of animality and barbarity.†Analyzing the journey of Pakistan from the dawn of 1947 till now, one can equally conclude that Manto was right in his observation. From imposing religion in 1949 to anti-Ahmadi riots in ’53 – from ’65 war to ’71 secession –from Bhutto to Zia – from Afghan to Kashmir Jihad – from blasphemy laws to ordinance XX, Pakistan never gained the ‘freedom’ its founder envisioned. What went wrong? Why after 68 years since independence, we as a nation are still confused? Why haven’t we chosen a direction we want to progress in?

The answer lies in Plato’s Allegory of cave.

Right after the independence, Pakistan was highjacked by the ultra-religious parties. While the likes of Mudoodi and Ataullah Shah Bokhari opposed the Pakistan movement bitterly, they were quick to influence the newly-found Pakistan with their rhetorics. When the resentment in Bengal over ethnic issue grew, with the approval of state, these parties started painting Pakistan as an Islamic state, where religion was the binding force. Known by many as a ‘genetic defect’, the idea of Pakistan itself came back haunting. In those unfortunate years started a movement to Islamize the country which led Pakistan to the threshold of destruction.

Every child who grows up studying the history of Pakistan in the textbooks believes that Pakistan was made in the name of Islam, where Sharia was to be the law. Every seed of this young generation thinks Pakistan won the ’65 war against India. A majority of this bright generation tends to hold the opinion that Bengalis were traitors, India helped them and they rebelled against the patriotic army. A vast population in Pakistan believes that India is our worst enemy. Why is this so?

Because Plato said thousands of years from now, that we see the shadows of reality. We have been chained by our religious and patriotic sentiments. The images projected to us are not even close to the reality. We have been kept devoid of sunlight. We can only see what the puppeteers want us to see.

Then there are a few who rid themselves off the chains of religion and patriotism. In the quest of sunlight, they come out of the cave. The realities, as they see, hit them hard – like sunlight to the eyes. They start questioning the shadows they have been seeing on the walls. The complexity of a slogan as enchanting as ‘Islamic system’ leave them in mental chaos. They start asking themselves about the version of Sharia Pakistan needs. What will they do of the clergy apostatizing its rival factions? Which sect of Islam will be the supreme ruling force?

Like the cave dweller comes out of the cave and explore various areas, they go about reading history from the alternate sources. They begin to realize how the historical facts are morphed in their textbooks. They realize how Pakistan started the ’65 war by initiating Operation Gibraltar – that Pakistan committed atrocities of an unbelievable magnitude, forcing Bengalis to call for independence. Taliban, who we begin to realize as the existential threat have long been our strategic partners as our agencies looked for a ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. They come across these astounding facts and sympathetic of their fellow Pakistanis who are still living in a delusional world, try to enlighten them with facts.

Like the cave dweller is ridiculed by his fellow prisoners for losing his eyesight, Pakistanis accuse these liberated minds of being traitors who are working against the national interests. No matter how hard they try, masses reject them outrightly. There are individuals like Salman Taseer who sacrificed their lives, striving to bring in the positive change in this society. But as Plato predicted, no matter how much you struggle, the ones living inside the cave would never come out the reality someone else has built for them.

If we want to progress as nation, we need to break the shackles of mental slavery. We need to get out of the web that clergy and establishment have constructed for us over the years. On this Independence Day, let’s pledge to identify the mistakes we have committed in the past and take a fresh start by venturing to present viable solutions for these misdirections. Let’s vow to build a tolerant and progressive Pakistan where every citizens is treated equally by the state, irrespective of their religious or ethnic background – where humanity is the ultimate religion.

Umer Ali is a journalism student who reads and writes about Pakistan and its history. He believes in a tolerant, progressive society.