Political Psychology

By Shah N. Khan, Moderator, Pakistan Post - Internet Discussion Group

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The field of political psychology has emerged as an important area of scholarship in the social sciences and during past 12 years considerable advances have been made. Psychoanalytic research on personality and politics has been going on for the last several decades. Political psychology now involves research on political belief systems, political attitudes and behavior and, more recently, on political information processing and cognition and emotion and their link to political cognition and behavior.

Benazir Bhutto had exceptional leadership qualities though she inherited political legacy from her father Shaheed Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan. But in most cases in developing countries where ignorance and poverty prevail among people, hypocrites and corrupt politicians fool people by making false promises. Religious values are distorted and modern political system is blamed.

Experts in mass psychology say that by hiring a few hundred people to raise slogans, beat drums, dance (Bhangra or Dhammal) creates impression on masses of popularity of politicians. Ability to lie gullibly and promise income, prosperity and home lures poor and ignorant people in personality cult and even the children of politicians inherit leadership.

Heads of terrorist organizations take advantage of poverty and ignorance and suicidal tendency of youth and train them as suicide bombers promising them paradise in afterlife.

For many years, faculty and students from several departments and colleges of the University of Minnesota shared an interest in broad themes such as political tolerance, citizenship and political participation, and political and social cognition and communication. In recent years, as part of a new University Ph.D. Minor in Political Psychology, a Political Psychology Proseminar has emerged to provide a place where these ideas can be pursued in greater depth.

A number of books have been published about Political Psychology and the topics covered include evolution of the individual level traits, attitudes, values, decision making, ideology, personality to the collective cognition, group thinking and identity, mass mobilization besides political and religious violence, span models of the mass public and political elites. The books and journals cover both domestic issues, international relations, and foreign policy with increased focus these days on causes and remedies for terrorism and fanaticism. However most of such material is written by such authors whose opinions and thinking are colored by the existing Foreign Policy of US which has recently come under sharp criticism both in developed and developing world. If people like Noam Chomski and Joseph S. Nye Jr. help develope courses for students of Political Psycholoy that would emerge on a more realistic and objective pattern.

The object of Political Psychology must be to help in developing a correct political vision and strategy based on universally accepted norms of justice rather than teaching the tactics for advancing any political ideology or agenda like lawyers do, for the benefit of our politicians or the country in a way detrimental to other nations specially those non-alligned. 

Justice begins with the recognition of the necessity of sharing and restricting our freedom for those actions that harm others. But this is always not possible. 'Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you' is no more regarded as a golden rule. And the greatest happiness of the greatest number has become the foundation of morals and legislation.

It is said that no civilization would ever have been possible without a framework of stability, to provide the wherein for the flux of change. Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other. But the law happens to be only one of several imperfect and more or less external ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better. Conforming to the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions. The paradox of law is that it is always not possible to make our material condition better by the best law, but it is easy enough to ruin it by bad laws or by not having any law.

As Bertrand Russell says, The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics. And as Edward Said described, Power, after all, is not just military strength. It is the social power that comes from democracy, the cultural power that comes from freedom of expression and research, the personal power that entitles every Arab citizen to feel that he or she is in fact a citizen, and not just a sheep in some great shepherd's flock.

Power and aggression are two most important determiners of relationships among individuals and societies that result in fascism and an authoritarian and oppressive system of government and social organization.

In modern psychology, Machiavellianism refers to mysterious, deceptive and the dark triad personalities, characterized by a duplicitous interpersonal style, a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and personal gain or gaining and retaining power by means fair or foul.

Power grows if that is used to help people and nations. But it starts dwindling if it is used in bullying people and nations and forcing on them arbitrary decisions which they regard as detrimental to their interests.

Joseph S. Nye Jr. dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University discusses American supremacy and how long it will last. The United States has unprecedented military power, but the sword alone won't ensure American preponderance in the long term, he argues. 'If the United States wants to remain strong, Americans need to pay attention to our soft power' our ability to attract others to our way of life and get them to want what we want, Mr. Nye argues. Soft power arises in large part from our values, he writes.

Political Psychology kindles a new hope that it would help the mankind in developing a correct political vision that would pave the way for greater peace and tranquility on this planet troubled by religious and political bigotry and perversion.

Islamic values for Good Governance

In Holy Quran and Sunnah we can find broad principles of good governance, justice and fair play rather than any specific political system or method. Study of Holy Quran and Sunnah would help our bureaucrats and aspiring rulers to evaluate the manners in which the powers and authorities are to be exercised.

All the fundamental Human Rights, the principle of equality of human beings and Islamic brotherhood, the right to freedom of expression with decency, the guarantees of safety of life, property and honor, the right of everyone to get his just dues, the right of governance by consultations are all enshrined in the Holy Quran and Holy Prophet's sayings and his last sermon and his precepts and practice. These did not remain merely as a paper declaration but were fully implemented and acted upon by the first four rightly directed Caliphs, who performed all the functions of an Islamic State. But alas after that the concept of Caliphate was obscured by monarchy.

It is ironical that the principles of human rights and governance through consultations as enunciated over 1, 500 years ago by the Holy Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) have been forgotten by Muslims but they have been adopted by the West in some way. The system of governance in USA appears to be based on the some of the same basic ideals as laid down in Holy Quran. Examples for good governance were shown not only by the Holy Prophet but also by his immediate successors - the four rightly directed caliphs (Khulfa -i- Rashidin).

Allah grants power and authority with the obligation and duty to act righteously for the benefit of the society including Non Muslim. Forcible conversion to Islam is prohibited by Quran. And this authority must be exercised for peace and security and to ensure justice, fair play and progress and to guard against oppression, injustice and wrong doings.

The role of Shura i.e. consultation to help the rulers in good governance has been part of our traditions and that paved the way of Parliament and Senate in the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But the qualifications of rulers and their deputies as well the candidates and voters are two major areas where conformity to Islamic ideals needs to be ensured.

Stricter qualifications are needed not only for voters but also candidates for National and Provincial Assemlies, senate and local body governments.

The qualifications for bestowing authority or eligibility for an office for public administration would appear to be knowledge (academic qualifications), piety, fear of Allah and unflinching faith and ability to do justice in conformity with the standards of conduct as laid down in Holy Quran and the Sunnah.

It would do well if all the politicians and bureaucrats are made to undergo a refresher course relating to Social Justice, trust and other commandments of Holy Quran as well as universally accepted norms of Good Governance and Justice.

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