Discourses, discussions, dialogue, conversations and arguments have always been recognised as a means to enhancing knowledge, to know another’s point of view without necessarily agreeing or for that matter, disagreeing.
Even the Greek philosophers considered debate as a useful medium of teaching.
These discourses were meant to be civilised and meaningful exchange of opinions and arguments with agreement on fundamentals but variances on issues related to practice — reconciling and bridging the differences was the main objective for debate.
Tolerance was an essential ingredient that balanced the magnanimity of the argument, upholding the concept of spreading awareness with the grace of respecting a rival’s beliefs.
While much can be argued about the usefulness of debates there are some ugly aspects that could aggravate into minor tiffs, culminating at times into uncontrollable violence, breaking into riots with brutal ferocity resulting in mass murders and arson.
As a character, Levin says in Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, “The argument is really about the inner self. While we talk of logic on the surface, we are really in conflict because of our ego or some deeply, and emotionally, held position.”
Prominent among the causes of downfall of the Abbasid Rule were disunity amongst the people on sectarian grounds and for holding different beliefs that erupted into volatile discourses mostly based on frivolous issues that it did not take long for the once powerful state to crumble before the Mongolian might.
This could have been the reason why in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was a shift towards rote method of learning rather than open discourses.
Thus at the lower level of education both in the modern schools and traditional madrassahs, students were forced to be on the receiving end with hardly any opportunities to interact with their counterparts lest such activities resulted in unmanageable episodes of hostility.
Recently in Pakistan, manazaras have taken on a new form.
These can be seen and heard on the innumerable television channels that air live and sometimes recorded programmes where a topic is debated by proponents of conflicting views. As long as these remain within the ambit of civility and knowledgeable themes, they prove a valuable source of information but the moment they transgress the bounds of personal attacks on characters and perky issues, they start taking on a loathsome nature.
Small talk, gossips, scandalous rumours, mud-slinging, innuendos and slander might be appealing to a vast segment of the audience but they certainly cause great harm to the character of the people.
Such behaviour might draw in a lot of money to its patrons or substantially raise the television rating points (TRP) but it bankrupts the entire value system of the society.
History bears witness that once, the national character of a country is damaged, subservience to a foreign and more powerful master, becomes inevitable.
Time is precious, therefore, it should be utilised most productively rather than wasting it in aimless discussions. The war of tongues is extremely dangerous as it has immense potential of getting converted into physical armed warfare.
With falling levels of tolerance such discourses have become the breeding grounds for vested interests who do not let any opportunity go by to create chaos.
These days, the electronic media has become influential in shaping the opinion of the masses. Rapid transmission of information is excellent but if done irresponsibly, could lead to disaster. Within minutes, a piece of news can play havoc with the peace and tranquillity of society besides disrupting the entire system. It is time that we reassess our talk shows where guests are invited to throw light on their views.
They should be instructed to keep themselves within propriety limits, respect other people’s opinions, refrain from uncivil behaviour (interrupting a speaker), abstain from hurling personal accusations (in a world where no one is infallible), differentiate between humour and mockery, remembering that a wrong word from their mouths could cause a jolt in which they, along with their loved ones, would also suffer.
The producers and anchors, keen to keep their jobs intact must also lay down some principles for maintaining decorum in their programmes. Their own attitude and style of conversation should not be aimed at rebuking, antagonising, sensationalising or offending anyone.
In today’s Pakistani media, semblance ofBaghdad’s violent and useless manazaras is quite obvious — one prays it is not the case of history repeating itself because if they continue unabated, we maybe heading towards the inevitable that occurred in Baghdad.
As a responsible fourth pillar of State, it is the collective duty of media to refrain from undesirable manazaras that are detrimental to the entire society.