‘New form of colonisation — digital imperialism — enslaving human beings’

Bilal Ahmed
Friday, Dec 02, 2022

At every step of our life we are being watched by an invisible power — the power of digital imperialism. Those controlling the digital world know us more than we know ourselves.

They store the information of what we do and what we like, and manipulate us without us knowing about them. Living in this digital imperialism has been the most significant experience of the humankind in the 21st century.

Literary critic and fiction writer Nasir Abbas Nayyar made these remarks on Thursday afternoon as he delivered his keynote address at the inauguration of the 15th International Urdu Conference at the Arts Council of Pakistan (ACP), Karachi.

Literary luminaries such as Iftikhar Arif, Kishwar Naheed, Amjad Islam Amjad, Dr Rauf Parekh, Zehra Nigah, Noorul Huda Shah, Ashfaq Hussain and Dr Pirzada Qasim were present on the stage.

Terming the digital era a form of imperialism, Nayyar said that confronting its issues is a twofold problem for us because we have still not freed ourselves from the ills of the colonial rule.

He said that during Renaissance, people would attest their existence by exclaiming, “I think therefore I am.” In the colonial era, those resisting the imperial forces would cite their resistance as the reason for their being. However, in the current world, “I share therefore I am” has become the rule.

Reciting a couplet of Azm Behzad — Mujhe Yaad Aaya Keh Ik Daur Tha Sargoshi Ka / Aaj Usi Daur Ki Ik Kam-Sukhani Yaad Aayi — Nayyar said that the human beings of yesteryears always had something private in their hearts that they would whisper either to themselves or to someone special, like God or their beloved.

He lamented that the human beings living in the digital world have lost those whispers. As a result of this, he remarked, the private space of an individual has constantly been shrinking. He said that the liberal world created by the West had laid much emphasis on the sanctity of human privacy, but that world gave birth to the neoliberal world where there is no privacy.

Shedding light on another ill of the digital media, the speaker said that every individual has the right to hold on to their opinion, but one must not infer that the right of having an opinion is equivalent to the right of imposing one’s opinion onto others by force. Post-truth, he explained, is nothing but trying to change the ‘democracy of opinions’ into the ‘monarchy of one opinion’.

Nayyar said that in this world, a writer needs independence to write whatever they want. “Writers do not need accolades, rather they should stay away from those who distribute accolades. Writers need independence.”

Regarding Pakistan, he said that our nation is still divided on the issue of its identity. He added that Pakistan is the only Muslim country that rejects the pre-Islam elements of its region as part of its identity.

The other keynote speaker at the event, Dr Alex Bellem, a linguist from the Aga Khan University, London, specialising in Arabic phonology, described how she had been fascinated by the multilingualism in Pakistan, especially Karachi.

She said that around 7,000 languages are being spoken in the world today, half of which are facing the threat of extinction. The scholar said that as languages preserve the past heritage and connect the future with the past, the self-perceived identity of the dwellers of a multilingual city like Karachi may be highly affected by the number of languages they speak.

Zehra Nigah, a senior literary figure of Karachi, said that lots of people attending the conference at the time of unprecedented inflation has made her very happy. She said that inflationary pressures are not letting people live in an honourable way.

Addressing Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, who was the chief guest at the event, she said the government should do something to rectify the situation because people are tired of listening to the self-praise of the authorities.

The CM told the gathering that Sindh is a province of Sufi saints and it has always propagated the message of peace. He said that no place is better than Sindh to hold such conferences related to the arts and literature.

ACP Karachi President Ahmad Shah thanked the audience and the guests, and announced the council’s plans of holding similar conferences throughout the country as well as in the United States and Canada.

He also appealed to the CM to transfer the ownership of the abandoned Fyzee Rahamin Art Gallery, which is located adjacent to the ACP, to the council, saying that all the government plans to restore the gallery in the past have failed, so if the ACP is handed over its possession, the council would make good use of it.