I have a confession to make. In all the time I have been writing for this paper, I have not been entirely honest. Rather than writing on what I truly believe, I have been working at the behest of shadowy paymasters from around the world who have instructed me to do what I can to tear apart the moral fabric of Pakistani society. For example, I was recently approached by the intelligence services of Benin to write an article about the joys of jaywalking. On a previous occasion, the government of Vanuatu instructed me to pen a column on the benefits of men wearing tight lycra shorts when exercising.

The people who asked me to do this were convinced the popularisation of sportswear that left little to the imagination would fatally undermine Pakistani masculinity and would also trigger emotions and feelings that would leave the general populace confused and inexplicably aroused. In exchange for these services, I was offered riches beyond my wildest dreams. Since I have never been a particularly imaginative dreamer, the princely sum of $10 was sufficient to purchase my undying loyalty.

I have been forced to reveal all of this secret and damaging information because of the way in which my shenanigans were exposed by a reader last week. Having bravely chosen to wade through the iniquitous scribblings produced by myself and some of my colleagues, this intrepid reader decided to confront us over email and lambast us for spending an evil foreign agenda. Frothily denouncing us for producing ‘sponsored content’, the reader in question argued that support for human rights, minorities, and marginalised causes and communities in Pakistan was nothing more than an attempt to spread damaging alien values and influences through the media. Rather than being the result of a genuine belief in these causes, or a desire to promote a more tolerant and inclusive public discourse, the reader was convinced that my colleagues and I were being paid to do all of this by anti-Pakistan forces.

Just to clarify, for the benefit of the more literal-minded readers of this column, I do not actually receive foreign funding for my work, nor have I ever been approached by anyone to promote any particular agenda. Nonetheless, the belief that ideas deviating from mainstream narratives in Pakistan must be promoted by external actors, and that these ideas are inherently dangerous, is one that enjoys a lot of popular support.
It is not difficult to see why this might be the case. Neo-liberal capitalism and old-fashioned conservatism are the foundations upon which the ideological edifice of the contemporary Pakistani state has been constructed, and an ever-narrowing religious nationalism has long been invoked to legitimise the power of the elite. Towards this end, a variety of institutions - schools, colleges, the mainstream media, religious organisations, and various elements of civil society - have been deployed to propagate and perpetuate particular narratives. The demonisation and marginalisation of Pakistan’s non-Muslim citizens, hysterical and knee-jerk anti-India sentiment, the valroisation of Islamist militancy, and the constant erosion of women’s rights, are just some of the consequences of this project.

The beauty of ideological campaign lies in the way it has attempted to monopolise the ‘truth’, relying on the denigration and dismissal of alternative ways of thinking in order to strengthen its own position. It is this that leads critics of the status quo to be labelled as provocateurs being facilitated by external actors; in a context where ‘truth’ is clearly perceived to lie within the official orthodoxy, those who refuse to endorse it must obviously be doing so for nefarious reasons.

The reality, of course, is that everyone is biased, and that those who complain about bias usually only do so when the ideas they encounter clash with their extant beliefs. What I write in these columns is influenced by a variety of different factors, including my background, education, and beliefs, and will therefore obviously reflect any biases and prejudices, both conscious and unconscious, that I might have. The same is true, however, for everyone else, including those who consume media. We are all products of our own histories and circumstances, and will inevitably interpret and understand the world in light of our own experiences.

What this means, however, is that ‘truth’ is also inherently subjective. To the extent that social reality will always be conceptualised in terms of often competing narratives and discourses, it is important to recognise how no one entity has a monopoly on the truth and how, perhaps more importantly, the construction and propagation of the ‘truth’ cannot be separated from questions of power. Those who have the means through which to ensure their voices are the loudest - the rich, governments, dominant racial, ethnic, and religious groups - will always enjoy disproportionate influence over the public discourse. To equate being ubiquitous and vocal with being ‘right’ would be problematic and misleading.

As such, rather than reflexively attacking everything that differs from received wisdom, it makes more sense to take a step back and attempt to engage in an impartial evaluation of the claims being made. Given that my views might, for example, differ from those of the government, a more fruitful way forward would be to judge both on the quality of their evidence and argument, rather than simply endorsing anything that reinforces extant beliefs. The media provides some space within which to engage with new ideas as part of a broadly pluralistic debate, and the opportunities thus presented should be used to develop more critical and nuanced worldviews. Everything you read may not always be right, but crying foul and invoking global anti-Pakistan conspiracies every time your views are challenged is hardly constructive.