Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Problem With Pakistan

A few explosions in London, a couple of bomb blasts in Egypt and Pakistan makes the headlines. Some of you who are expatriate Pakistanis may to some extent share my remorse at the influences such incidents have on us expatriates. Its not something you would observe right away, its not something that would bite you immediately, but the Pakistani of today, is gradually gaining reputation that was once enjoyed by Palestinian separatists; Hollywood's poster child for mayhem, menace and destruction. Don’t be surprised if in some years you start seeing movies with Pakistanis being framed in a negative context.

Like Palestinians, we know that all Pakistanis aren’t evil, all Pakistanis aren’t bad. Hell very few of us are actually foolish enough to wrap ourselves with TNT and blow our body to smithereens. But the world reads headlines, they don’t look at the inner pages, they don’t look at foreign office statements, they look at the headlines that read 5 Pakistanis being sought for
Egypt, or four Pakistanis being sought for London or 100 arrested in Pakistan for links with "the notorious one".
So the other day I started wondering why, why do these folks do what they do? Why do they ruin the name of the nation and the image of its nationals? Why does any one commit such atrocious acts and how can they justify it? I think a simple walk down the path of history would clearly explain things.

First thing to establish is this, and it saddens me to say this, but even after almost 60 years of independence we have failed to outline what our culture is. Is it a Muslim culture? Are we secular? Is our culture an Indian culture mixed in with what could be acceptable by our religion? I would love to see anyone, explicitly identify and describe a Pakistani Culture. One that is not on paper but one that the society truly reflects.


Having established that, consider the implications of not having a culture. We appreciate all that’s acquired, not ours. We seek inspiration from what’s acquired not ours. We do not have contemporary have art or crafts, writings or theatres, that define us, reflect our nature, or stand as being our cultural ambassador.


In parallel to this is another problem. The attitude of society towards social rebels. Those who define the culture aren’t appreciated. People who dare to make a difference are more often criticized than encouraged. People are born, and their fates are decided. "I want to see my son become a doctor/engineer/mba and my daughter can do anything she wants since pretty soon, ill marry her off" We don’t have the privilege to dream or the comfort of aspiring and deciding our own course of thing.


A large reason for this again comes back our cultural confusion. There is the generation that grew up during the much happening and progressive 60s and somewhat similar 70s . Their approach to life is different. Then there are those who grew up during the 80s. Who would see the Jamatis strike fear in people’s hearts. Who would see the MQM born and take
Karachi by storm. Then there are kids from my generation who witnessed some of the worst violence in the history of the country who saw democracy take a nose dive. Who saw elected representative make a mockery of the confidence the public had in them.

The result is this, since the 80s and I cant comment for before that time, I was too young to remember anything, but since the 80s, we haven’t had an inspirational leader, a role model, a charismatic individuals that someone could gain hope and emotional strength from. Instead, we end up with sporting heroes like Imran Khan, Jahangir Khan, Wasim Akram etc or end up seeing our role models in non-Pakistanis. To add further fuel to fire we are constantly told that we can’t be like our heroes. We are constantly made aware of the fact that shit happens in life and no one makes it big, except for a few who have an uncle in the government.

Effectively speaking, there are at least two of generations in the past that have grown up without inspiration, without role models, without a will to go for the star even if it would be tough to become one. This has led to a huge void in their life.

The void could be filled by several ways. Some people resort to alcohol, drugs, sex, etc to fill this void. Others, the lucky ones, find inspiration in their homes, their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings someone who provides them emotional confidence and security that is expected of a role model. For those who even fail in this area, religion becomes the answer. I am in no way implying that the others are not religious, but that religion, to them is a code for living their life and not an avenue to find emotional stability.

Some may argue that religion is both. That if it provides a path, then it would offer stability as well. However, an ideological concept can not in anyway fill the void that needs human compassion. Comprehending religion depends on ones context. The context of an emotionally stable person would be entirely different from that of an emotionally unstable person; hence their comprehension would be poles apart as well.

This, in my view, gives rise to our biggest challenge, religious fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism, as several incidents to date have proved, is beyond social divide. It is not, nor has it ever been, a function of poverty. It is a state of mind, one that is spawned by gaps in ones life. Think about it, you are desperately looking for the answer to a question that is bothering you. I give you give you a book and I say that it has your answer. Would you read the whole book, page by page, or skim through it to look for answer. Would you go into detail of each theory the book presents or try to find the one that suits your need. For those of who you are cursing me for comparing The Book with any book, please read the analogy again. I am not comparing books, but the state of the human mind. The way humans respond to a situation. Our Book, The Book, The Holy Quran, is a perfect code in totality. However, the reader of the book varies, their states of minds vary, their needs to read the book vary, and their interpretations vary.

So how is this all becoming a problem in Pakistan. Well, considering that our culture hasn’t spawned any heroes of late, a good number of people turn to look at history, the more immediate one, the one with the mughals and the religious history. The institution that has received the maximum respect in Pakistan, has to be the Army. We find heroes there, a number of them, who received Nishan-e-Haider. Their claim to the medal is not that they gave up their life trying to defend the country, but they gave it up in upholding the name of Allah, the right path, the rah-e-haq. Thus we find heroes in those who gave their life for Allah. Next we look at religious history, the more immediate of which again supports religious mavericks who supposedly did something outrageous in the path of God. May that be Tariq-bin-Ziyad burning his boats to conquer Spain, or the various battles that would pursue in the modern day middle east for the control of land by so called religious liberators (read the House of Sauds, but lets save that for another blog). I am not talking about the times of the Prophet of his four Caliphs. This is all afterwards.

So a person seeking a role model in history does not see Rumi, Khusro or Bulleya Shah, does not get much about the Quaid or Iqbal, sees glimpses of Sir Syed Ahmed Khans secularity, but is heavily exposed to religious gunghos who took on several armies - the conquest of Spain, the conquest of somnath, the fights with chandragupta maurya and the emergence of mughals. Violence, as we had learned in grade school, begets violence. I feel there should also be a part that says Violence breeds violence as well. For that Pak Studies book subliminally justifies mauling "non-believers" to spread the word of faith, ironically that is something the faith itself does not ascribe to.

So let’s start making sense of this verbal yak, our historic heroes that stand out, were violent individuals or individuals who gave up their life for religion. I do not doubt their intentions, but I am concerned about its influence. This mixed with contextual interpretition of The Book aimed at filling the emotional gaps is like a mosh pit by an oil reserve. All it will take is one burning splinter and the whole reserve would be on fire.

There are some people who realize this. These are the people who are carrying out their ulterior motives under the guise of religion. The united front of mullahs is an assembly of all such individuals. For one thing, they are very organized. The madarssas are an odd institution. Even the most civil of them can be conceptualized an assembly line for emotionally unstable people. The mullah and the feudal work together. The feudal makes sure there are no schools in his villages, there is no education aside from “religious education". This allows mullahs to start communicating with children at young age. From there on, they develop within the children, a sense of insecurity and emotional instability. As the child grows up and demands the answer, he seeks the counsel of his teacher, the mullah. Who tells him the answer lies in religion. I am not saying that the religion does not have answers, but to seek the answers one has to be able to ask a question and know what they want. These emotionally unstable people don’t know what they want. They are told what they want.

You may ask, there is no feudal in England. My response would be, there are people in England who have grown up under feudalism; these are the people who become absolutely apprehensive of loosing their identity in a foreign land. They want to hold on to it really really strong. But wait. Our cultural identity is so mixed up, how do they hold on it? The answer is they do not hold on to the cultural values but the religious value. What the child sees while growing up is a religion that defines culture, instead of a religion that sets a parameter for culture to flow freely. Again, the child either rebels and ends up in drug rehab, or takes to religion to fulfill social and cultural needs. The religion outlines this, sets a parameter, but leaves the rest to the child itself. Since the child has seen religion being the defining cultural tool, the parameters don’t make sense to him. He thus refers to someone who can explain religion to him and thus ends up in the clutches of the ever evil mullah. Hence Pakistanis in England, Pakistanis in Egypt and most of all Pakistanis in Pakistan become a problem.

Some of you may suggest that education would open some minds. I ask how? What does education do? It gives someone depth in thought and outlook, right? At the same time it gives a person the confidence to proceed in life. It gives hope. It lets people dream. But what do we dream about? What do we hope to become? Who do we look up to? Who is our hero? If we have a hero, how did education help him? Why should I be hopeful of achieving anything similar to what the hero has achieved? Our culture needs to answer these questions. Our culture needs to distinguish itself from religion, our culture needs to work with the religious parameters and grow. The people of Pakistan need some new less radical heroes and we need them fast. Our culture to identify and support such heroes

16 comments:

Surrey405 said...

Hey! It was too long, i did not read it all but what i read i understand. All the questions you ask, ask yourself again, you have the answer in you, like i have it in me. Think about it and if you dont know still e-mail me
msheikh@sbcglobal.net

Bariah said...

Hey amigo

I read you post once, a week ago maybe and I am reading it again. Yaar if you think about it most nations are a mish mosh of cultures. The "Western" culture as its called is more a culture of globalization rather than just a culture of the West. The Indian culture for eg draws so much from its majority religin (Hinduism), the Punjabis draw so much from the religion of their ancestors....The American culture varies so much from the North to the South of the country - and so much of the "american way of life" or their "culture" is based on things like capitalim, their (majority) evangelic faith and things they inherited from the imprialists and where they originally came from.

Similarly Pakistan is such a mish mosh. Where the Indians in South India are a world apart from those in the North, the people of Karachi are so different from those in peshawar. We look different, we speak different, we are from different dynasties.

I think what we need to come to terms with is that YES we do originate from INDIA or yes we do originate from Afghanistan or Iran or wherever your ancestors came from. Just because we are in a different country called Pakistan, we cannot just sever all our associations with our history, ancestry and religous origins- the main source of any "culture". Where else does culture develop from?

YES my ancestors came from parts of India, the way we eat, dress, marry, our way of life, everything reflects that. What is wrong with that. It isnt borrowed, its inherited and it is just as much mine as anyone else's who may be living in India etc.

As for religious fundamentalism... thats like another sad state of affairs that can launch a hundred more postings and discussions.

Did you read about whats happening in Peshawar? I am afraid really. I am glad for once about what Musharraf's response has been to that bill of the Islamic police in the NWFP by the MMA.

A part of me says the people of the NWFP deserve what they chose. They voted for the MMA and I hope they all get Taliban style regime and regret waht they have done. But then ofcourse that just crazy and it is my country and I cannot wish such things.

I also saw what happened in Pakistan after the London bombings and after the Sept 11 thing. A wave of people got arrested and blah blah, but what happened to them? Seems like the leaders find a bunch of people, put them in jail, everyone looks good, only to release them later...

Like that Mukhtar Mai case (you know the poor woman who got "honor" raped - Did you read the response of Kulsoom PErveen (a congress WOMAN and I stress woman because I could not belive that being a woman she would not fathom the loss/grief/pain suffered) Apparently she said that Mukhtar Mai shouldnt travel because she is an Eastern woman (huh?) and that she should really ask for justice from Allah instead of from anyone else (something along those lines).
Most of the people arrested in her case were let go later. She (Mukhtar Mai) is a hero in a way I think, we need heroes like that. Unfortunately this is what happens to them in Pakistan.

Someone needs to uproot these religious extremist groups (that are courted by so many religious parties, feudals and leaders for their own political gains) and only then can we rid of ourselves of this image of a hate mongering/terrorist nation. Zia-ul-Haq said that Pakistan will become a "Laboratory of Islam" - It sure did (many thanks to leaders like him) - and that laboratory is creating some pretty nasty monsters.

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