Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cromwell, Robespierre and Bachha Saqqas of Pakistan

A leaf from history to refresh your minds:

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the 1st Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (1653-8), remains one of the most controversial figures in the British history. While some consider him a tyrant for being one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles I and for his genocide/near-genocide of Roman Catholics in Ireland and of Royalists in Scotland, yet others consider him a hero of the civil war, liberty and parliamentary democracy and a visionary for allowing Jews to return to England and for his formation of a standing army and a navy.
Oliver Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament

On April 20, 1653, Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump/Long Parliament, to be later replaced by a Nominated Assembly-the Parliament of the Saints or the Barebones Parliament, delivering a stinging indictment of the House of Commons that rings true for the current state of Pakistani body-politic in 2012, though by no means implying a similar action here.

“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.
Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?
Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.
Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God's help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.
I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place. Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! 
So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!”
Similarly, Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-94) was an influential but controversial leader of the French Revolution. While some consider him a tyrant for his successful demand for the execution of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette and for his reign of terror (1793-4), yet others call him ‘The Incorruptible’ leader of the Jacobin Club and organiser of the Paris Commune who supported equal rights and universal suffrage and helped establish sovereignty of the people and the republic.

Serment du jeu de paume, the Tennis Court Oath, June 20, 1789
On February 5, 1794, Robespierre delivered his famous Republic of Virtue speech to the French National Convention, arguing:

“What is the aim we want to achieve? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws are engraved not in stone and marble, but in the hearts of all men, even in the heart of the slave who forgets them or of the tyrant who disowns them. 
We want a state of affairs where all despicable and cruel passions are unknown, and all kind and generous passions are aroused by the laws; where ambition is the desire to deserve glory and to serve the fatherland; where distinctions arise only from equality itself; where the citizen submits to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people and the people to justice; where the fatherland guarantees the well-being of each individual, and where each individual enjoys with pride the prosperity and glory of the fatherland; where all souls elevate themselves through constant communication or republican sentiments and through the need to deserve the esteem of a great people; where the arts are the decorations of liberty that ennobles them, where commerce is the source of public wealth and not only of the monstrous opulence of a few house.
In our country we want to substitute morality for egoism, honesty for honor, principles for customs, duties for decorum, the rule of reason for the tyranny of custom, the contempt of vice for the contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, magnanimity for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for well-bred people, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for pompous action, warmth of happiness for boredom of sensuality, greatness of man for pettiness of the great; a magnanimous, powerful, happy people for a polite, frivolous, despicable people -- that is to say, all the virtues and all the miracles of the Republic for all the vices and all the absurdities of the monarchy.
In one word, we want to fulfil the wishes of nature, accomplish the destiny of humanity, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve Providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny.
What kind of government can realize these marvels? Only a democratic or republican government.
But what is the fundamental principle of the democratic or popular government, that is to say, the essential strength that sustains it and makes it move? It is virtue: I am speaking of the public virtue which brought about so many marvels in Greece and Rome and which must bring about much more astonishing ones yet in republican France; of that virtue which is nothing more than love of the fatherland and of its laws....”

Shortly afterwards on June 8, 1794, on the Festival of the Supreme Being (Le culte de l'Être supreme), Robespierre made another impassioned speech:

“.... Is it not He who, from the beginning of time, decreed for all the ages and for all peoples liberty, good faith, and justice?
He did not create kings to devour the human race. He did not create priests to harness us, like vile animals, to the chariots of kings and to give to the world examples of baseness, pride, perfidy, avarice, debauchery, and falsehood. He created the universe to proclaim His power. He created men to help each other, to love each other mutually, and to attain to happiness by the way of virtue.
.... It is He who impels the just man to hate the evil one, and the evil man to respect the just one. ... All that is good is His work, or is He. Evil belongs to the depraved man who oppresses his fellow man or suffers him to be oppressed.
The Author of Nature has bound all mortals by a boundless chain of love and happiness. Perish the tyrants who have dared to break it!
Republican Frenchmen, it is yours to purify the Earth which they have soiled, and to recall to it the justice that they have banished! Liberty and virtue together came from the breast of Divinity. Neither can abide with mankind without the other.
O generous People, would you triumph over all your enemies? Practice justice, and render the Divinity the only worship worthy of Him.
.... It is wisdom above all that our guilty enemies would drive from the republic. To wisdom alone it is given to strengthen the prosperity of empires. It is for her to guarantee to us the rewards of our courage. Let us associate wisdom, then, with all our enterprises. Let us be grave and discreet in all our deliberations, as men who are providing for the interests of the world. Let us be ardent and obstinate in our anger against conspiring tyrants, imperturbable in dangers, patient in labors, terrible in striking back, modest and vigilant in successes. Let us be generous toward the good, compassionate with the unfortunate, inexorable with the evil, just toward every one. Let us not count on an unmixed prosperity, and on triumphs without attacks, nor on all that depends on fortune or the perversity of others. Sole, but infallible guarantors of our independence, let us crush the impious league of kings by the grandeur of our character, even more than by the strength of our arms....”

Both Cromwell and Robespierre met a somewhat similar fate; Cromwell’s body was disinterred and executed posthumously in 1659 after the monarchy got re-established in England and his head remained on a spike above the Westminster Hall for about 25 years – only to be buried after about another 300 years, while Robespierre was arrested on orders of the National Convention and guillotined without trial in 1794.

It is a moot point whether Pakistanis understand the value of human life and its basic rights, democratic pluralism, equality and rule of law and can take a long-term view to nation-building!!

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