Wake up US; Wake up Pakistan; Wake up World

While the US mourns the shooting in Tucson, Az., another similar act of violence occurred on this side of the world: Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous state, was assassinated on Jan. 4th by his bodyguard.

It is impractical to compare the US and Pakistan. However, since the effect in the above incidents is the same—violence against politicians—it may be worthwhile to look at the causes:

(1) In both Pakistan and the US, there is a tremendous gap between politicians and the people. This gap leads to tension between people and politicians. This tension, on its own, is usually not enough to elicit violent behavior from people towards politicians or else we’d be hearing of many more assassinations.

(2) More importantly, in both the US and Pakistan, politics are hyper-polarized. As Krugman rightfully points out, “For the great divide in our [US] politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.” The polarization is due to difference in belief systems, making it very difficult to find common ground. “In this alternative reality armed response becomes, if not logical, then at least debatable,” as Younge recently commented in the Guardian.

We also see this sort of divide among politicians in Pakistan. Taseer was a liberal politician in an otherwise conservative government. After Taseer’s death, politicians stated that Pakistan’s liberal voice wasn’t silenced. However, “the tired rhetoric masks a less palatable truth: that Taseer had been abandoned by his own leadership.”

Let’s be honest: Did you expect anything different in both countries? Did you believe that the violent rhetoric, the rift between politicians and constituency, and the hyper-polarity in politics would have no consequences? Or, as Krugman wrote, “Were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?” I am with Krugman on this: something like these two acts of violence was bound to occur.

Hyper-polarized politics leads to spiteful and vituperative rhetoric, an acidic political atmosphere and inadequate governments; these not only threaten politicians, but also the moral and social fabric of our society.

Krugman says that the abortion debate epitomizes the rift among politicians: pro choice vs. pro life. But, there is a middle ground that can mediate this debate: no one is pro-abortion. Equally, while polarized politics may be the current trend and while the difference may be in belief systems, politicians need to remember that their purpose as elected officials is to serve the public. Until they convince us and each other that this is what they are elected for, we will continue on this path of violence.

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About Ranjodh Singh
I'm currently an Ally in the Public Allies New York Apprenticeship (www.publicallies.org). Through the apprenticeship, I'm partnered with NYCRx (www.nyxrc.org), a nonprofit organization that improves the health of New Yorkers using public health interventions. I'm excited to continue serving, but doing so closer to health and medicine. I'm also enjoying NYC, which I find to be an enriching environment.

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