Coming home late one night after a stressful day at work, I switched on the TV to shed a bit of tension out of my system. I switched on to one of the news channels only to have it switched off within five minutes with a bigger headache than what I had started with. The reason was the unbearable level of noise the respected participants of the ‘top rated’ talk show were generating. My patience reserves exhausted when one of the participants in a western suit and tie called the other a ‘liberal’ in such a derogatory way as if abusing the other.
After switching off the TV, the inquisitive part of me immediately reached out for the dictionary to check if the meanings of liberal had changed to something bad since I last looked at it in my school days quarter of a century ago! After all, the world has changed quite a bit in that period. To my amazement, it still read the same:
adj. favourable to progress or reform, tolerant, open-minded
Finding apparently nothing wrong with these words either, left me even more perplexed because I thought being open minded and progressive is also what the religion teaches and the society demands from us.
Good old Dr Wikipedia says: Liberalism is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty, equality and justice (both legal and social). Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of press, freedom of religion and free trade. As far as my meagre thinking goes, none of these is either against religion, law or general norms of society. In fact, this is probably the reason why in the 20th century it’s the liberal democracies that have seen the most growth and progress made.
“No school can supply an anti-liberal education, or a fascist education, as these terms are contradictory. Liberalism and education are one.”
― George Seldes
Why then is the word liberal so demonised by one side of our ever-growing left-right divide? Watching the vomit of words going on our TV screens, it seems that the liberal is portrayed as a hard drinking, clubbing species who feeds on US dollars, follows the paymaster’s dictates and hence devoid of any patriotism. A liberal is also considered to be having nothing to do with the religion and thus lacking any moral bearings. Nothing could be further from the truth than this wayward perception. Being liberal neither means that one is an atheist, nor does it imply that one is unpatriotic. We’ve had our fair share of liberal heroes, Salman Taseer being one of them who had to pay with his life for standing for his liberal stance.
Just like conservatism, liberalism also has its core principles, the difference being that liberalism is not afraid to question the status quo. It looks for answers to the whys that keep propping up in every mind but is shunned to believe the ‘way it is’. The foundation of this philosophy is that all ideas will be constantly examined, scrutinised, studied and debated. If new information emerges to challenge the present state, it will be rightfully taken into account. Liberalism searches for the ultimate value on which to build a moral foundation: Truth.
This does not imply in any way that it is only the liberals searching for the truth. The point is that however healthy our left-right debates may be, it is wrong on either side to accuse the other of being a traitor or unpatriotic on being liberal or conservative. A liberal can be just as much loyal to the country and just as dedicated to the religion as a conservative and vice versa. At the end of the day it is the humans that err, not ideology.