The case of 2014 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala Yousafzai, which she shares with an Indian Kailash Satyarthi, who has devoted himself to the cause of child slavery, may be used as a litmus test should we want to know the bent of mind of any Pakistani fellow. This will help us know whether someone is a cynic or an ashraafist or both. Ask someone what he thinks about the Nobel Peace Prize for Malala; if he tells you, ‘Please, no joking!,’ be assured that he is both a cynic and an ashraafist. Some of the refined souls may be so artful that they would argue they are not this or that and are different from the lot; but their rhetoric reveals whether they are exclusively cynic or ashraafist only.
As cynics are souls in anguish who in their mysterious, unknown, and unknowable perfectionism find fault with everything and view everything from a standpoint of negativity, it seems with the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for Malala they have been thrown out of the frying pan into the fire, i.e. into a world which may be dubbed perfectly imperfect. So how come in such a world an honor like that of Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Malala! The cynics will never be able to be in harmony with this fact; they cannot reconcile with this “strangest” thing. What the heck it has been given to a Pakistani, a girl, and a young girl, and a Pakhtun girl!
So much so that one friend who is thoroughly a cynic, and in his deepest perceptions maybe an ashraafist too, was so much outraged that he rang me and questioned me the same evening as if it was I who made this happen. He was completely puzzled, and quizzed me: “Why, but why she has been awarded this? Is it so? Why?” So the Paki cynics think, and they believe it too, that the young girl has done nothing. She has wrongly been awarded this prize; she doesn’t deserve that. Even if she has done something; it’s not such that she be given that award. They mean: It’s all politics behind this; they are capitalists, Americans, and such, who are behind her, and it is this politics because of which she has been awarded this Nobel Peace Prize. That’s a big conspiracy. She is not worth that honor; her work is far below the prestige of the Prize. Who the hell they are who make such decisions! The Paki cynics feel helpless in the face of that “injustice;” they would stop it by force if they could!
All that rhetoric that revolves not only around the opposition of Malala Yousafzai but has found an impetus, albeit negative, in the awarding of the Peace Prize permeates with another hidden tendency. That is Ashraafism (Urdu: Ashraafiyat, or Ashraaf-Pasandi). Let it be noted here that the English term “Elitism” may somewhat be nearer Ashraafism as far its meaning is concerned; however, it is far from conveying the full range of the meanings the Urdu term carries. The Urdu word Ashraaf has a history of its own; it has two connotations: one is its moral implications; and the other, its social, political and economic implications. It’s antonym in Urdu is Ajlaaf, which similarly has the same connotations.
In its moral sense, Ashraaf means persons who are considered with high moral standing in a society; whereas Ajlaaf are such persons whose moral standing is measured at a lower or the lowest level, or they are with no moral standing. In English, they may be translated as Noble and Ignoble people. However, the social, political and economic senses of both terms are of immense significance; and in some ways, it is in these senses that Ajlaaf or the ignoble persons were considered with low or lowest moral standing or with none at all, and the Ashraaf with high moral standing.
As a matter of fact, the Ashraaf were such persons who were placed at a higher level in a society, not only socially and economically, but politically also. They were the rulers and custodians of that society. Opposed to them were their subjects, the Ajlaaf, whom the fate has situated at a lower or the lowest level of that society, and they had no power over their lives and bodies. They were the ruled and the stuff of that society.
What is remarkable about the Ashraaf or Ashraafiya is that not only was the whole of its Ashrafi paraphernalia based on but survived also via the concept of racial superiority and racial purity. Most of Lughaats and dictionaries tell that Ashraaf are ‘the people of noble birth.’ That puts a lot of emphasis on the ways marriages and blood relations were seen and conducted in an Ashraafi society. That did help Ashraaf contain property and privileges within their families and classes. For them, women were part of their property.
As against this, the Ajlaaf were such unfortunate people who were of ignoble birth. They were racially inferior and impure; they were originally, i.e.by birth ignoble. Not surprising that labor and physical work came to the share of the Ajlaaf. Thus occupations created castes, and both symbolized the Ajlaafi classes. That shuts all the doors for the Ajlaaf to go and move right or left or upward. That’s a closed society. It’s mainly two movements, Humanism and Democratism, that transformed that closed society into a Karl Popper’s open society. But the remnants of that Ashraafi closed society still survive and thrive as well in Pakistan.
Hence the Ashraafists argue how a girl from a non-Ashraaf can be honored with such a Prize. Let it be won by a daughter or son of an Ashraafiya, and they would be all praise for him or her. Once a friend whose family lived in Gowalmandi, Lahore, denigrated Nawaz Sharif thus: “Trash him; he just used to play in the streets of Gowalmandi!” In the same vein, Paki cynics and Ashraafists feel denigrated by this Peace Prize as being awarded to an ordinary girl; they do not see and commend her courage and work; nor her fortune! In their cynicism and ashraafism, they represent a closed society as well as closed minds!
Note: This article was completed on October 11 and was originally posted in October 2014.