Something I Wrote On Pakistan Day
As I begin to type this I am entirely unsure as to where this piece of writing is going to take me. I want to explore what being Pakistani means to me, what it means to others, or if it means anything at all.
Twitter is a terribly noisy medium, more prone to invective than intelligence. I must, however, admit to having moments of sudden clarity in the midst of snark-laden exchanges. Some tweeters, much wiser than I, can often respond to arguments within 140 characters with cogency that I can only wish I possessed.
I recall tweeting a piece (written by Asad Munir, I believe) on the preferred bête-noire of some op-ed writers of late: middle class morality and its romantic affiliation with the religious right. In line with my beliefs at the time (religious right bad! ‘Islamism’ evil without a cause! Silly middle classes!) I tweeted a link to the article approvingly. I possibly praised him for the great clarity with which he saw the issue.
Among the approving retweets, and the disapproving hisses, there was one comment which stood out to me. While I cannot recall the comment verbatim, it essentially went “[Munir’s] argument assumes that the middle-class, unlike the other undefined classes, somehow does not aspire for peace or stability or happiness.” Many of you may disagree with this comment. Nonetheless, a comment on Twitter had somehow forced me to come face to face with my biases.
Believe me when I say that confronting your own biases or assumptions is (at least for me) a deeply harrowing process. You’ve convinced yourself of the righteousness of your argument to such an extent that a valid critique of it is almost physically painful.
In this instance, I came to understand that Pakistanis, of all shapes and sizes, and of all political hues, certainly necessarily share common goals. Our desire to simplify the ‘other’ robs them of the complexity that is inherent in any human thought. It often leads to a position where we are unable to see that all (or at least very many) of us, indeed, do aspire for peace, stability, and happiness.
Similarly, I recall an interview of Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s (the former Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islaami) daughter Samia Qazi given to Newsweek Pakistan. Ms. Qazi sees no contradiction between defining herself as an Islamist (a term which I personally dislike due to its overuse and misuse to paint all conservative Muslims) while also striking a somewhat progressive feminist chord. Ms. Qazi was of the opinion that women should work. That our society is too male dominated. She was also of the opinion that Islam is the superstructure that everything else should fall under.
As is wont to happen in the social media sphere, this led to a protracted war between those who saw Ms. Qazi’s position as feminist and those who argued that an Islamist position was inherently incompatible with any form of feminism. How I saw it (and I am certain many others did too), was as an addition of another layer of complexity to a previously much too facile division between Feminist and Islamist.
My relationship with Pakistan is deeply conflicted and very complex. I feel like every Pakistani’s relationship with Pakistan is deeply conflicted and very complex. This is because Pakistan is not a piece of land – Pakistan is the people that constitute this piece of land. These people bring with them their views, their experiences, and, yes, their various biases.
However, in the process of putting forth our views we often end up painting the ‘other’ as inherently biased. We (and by we I mean all people across the political and religious spectrum) strip them of rationality or of a desire for a happy ending. We paint their actions or their intentions as evil solely for the sake of being evil.
Surely, in a nation as diverse (and as fucking noisy, Jesus Christ, the noise) as ours we should explore each other’s complexity instead of dumbing it down.