It can be reasonably assumed that the ideology of ‘liberalism’ is on a downward trend globally. In most parts of the world, more and more ‘conservative’ or ‘right wing’ candidates have seen success as opposed to their ‘liberal’ counterparts. The ‘Left’ is losing the battle against the ‘Right’. Let’s focus on why that is so, why is it that ‘liberals’ have started to become demonized in many societies? They are ‘anti-national’, they represent ‘foreign agendas’ and work against the overall national supremacy of their home country under the guise of human rights is what is now being associated with ‘liberals’. I am mostly referring to social liberalism rather than economic liberalism here, although economic liberalism is too on the downfall but that’s another discussion for another day.
Lets take Pakistan for example. Usually, ‘liberals’ are seen as Kaafirs(Infidels), people under the payroll of the evil west whose sole agenda is to derail the religious values of society. Terms such as ‘libtards’ or ‘liberal fascists’ are used quite often to describe social activists campaigning for secular values, criticizing the military, calling out religious extremism rigidly and perhaps even at times calling for improved relations and greater art exchange with our alleged enemies from across the border. In highlighting all the problems that exist within the country, speaking on sensitive religious issues, the ‘liberals’ are often charged with defaming the country globally, speaking the tongue of our enemies. Critiquing the military, which has a cult like following is also viewed as an anti-national activity. So because of all of these reasons within a generally conservative society, the word ‘liberal’ has become something of a slur. It is true that often people on one side of the spectrum don’t really give due consideration or respect to opinions on the other side of the spectrum and eventually fuel tension. This perhaps can also be seen the United States, when the ‘liberals’ were charged with demonizing Trump and his ‘deplorables'(followers) too much, not willing to hear out their concerns or what circumstances they come from.
I think we all need to consider and look at what being a ‘liberal’ generally means and whether or not the generalizations and/or demonization of this term is justified or not. Even here in Pakistan, the general liberal would be a supporter of a secular government, would want a tough crackdown against sectarian terror groups and the freedom to practice your religion without prejudice. Most people would probably agree in principle with all of these ideas, just like most people would agree that sexism and racism are unacceptable acts. The problem comes about in actually going into these subjects in detail: ‘Does the state have the right to declare someone an infidel?’, ‘Should women have the freedom to dress however they want in public?’, ‘Should a non-muslim be eligible to becoming the head of the state?’. Most people would have strong unfavourable opinions towards these questions and most people would get offended when someone tries to debate these issues, as most of these ideas are grounded within the religious belief of that person and anything that even comes close to questioning that offends them deeply. This offense is then translated into anger towards the debate generator, which is in most cases a self described or publically accepted form of a ‘liberal’. It is because of this offense and anger that people have moved away from the principle of liberalism and have started to view liberalism as something that is generally against their religious beliefs and against their national identity as well. When that is all liberalism is limited to, it automatically becomes a slur, because in the mind of the ‘non-liberal’, it doesn’t represent anything more than that. In a society that has generally been suspicious of the west, does not do so well with ‘liberalism’ especially when it is viewed as the brainchild of the west.
I think, for liberalism to be successful as a movement there needs to be a change in approach. There needs to be less ridiculing of other ideas to prove their ideas correct and more of trying to understand the opposing ideas and gradually try to alter them. Most Facebook pages campaigning for liberal values often end up becoming echo chambers after they successfully offend and push away most of the opposite spectrum. Radicalism and misplaced nationalism is allowed to grow and consolidate power when ‘liberalism’ alienates most people. In the American elections, most people took to ridiculing the opposite spectrum so much so with the holier than thou attitude, it actually brought about results that no one anticipated. The idea of liberalism means a generally free society, a society where everyone is equal and no one is the sacred cow. That doesn’t sound all that bad, we need to make sure that this is what it is in the minds of the people to bring about a progressive change. When activist Jibran Nasir’s posts ranging from the environment to radicalism are all met with only ‘anti liberal’ slurs, we must acknowledge that the term ‘liberal’ isn’t really a positive one in the minds of the people and we must help change it to mean what it actually is.