This is the month in which anniversary of Pakistan’s birth is celebrated every year. In addition to the patriotic fervor displayed on national TV channels and in newspaper supplements, we also get our annual dose of articles about how Pakistan represents a dream gone sour, a promise unfulfilled and a betrayal of hope. There are those who lament that we continue to remain slaves mentally or physically despite the token independence attained six decades back. But I feel there is not much reflection on the concept of independence and the relationship between an individual’s independence in his/her life and a state’s independence in its dealings with the world and its citizens and how the latter compromises the former. Ironically, what the behavior of my state has meant to me lately is that carrying a Pakistani passport has severely restricted my freedom to travel, leading to cancellation of some of my planned foreign trips. Pakistan is one of the only 12 countries whose citizens require a visa even for transit via European or American airports. If this be the requirement only for stopping over at the airport, one can imagine the additional screenings one has to go through to visit another country. But then, that’s not an issue to concern the masses. The isolationist-glory dreams that the youth of this country are being shown by our uber-nationalist heroes; this is not likely to offer any food for introspection. It is, instead, more likely to lead to further retaliation in the shape of demands for applying similar restrictions on travellers from all the countries to Pakistan, though there are very precious few who are willing to take this risk these days.
A couple of years back, when we were approaching the completion of our internships in Pakistan, most of my colleagues landed jobs abroad; mostly in the Middle Eastern countries, but some in UK and US as well. The decline of Pakistani economy was about to start after a couple of years of aid-funded growth. The economies of Gulf countries were booming as a result of the rising oil prices and many people from Pakistan were able to find employment there. Once in a Gulf country, I met an old friend and we started discussing about all our former colleagues. He made a remark which made me think about what we had gained and given up as a result of moving overseas. He said that those of our colleagues who had gone to the UK have kind of breached their loyalty to the homeland by getting settled in a country which had once colonized us, and from which we had obtained our independence after long struggle and many sacrifices. I will not dilate upon my views about the struggle and sacrifices here, but what made me a little uncomfortable was that I could sense a flaw in this argument but couldn’t figure out how to highlight it.
Going back in time to my school years, I remember we would often be told by teachers in school, by politicians on television, and by other wise-looking personalities, how lucky we as young Pakistanis should feel that we were born in a free country. And then the line that had there been no Pakistan, we would have had no identity, made me think that our sheer existence as living creatures depended on the existence of Pakistan. The stories of how Muslims suffered discrimination in united India and could not practice their religion freely were often narrated as the rationale for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. We used to feel pity for the Indian Muslims for they continued to live in those supposedly subhuman conditions, by opting not to come to Pakistan.
My confusion grew however, when I increasingly became aware of the existence of those very same conditions in Pakistan, getting rid of which was the primary justification for its creation. The only difference was that the roles of people and communities had changed based on their respective faiths. The city I grew up in has remained a hotbed of sectarian tensions for as long as I can remember, resulting in the killings of a large number of people. Many families of the minority sect have migrated to supposedly safer cities. It was a perception that since loyalties are essentially based on faith, rather than culture, language or centuries of living together, the natural loyalties of minority sects cannot lie with the state of Pakistan, as they have other countries to identify themselves with. It wasn’t until much later that I learnt, as if a closely-guarded secret had been revealed, that the person credited with founding Pakistan was himself from a minority sect. As for discrimination against minorities, while television dramas showed how, prior to Partition, hardcore Hindus refused to drink from a glass touched by a Muslim, similar attitude was not uncommon toward the tiny Christian minority and less commonly between Shias and Sunnis too in the liberated Pakistan.
As social media became common, and I found myself energetically defending my country’s official line during discussions with similarly overzealous members from India, I learnt that Indian Muslims were as much patriotic to their country as anyone could be. The stories of the miserable condition of Indian Muslims also seemed to be losing credibility, notwithstanding the riots of Gujarat, as I began to notice the proud nationalist feelings among their citizens of all creeds. As a matter of principle, I found this somehow irreconcilable with the idea of Pakistan, which was created to provide safer and better environment for the Muslim minority of India to flourish in their material and religious lives. To the contrary, Indian Muslims insisted they lived happily in their own country and displayed no signs of willingness to join us in the better and purer land.
Having experienced more freedom outside my ‘free’ country to say and do things as I wish than inside it, without harming another soul of course, questions arose in my mind whether the independence of my country has come at the cost of my individual freedom. For what is independence if not the right to be treated equally irrespective of one’s creed or background, plus having the liberty to exercise one’s right to practice one’s faith and free speech, without it getting monopolized by majority sects or communities. Not to speak of such monopolies getting a legal cover by from the state. The irony is colossal for this country was created essentially to protect the rights of a minority and it has ended up institutionalizing discrimination against minorities.
As for my friend who criticized our colleagues who moved to the UK as less loyal to Pakistan, I only realized that for many of my countrymen, independence is more about the religion and ethnicity of whoever rules us, than the freedom we get to exercise in our actions and choices. If the majority of a country’s citizens, of their own free will, approve of state’s infringement of individual’s freedoms and curtailment of minorities’ rights, what would we call such a state? Independent or a usurper of independence?
Published in the Viewpoint Online on August 19, 2011
I have been seeing several status messages on facebook since the recent Oslo attacks about how the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, who has confessed to the carnage of July 22, is being given more favourable labels by the Western media, because he is not a Muslim. The latest one was this status message which is currently going viral amongst my countrymen on facebook.
“If the person who killed 90+ people in Norway was a Muslim, the press would have declared him as terrorist and the act as terrorism. For now, he is just an “assailant “, “attacker” (Reuters), “gunman” (BBC, CNN & Al Jazeera). Looks like “Terrorist” is a name reserved for Muslims??? The US Department of State calls it an “Act of violence” (not an “Act of Terrorism”).”
I think this message is another manifestation of the denial syndrome common to Muslim world in general and the land of the Pure in particular. There are a couple of things that promoters of such messages are completely disregarding. I will list a few:
1. Type the key words “terrorist” and “Anders Behring Breivik” on google and you’ll find many mainstream western media websites, including CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/07/26/norway.terror.developments/index.html), BBC(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14260297), Time (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2085623,00.html) etc. calling it an act of terrorism. So the assertion that Breivik is being labeled favourably is only partly true. It’s obvious that most people putting up such status updates are just copy-pasting without making any effort on research.
2. There’s no denying that initial suspicion and blame was targeted towards Islamist terror groups. However, I think that’s something easily understandable. If we just look at the sequence of all non-state terror acts (excluding openly declared state-sponsored aggressions) over the past two decades and see the names of their perpetrators, we will get the answer to why Muslim extremists are always the usual suspects. If we show a little more honesty and ask ourselves, were we, the Muslims, not mostly relieved to learn that the attacker was not a Muslim but a local Norwegian white Christian extremist. Media everywhere, in the race to break the news and offer pre-analysis, would rely on theories based on their probability. The truth is even for Muslims, fellow Muslims have become the prime suspects, and we can’t blame others for why we came to this stage.
3. Why Breivik’s actions would not be associated with his faith: because he doesn’t claim any inspiration from Christian religious scriptures nor are any significant religious groups coming to his support or calling him a hero. He calls himself a “cultural Christian” and a supporter of monocultural Christian Europe. His primary motive is to resist the influence of Muslim culture that is spreading in Europe through liberal immigration policies followed by their governments for decades. On the other hand, terrorists from the Muslim faith always tried to legitimize their actions and agendas through religious references and found large sections of populations as their supporters, though this trend is thankfully on the decline now.
4. The popular opinion in Muslim countries has been largely resistant to action against homegrown terror groups, as they are considered to be fellow Muslim brethren. Any action against them is considered to be done on behest of Western powers, as if terrorism is not our problem at all, despite the fact that majority of the victims of their terror acts are also Muslims. On the contrary, we will mostly likely see that Norwegian and European governments would deal with their far-right terrorist individuals and groups less ambiguously and much more efficiently.
5. And lastly, why would it make Muslims feel better if Muslims terrorists are referred to with supposedly sweeter names like attackers, assailants, gunmen and their acts as acts of violence instead of acts of terrorism, though I don’t see how one is better than the other. When we expect or demand that of the media, are we trying to own these terrorists or making a point that their acts are any less horrific? It is here that we permit terrorists use our faith for their unholy agendas. A terrorist is a terrorist and terrorism is his only faith. Changing terminologies doesn’t dilute the brutality of their acts. If we can’t denounce them, at least we should resist the sympathetic urge to ask for better treatment for some of them based on their faith. Don’t we see the need to distance ourselves from terrorists yet – Muslims or not Muslims? How much more blood will be shed before we recognize our responsibility to contribute to stopping this vicious cycle of hate and violence?
It’s time we should stop sulking, and feigning innocence, and start taking responsibility, for what we have become is a result of our own follies.
Written on July 29, 2011. Published at Pak Tea House on August 15, 2011
I have been seeing since last year newspaper stories about Susan Boyle’s excellent performance in a talent competition show on British TV and how she wowed the audience and judges, but I never paid much attention. Last week, I saw Susan appear in Oprah, which made me curious about her. I searched her name on youtube and saw that video of her first performance in the show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ has been viewed 93 million times, which must be a record.
I watched the video and it was so amazing that I came to crying (but didn’t). It’s amazing because when you see her first, you notice her ordinary looks, and when you hear her talk you don’t think much of her. She’s 47 years old and says during her introduction that she’s never been married and never been kissed. “A shame, but it’s not an advert.” she says, bringing a momentary crying expression on her face before laughing it off. But one can sense that there’s an effort required to laugh this fact off every day of her life. She describes the place she comes from as a collection of villages. When she declares her dream of becoming a professional singer to the jury, it’s met with smug looks. With all this background and the build up before she can show her talent, an image is formed in most minds that she will be knocked out soon. She has already been judged on the basis of her looks, her age and her demeanor before she could show her talent. However, the moment she started singing, all of that changed, and the rest, as they say, is history. I heard on Oprah that her debut album has sold a record number of copies.
The reason I write this is not because I have become a fan of Susan; she’s got millions of fans by now. I write this because it made me think how people’s talents get suppressed because of the tags and labels we attach to them, and how people give up on their dreams because they think that the age of gaining recognition has passed them. Susan’s talent remained hidden in her village all her life. Nobody around her would have thought this unbelievable success to be possible, but it didn’t stop her from keeping her dream alive in her heart. The strength of her spirit didn’t wane as the years of her life passed by.
Everyone may have a gift of one’s own, even if the world considers him or her dumb, slow or ugly, but not everyone is supposed to have skills to market that gift. It’s cruel to judge people before giving them an opportunity and encouraging them to show what they have to offer. It’s also so sad that so many of our women and men never get the time and freedom to pursue their dreams because the society only expects them to fit in traditional roles, and frowns upon anything which is not conforming to the norms. Anybody trying to do something different may be told a hundred ways in which he or she could fail but hardly any word of approval comes by. This should change.
Wikipedia is an incredible source of [almost] reliable information on more topics than can be found at a single place anywhere else. Whoever came up with this idea and implemented it has indeed served the cause of knowledge sharing and dissemination in a magnificent way. Wikipedia is being run as non-profit enterprise. Maintenance of this site requires a lot of money. A major source of funds for meeting these costs is donations from grateful users. I have made my tiny contribution as a token of gratitude and got this badge as acknowledgement.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a fairy hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than you can understand
– W. B. Yeats
When you find your silent thoughts and feelings acquiring the shape of words, even if someone else’s, it surely feels very good. This is what happened when I read Ayaz Amir’s column in yesterday’s Dawn. He writes:
“Time was when Pakistan had few people to be proud of. Now so many, a whole string of men of integrity and principle who we can look up to, that counting has become difficult. Never was it truer that to the darkest clouds there can be a silver lining. This may be a bleak moment in our history — indeed, perhaps the bleakest — but it has brought out some of the best in the Pakistani nation.”
“All of them — Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Bhagwandas, Ramday, Javed Iqbal (his stock sky-high), all those in the Supreme Court and the various high courts who have refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitution Order — are today the undisputed heroes of the Pakistani nation.”