The Dawn Blog » Next time, throw a book by Saima Shakil Hussain

Along with a shoe, one wishes someone would throw a book or two at some of our newsmakers. Maybe, just maybe, it would do a world of good to them and to us, the 175 million Pakistani people who are affected daily by their words and (mis)deeds. However, in the case of some newsmakers, it appears that they are already hard at work studying some old classics ….

What they are reading

President Asif Zardari: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Granted, the sixteenth-century treatise on statecraft will read like a virtual autobiography to the man who could very well write its updated version when he finally retires to his sixteenth century chateau in France, the Manoir de la Reine Blanche.

Machiavelli, a public servant, based his famous work on the political machinations of the Medicis and Borgias, the two most powerful families in Renaissance Italy. Many critics argue that The Prince is a political satire and meant to be read as a tongue-in-cheek account. Others disagree, and the fact that it was first published five years after Machiavelli’s death makes one think that he, for one, did not consider it a laughing matter.

Why am I convinced that this treatise must be the president’s bedtime reading? Well, mostly because the similarities between him and the prince are too astounding to be mere coincidence.

Machiavelli’s prince does not wish to preserve moral good or spiritual integrity; he simply wants to attain and maintain his power. Having come to power through sheer luck or the blessing of some powerful figures, he has an easy gaining power but must work hard to keep it. His power is dependent on his benefactors’ goodwill which is a fickle thing at best.

Also, consider the following excerpts from the treatise:

“A man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.”

“The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

“The wish to acquire more is admittedly a very natural and common thing; and when men succeed in this they are always praised rather than condemned. But when they lack the ability to do so and yet want to acquire more at all costs, they deserve condemnation for their mistakes.”

See what I mean?

Fauzia Wahab: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Anyone who has seen the PPP’s central information secretary in action cannot doubt that she has been working hard learning a trick or 10 from that queen of melodrama, Scarlett O’ Hara. The South may have swept through by the victorious Yankees and Tara, the O’Hara family estate, burnt to a crisp, but Scarlett stubbornly refused to budge or face reality. She was determined to do anything (and I do mean, anything) to defend her landowning, slave-keeping lifestyle.

Our own Ms Scarlett has been seen snorting, snickering and screaming on TV channels to defend what in any civilised society would be considered indefensible. This includes a president who takes off on a ‘joyride’ while the country is drowning to host what can only be described as his son’s ‘coronation’ in Birmingham. The same president who later said in the speech he made to supporters in Birmingham that his late wife and her father spoke ‘from inside him’ at a very critical time in the country’s history and urged him to declare ‘Pakistan Khappay’.

Dear Scarlett, just like Rhett, we frankly don’t give a damn.

What he should be reading

Bilawal Zardari:  All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer

It’s not too late. While he is still completing his education, the young man would do well to read Kinzer’s gripping account of how the arrogant and corrupt regime of the US-backed Shah was overthrown in a bloody revolution. The book gives details of how the Iranian people, who’s benign lord the Shah claimed to be, finally turned against him with such ferocity that the royal family and their cronies were forced to flee the country in order to save their lives.

Even today, despite their many differences of opinion and dissatisfaction with the rule of the ayatollahs, the one thing that the Iranian nation agrees on is that there can be no return of the monarchy. The only way that the late Shah’s only son, Reza Pahlavi, who continues to style himself ‘heir to the throne of Iran,’ can hope to re-enter the country is through foreign backing. And we all know what that leads to.

Reza Pahlavi at least has claim, however flimsy, to be the scion of a royal dynasty. (His grandfather Reza Shah was commander of the Persian Cossack brigade who became king as the result of a coup.) Bilawal Zardari has no such claim.

He claims that his late mother always taught him that, ‘democracy is the best revenge.’ Well, the Oxford-educated lad should know that there is no place for a dynasty in democracies. India is learning that at its great expense. Bilawal must discourage demagoguery within the People’s Party and encourage other, more senior, party leaders to take over the reins.

This article was published on the Dawn Blog.

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