Date: September 8, 2000
Mowahid H. Shah
Columnist, Pakistan Link
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Tustin, CA 92780, USA
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Character Builds Nation

by Mowahid H. Shah

When Mustapha Kemal, later known as Ataturk, was posted as a young Ottoman army officer to Macedonia, he refused a monetary tribute from the locals, telling his colleagues that he is a man of tomorrow. He knew early on, as the saying goes, that no amount of riches could atone for poverty of character.

Talk about Pakistan's problems often centers around a multi-layered crisis: the crisis of governance, of leadership, of legitimacy, of economy, and so on. Perhaps not enough attention is being paid to the question of character.

Opportunistic pragmatism, mendacity, inconstancy, and the pursuit of the immediate gain drive the impulses of the modern jungle.

A watchdog group in Washington, the Center for Public Integrity, has released a study, The Buying of the President 2000, connoting that the nations highest offices are amenable to easy subornation by the largest donors. Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin described this to ABC News as legalized bribery.

During Clinton's impeachment crisis, some of his frothy supporters had the temerity to suggest that character did not matter, but performance did. If accepted at face value, this validates the values of harlotry and not of leadership. In fact, the great American humorist, Mark Twain, described the U.S. Congress as Americas only native criminal class.

Back in Pakistan, not much has changed. The predecessors continue to get hounded by their successors, with the judiciary ready to give benediction to all and sundry on the throne. Switching loyalties, the professional courtiers predictably cling to the new chair-occupants, all under the garb of patriotism, of course. Yesterdays enemies are now threatening to become todays allies (PPP and PML) and the same recycled faces are popping up under new labels. Judges, journalists, clergy, and the military-cum-bureaucratic elites scream for more and quicker accountability (read bloody) for others while exempting themselves.

Can nations be built without building character? The creation of Pakistan is attributed to many factors. The most salient may be the least examined, i.e., the character of the founding father, M.A. Jinnah, who did not give a damn about Lord Mountbatten or the office of Viceroy of United India, which was offered to him on a silver platter.

Without a grand renewal of ethical values, the nation won't have the foundation of character to take up the challenge to be men and women of tomorrow.

[Mowahid H. Shah is a member of the District of Columbia bar, former law partner of Sen. Abourezk, and a writer on international affairs.] back button