Bread and circuses
“Bread and circuses” (from Latin: panem et circenses) is a metonymic phrase referring to superficial appeasement. It is attributed to Juvenal, a Roman poet active in the late first and early second century CE — and is used commonly in cultural, particularly political, contexts. In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses).
Juvenal, who originated the phrase, used it to decry the “selfishness” of common people and their neglect of wider concerns. The phrase implies a population’s erosion or ignorance of civic duty as a priority.
Appeasement, by definition, poses an inherent problem in that it is not sustainable. It is just putting off an issue today for immediate calm, but one that will rear its ugly head again, tomorrow. As long as this is not going to be my problem, I am happy to be appeasing others – the common folk embroiled in superstitious, ritualistic and material life, and the top brass, focussed in envisioning control over society by all means.
Political as this may sound, the application of this phenomenon is as micro as it is global. Families too, struggle with this perennial struggle for equilibrium, one that may take the form of several seemingly virtuous traits such as tolerance, surrender, submission and silence.
In “The Social System and Morality of Islam” (2012), author M. Cherif Bassiouni remarks ‘An important Hadith (saying) of the Prophet is that religion is not what one formally or ritualistically practices but how one deals with others’. The responsibility on each one of us of endowment, whether wealth or knowledge, leadership or servitude, is that we must do good by others, otherwise our being Muslim is questionable. Our scholars, on whom we so much rely for information and new knowledge so that we can experience an uplifted spirituality, must remember that the pulpit and the Madrasahs are not the venues for playing bread and circuses, for their accountability will be much higher in misleading others. Whereas it has been very easy for many bygone preachers to incite one against another, telling the truth on our faces has been a pipe dream, essentially because not only do the work for us but they depend on our ardent applause and listening. And yes, this follows that the problem is much more deep-rooted than the scholar, as we witness each day of our lives transacting with our own brethren, most of whom will unfortunately speak on the periphery or if personally, then with an agenda for publicity. The time to introspect is passing slipping away, the time for change is most certainly now.