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How to spot an ‘approved’ intellectual

Being an ‘approved’ intellectual may sound a far-fetched charge, but in countries such as Pakistan there are many who would qualify for it. They are not all fiendish reprobates, but they all are elated when they see the ripple effects of their articulation felt far and wide in the country.

Many of them are inspired by the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan and agree with the notion that they have brought down a criminal regime in Kabul. Now they may be yearning to expel infidels and traitors from Pakistan also, so that a powerful hand – or hands – can sort out the mess here too. When jihadist ideology gets a boost from across the border, these approved intellectuals are not bothered much. When the Afghan Taliban’s militant cousins in other countries – including Pakistan – fire up jihad, they don’t see any instability creeping in.

Approved intellectuals are those who sow a sense of fear not by decrying the Taliban, but by projecting a hellscape on the horizon if the world does not support the new regime in Afghanistan. They would rather die fighting for a lost cause than understand the changing realities of the 21st century. They are unable to see the shallowness of a policy if it comes from the right mouth. If there have been some catastrophic results of such policies in the past, an approved intellectual does not see it as dishonorable or shameful.

Such intellectual gems are imbecilic – and not in a pejorative sense; they actually are. They tend to vent their anger at those who try to present a different picture. If anybody questions their convictions and ideologies, they come under severe strain and are ready to start a tiff. They fulminate if somebody tries to point out past misses of foresight. If there is nothing much to look back with satisfaction, even then they are able to conjure up an epic chapter of an otherwise sordid story.

Approved intellectuals have an immense production network with the right powers at the centre. They can make a killing by joining those who are in a dominant position. Rather than compete with rival activists on a level playing field, they support authoritarian policies. There is a plethora of approved intellectuals with a paucity of intellect. They follow selfsame worship practices and demand silence and absolute loyalty. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of intellectuals who can challenge them with reliable representation of reality. Approved intellectuals lack coherence but appear taut and vibrating. They are always prepared to move hubristically forward even if their hubris is turning rapidly to nemesis.

In an even-handed match, any approved intellectuals would fail miserably, but they quickly step over the line in trying to secure the game, and the umpire is on their side. Most of them come fully armed with diplomatic niceties, which come handy with an outpouring of celebration for real and imagined victories. They are also notable for their ability to develop a pastiche of hugely complicating stories. Such breed of approved intellectuals is not new, they go back to the 1950s and 1960s when radical changes were taking place in Pakistan against democracy.

But the rejection of democracy – be it in Afghanistan or Pakistan – does not bother them. Even if there are groups in society which stand at the nadir or primitiveness, they may serve as driving motivation for such intellectuals. They want to draw a huge morale boost by sounding appealing to their followers. Many such approved intellectuals are able to capture the popular imagination. They are less concerned with soaring poverty and increasing frustrations among the people. If people crave an outlet, they are flown out of reality.

Approved intellectuals make honeyed promises, but these always lead to draconian results. They rant against corruption but mainly pursue political enemies. Such intellectuals are ‘certified’ analysts and spokespersons who act as ghost soldiers of their master’s voice. They invest a lot of energy, resources, and time in grooming themselves but are quick in recouping their investment too. They don’t necessarily pocket huge salaries; the influence they command in the right quarters is much more than any salary can compensate. From one perspective they promise paradise, from another they lead to a paradise lost.

Once successful in their job, they are waited on by doting businessmen who may not be businessmen at all. The secret of their cushy lifestyle is to live with their masters. Most approved intellectuals are fond of extolling values such as community and family values, decency, and education – especially when it means only regurgitating what comes in textbooks. Sometimes they also stress upon gender equality, particularly when the women confirm to a certain hubris that comes from nationalism and patriotism. They are not allowed to untie the apron-strings or defy the state narrative.

Approved intellectuals are ready to stamp on any ‘maverick’ or ‘renegade’ intellectuals down to the last case, whatever it takes. Many of them become part of a network for meticulous contact-tracing to prevent any outbreaks of dissent. If they find dissenters who defy the diktats, like apparatchiks they descend on them. The approved ones think that their own national and political dimensions are unmistakable. They do not allow any mutations in thinking, as new thought may infect new groups of thinkers. So, it is better to declare any new thinking as taboo.

When criticising mistakes becomes a taboo, only one version prevails. They think that they are keeping new thinking at bay, without realising that new ideas rip through society despite all cautions. Any attempts to dim the prospects of new thought results in even more diseases. Blocking the flow of ideas wreaks havoc in society – and not the other way round. Approved intellectuals want to help the state machinery in culling the dissenters, but the more they cull, the more hotspots spring up for new ideas. Another common trait of approved intellectuals is to target those who raise questions.

They don’t like it when someone grills them in public about what they think. Ultimately, they end up as propagandists who build new networks of institutes devoted to the same thinking. If you make an academic effort to parse their speeches, you get intellectual trash and nothing else. Some of them are snappy and snobbish at the same time. They think that their power is unlikely to wane, without realising how wrong they are. Some of them defy ready definitions and are harder to spot by unsuspecting audiences who cannot see through the misjudgments being pedaled to them.

Approved intellectuals call any disagreements an affront to the sovereignty of the country. Many of them have a short fuse and become aggressive, but some are calm and composed. Some are articulate, bordering on the verge of being arcane. Some do not even allow a partial reprieve to those who disagree with them. Some have an ego that gets hurt every now and then. Some more are highly ambitious and that makes them irascible. Nationalist and patriotic fervour is an integral part of their paraphernalia which is increasingly on display.

Alas, many of these approved intellectuals lack any will of their own. In private you find them in a mood of gloom and wariness, but in public they are ready to counteract. They may be retired civil or military bureaucrats, businessmen or advertising and media gurus. But they never blame themselves for the predicament the country is in now. It is always others who did it.

Dr Naazir Mahmood, "How to spot an ‘approved’ intellectual," The News. 2022-01-09.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political dimensions , Criminal regime , Corruption , Taliban , Democracy , Afghanistan , Pakistan