Dr. S. Zulfiqar Gilani |
Although bandied about for as long as one remembers, only recently has the rule of law started being enforced for even the high and mighty. There has been some progress on the ‘blind’ application of the rule of law, though highly uneven and at a snail’s pace. It is commonly believed that as our judicial system improves and the rule of law is established, we will accordingly move towards becoming a just society.
However, although a well-functioning judicial system and the establishment of the rule of law are necessary, they are not sufficient to move towards a just society: That can only happen if the personal virtue of justice is also more prevalent in the citizenry, including amongst the judges and all others in power. We typically associate justice with the prevailing socio-economic arrangements, the judicial system, or political institutions; but the personal virtue of justice is of greater centrality in moving towards a just society.
They are aware of their own shortcomings and acknowledge their own mistakes and faults, which makes them more forgiving of the mistakes and faults of others.
Personal justice requires that we not only judge others fairly but that we also judge ourselves fairly. The latter is very difficult as we are usually quite biased in the way we see and judge ourselves, and a person who is a poor judge of him or herself cannot be a fair judge of others. If we have a biased view of ourselves, we will have a biased view of others. Our bias blinds us to our unfair behaviors and we believe that everyone else is unfair.
In daily life, everyone feels that they are not fairly dealt with, which is especially heightened when dealing with government functionaries or public institutions. Generally, it is our experience that the other will always try to get the better of us, whether by lying or cheating or any other means. However, we also are often unjust to others without recognition or acceptance of our unfairness. In fact, there are two sides to personal justice: there are the beliefs and values we hold and justify, and there is practical morality.
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The two should be entwined in our lives, otherwise, we may think in a fair and just manner, but not act that way. In our society, most people hold or at least pay lip service to the virtues of fairness and justice, but their actions are rarely fair or just. When considering the actions of those in power, justice as a personal virtue is strikingly important. If the inner moral compass of those in power is not just, their motivation is highly likely to be self-aggrandizement through abuse of power and corruption.
It is commonly believed that as our judicial system improves and the rule of law is established, we will accordingly move towards becoming a just society.
Barring a few exceptions, in Pakistan, those in positions of power demonstrate great poverty in the personal virtue of justice, which besides causing great suffering, has resulted in institutional decay, corruption, and moral and societal erosion. There is another way in which injustice is perpetuated. This happens when people consider themselves less worthy and unequal.
This feeling of inferiority is more observable among people who have historically been socio-economically oppressed. Broadly speaking this produces the state of mind of servility, when people feel like that they are unable to muster the courage even to call out injustice, let alone fight it. They believe that being dealt with unfairly and unjustly is their fate, which cannot be questioned or changed.
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The opposite of the servile attitude of the dispossessed is the sense of entitlement of the rich and powerful. They believe that they are above the law. They are incapable of self-examination of their actions in terms of fairness and justice. In case they are confronted with their unlawful and unjust behaviours they verbally deny it and pontificate platitudes about the virtue of justice.
There are two sides to personal justice: there are the beliefs and values we hold and justify, and there is practical morality.
However, behaviourally they fight back by deploying all their resources: financial, political, and administrative. The mass base of servility and the sense of entitlement of the few make the movement towards a just society extremely difficult and turbulent, something that we are witnessing in Pakistan these days. People with the personal virtue of justice are fair, egalitarian, and merciful. They question themselves, which makes them honest and non-self-deceptive.
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They are aware of their own shortcomings and acknowledge their own mistakes and faults, which makes them more forgiving of the mistakes and faults of others. They respect who they actually are and not what they wish or think they were; which makes them respect others. There is no contradiction between the thoughts and deeds of just people.
They usually mind their own business except when they see injustice which they are ready to call out and confront, even if it means standing up to power and personal cost. For an overwhelming majority, life in Pakistan is neither just nor fair: Equally, there is a desire for justice and fairness. To actualise that desire we have to accept our obligation to be as personally just and fair as possible, to be honest with ourselves and others, and to call out and try to correct injustice when we see it.
Dr. S. Zulfiqar Gilani is a Clinical Psychologist and Educationist, based in Islamabad. He is the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Peshawar; Rector Foundation University, Islamabad; Director Centre for Higher Education Transformation, Islamabad; and recipient of the prestigious Fulbright New Century Scholars award. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.