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Updated: May 2, 2021

By: Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

In 1775, Dr Samuel Johnson, the first compiler of the English dictionary famously observed: 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel'.

The Oxford dictionary defines a scoundrel as, 'A dishonest or unscrupulous person; a rogue'.

I would say this idea entered political theory in a blunt manner in Niccolo Machiavelli's 'THE PRINCE' completed in around 1513.

It meant that any misbehaviour was justified as long as it was committed by shouting that he/she loved their country.

On the other, an individual who questioned the behaviour or conduct of a country or government was a traitor.

Politicians do it all the time all over the world and one can say that such misbehaviour is "normal" and over time its usage has become more pronounced.

I would go so far as to say that States like Pakistan make a virtue out of a vice. The most glaring example of it is the anti-intellectual milieu that prevails in the universities and other higher seats of learning.

Historically the universities emerged as institutions entitled to autonomy under charter to produce information and knowledge and in the long struggle for ending feudalism and the iron hold of religion the universities provided space for path-breaking research which in the long run made possible critical research, open society and democracy.

However, most of the stuff produced by universities was done by what Antonio Gramsci called traditional intellectuals or rather STATE INTELLECTUALS. He also used the term intelligentsia for people who make careers by blindly submitting to the dictates of states and governments.

In my several years of working in Pakistan during winters I was shocked to witness how fundamentally bad was the quality of research.

I am speaking of the research related to the social sciences and history.

The first thing one learns at university in a democracy is the responsibility to evaluate the reliability of the source material one is using in one's research. Whereas plagiarism is now easier to detect but using dubious and flawed sources as evidence and proof is equally unacceptable in genuine and quality research.

Whenever I have had an opportunity to speak to someone about the bad quality of their work their immediate defence is patriotism!

Pakistan, as an ideological state, exercises far more control in the production of knowledge, OR RATHER OBFUSCATION AND DISTORTION OF KNOWLEDGE AND TRUTH than many other states, but things are bad all over.


Patriotism is often used as a positive term in contrast to nationalism but I think it has been corrupted to mean now the same.

For me patriotism does carry positive connotations as well. It means love for the people and the places where one has lived and grown but it does not mean that such love is a toxic recipe for hating others.

I will always defend Pakistan if some external country were to launch an invasion on it but I would never justify or cover up the misdeeds and the crimes against humanity carried out by the Pakistani state or its organs including the notorious "non-state actors" against another country and its people.

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