Essay No. 58:
Civilized Dissent Is Necessary For Social Progress: Dissent means a difference of opinion, which is thought to be a necessary concomitant of social progress. A society where dissent is allowed to grow succeeds in discovering ways to overall progress.
Western society offers the best example of dissent. People differ with each other in personal/national matters. They express their opinion freely without any restraint. They tolerate each other’s point of view and do not become emotional if their views are in conflict with others. The dissent thus goes a long way in inculcating patience and forbearance in the people.
The civilized dissent opens up avenues for tolerance which is very much needed to construct society on healthy lines. One is reminded of Voltaire’s quotation which runs as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it till death”. This highlights the importance of dissent in a society which is on the march to progress.
In traditional societies, it is the accumulated wisdom of the elders which is not to be questioned. Dissent is not tolerated. Disobedience to the opinion of the elders is regarded as a sin. Traditional societies thus flounder in the mire of conservatism and are deprived of progressivism. However, when these societies are sensitized to economic development and they cannot remain confined to the cave of traditionalism forever, diversified type of institutional changes begin to occur in them.
Traditional beliefs, values start crumbling in the face of new changes. Tolerance gradually takes hold of societies that are in the midst of new socio-economic institutional changes. The hold of authorities in Pakistan society has loosened. Tolerance in different sectors of life is raising its head which is a healthy sign. Shackles of obscurantism are getting dismantled in Pakistan society. With progressive forces in operation, forces of darkness recede in the background. When education creates its spread-effects, superstitions, irrational beliefs get dissolved, paving the way to enlightenment.
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Democracy is the best way to foster dissent. When it gets underway in a developing country like Pakistan, it gradually encourages the spirit of dissent. Ruling governments learn to put up with the dissenting views of opposition on national, international views; policies in different fields are changed. Opposition is accommodated by governments. Likewise, opposition does not believe in opposition for the sake of opposition. Forces of moderation begin to operate on either side. It helps grow dissent over time, which smoothens the way to progress.
After the period of Renaissance in West Europe, dissent emerged as a force in the fields of literature, science and art. It gave birth to Romanticism as a reaction to Classicism, in English poetry. The pace of scientific discoveries increased leading to new inventions. People’s attitudes underwent a healthy change. There was an overall awakening in West Europe. The same trend continues in West Europe even now.
Islam needs to be presented in a progressive manner, of course, without disturbing the basic parameters, like the unity of Allah, the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) as the last messenger of Allah etc. Islamic principles need to be interpreted according to the changing nature of circumstances. The religious zealots should accept dissent as a matter of necessity and create flexibility in their rigid views.