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Something I Wrote On Pakistan Day

March 23, 2012

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2012 11:14 am

    Sensibly put. Thank you for this, KK.

  2. March 23, 2012 1:00 pm

    Was at Tariq Road (a major shopping street) in Karachi earlier this month. When I walked in, I noticed a whole bunch of burqa-clad women. In fact, most of the women shopping were ninjas. Freaked me out. On the way out after a couple of hours, I realized something: almost ALL the vendors were male. Lawns, shoes, cosmetics, even lingerie. Everything. Burqas suddenly started making a lot of sense there.

    So yeah, right on. Things are never as simple as they seem. Need to keep our biases in check.

  3. Shahzad A Shaikh permalink
    March 23, 2012 3:04 pm

    The main problem with the Islamist (for want of a better word) is that most of them do not care to explore the others “complexity”. When you approach an issue with the certainty of being right, since God(?) is on your side, then the room to understand the other is almost zero. Another daughter of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Raheela Qazi is adamant about the “fact” that she understands the Word of God as spoken in the Koran far more correctly then the other, even as she grudgingly accepts that what “you” are saying is merely your understanding of it. It does get to be some what difficult don’t you think when your interlocutor merely pretends to want to have a discourse with you but at the same time is convinced that they speak for “God”. And we all know that He can never be wrong!

  4. March 23, 2012 3:23 pm

    Very well said. Hence I despise labels. Life and people are too complex to be boxed in or for ideas and relationships to be one dimensional. Nothing is ever simple and there are always two sides if not more to every story.

    What we have to be mindful of is how those stories interconnect and relate to each other to understand the bigger picture. The example Sharabi Kababi (love the handle) gave above is a good one. One must try not to be judgemental of others.

    Pakistan isn’t one nation and I feel though we can peacefully co-exist its not right for people to try and lump us all together as a monolithic society. We should celebrate our differences and try to understand them. Just because we’re all Pakistanis or even Muslims doesn’t mean we’re all the same with the same aspirations. Hence this over simplification of the Two Nation Theory doesn’t work for me. All people have a right to self-determination, but its what you do after you have attainted independence that matters more than the why you strived for it.

  5. a reader permalink
    March 23, 2012 3:44 pm

    It is unfortunate that you changed your mind.

    It is not the aspiration for peace and stability that indicates that someone is enlightened, rather it is the willingness to make hard choices which does. The “moral” middle class might very well desire peace – that by itself does not make them enlightened or “one of us”. The question is – what are they prepared to do to achieve that peace and stability? are they willing to compromise on their beliefs and dogmas to do so? Peace and stability requires free speech, democratic processes, religious tolerance, equality for women and minorities, trade and diplomatic relationship with other countries which do not share our religion or certain values.

    Are they prepared to support these? If not, how can you sympathize wish them just for “wanting peace and stability”. That is just a fool’s quest .

  6. a reader permalink
    March 23, 2012 3:53 pm

    Existence of a woman who wants to combine Islam and “feminism” gladdens you. it just amuses me. that lady is either a charlatan or just plain stupid.

    What of the conflicting requirements of Islam and feminism? For example, how do you reconcile lesbianism? here is an interesting dilemma: you cannot cherry pick religion, but you can cherry pick doctrines. Ergo, feminism has to be tweaked a.little but to exclude homosexuality to make it.compatible with Islam. Going on this path, it is clear that we have to abandon a huge laundry list of ideas from feminism till we are left with a conclusion that feminism and Islam are compatible after all because our “reduced” feminism is in fact Islam! See? everyone is happy!

    People who go on this path are either devious, who try to create a “new center” which is closer to their beliefs than at the center or just plain stupid and uninformed.

    What of the people who are willing to reinterpret religion and relax it a little bit to.compromise modern world view you ask? let us not talk ill of the dead.

    • March 23, 2012 4:24 pm

      At no time during this post have I absolved the religious or national right of the need to understand the complexity of the argument from the social or economic left. The point is just that delineating one’s objectives as evil (or bad for the country) simply because they are evil (or bad for the country) is to lose nuance in any debate.

      I firmly believe that the religious and nationalist right also need to undergo a process of understanding the reasons and rationale behind the arguments put forth by the social and economic left. They certainly are not off the hook in my books.

    • March 24, 2012 2:28 pm

      So why must one adhere to the literalist and most strictest of interpretations of Sharaih and Islam? Why aren’t feminism and Islam compatible? For at the time Islam was revealed it was far more progressive than other existing religions. You can’t just view things in isolation, historical and legislative context are an important part of what scripture decrees. Plus where does it say that Islam has to be stagnated in the 7th century? Why can’t it evolve? Why can’t some of the laws be improved if they serve the same purpose?

      And why does feminism automatically mean that you have to let go of all your religious beliefs while many feminists don’t have issues with homosexuality where does it stipulate that all feminists have to follow the western notions of what is feminism and how its defined. Many earlier feminist movements took place in Egypt, China and Iran. Why is feminism automatically associated with the left movement? In fact the first wave of feminism was inspired by the Quaker theology. Why do we think that people that are religiously inclined would oppose equality and an end to discrimintation?

      Great movements are those that evolve over time and that allow for each culture to develop a local narrative for it. Rabayl wrote an excellent piece on right-wing feminism. Feminism to me is about the freedom of choice, whatever that choice may be. Its not about adhering to left/liberal ideals. Even though I myself support gay rights I can see why others may not be willing to do so. Even though I detest the burqa I support another’s choice to wear it- now whether its a real choice or not is a separate debate.

      This is my problem with the liberal/atheist discourse in Pakistan, if something doesn’t neatly fit into your pre-determined notion of what it should be then its clearly wrong. If a muslims isn’t following the mullah version of Islam then they are either picking or choosing to suit their purposes or are uninformed. There are two types of people who have asked me to leave my religion: those that follow the literalists view and those who have existed islam. I really don’t see the difference between the two, since both sides are adament that they are correct while all others are wrong.

      Islam is a personal religion as far as I see it, people should study it and take away from it what speaks to them. Fiqah is open to interpretation and improvement. That’s what ijtehad and ijma were for, sadly everything came to a halt in the 10th century. That doesn’t mean it should stay there.

  7. March 23, 2012 4:50 pm

    As much as we deride Twitter, it has been a tremendously enriching resource. Thanks for adding to the conversation 🙂

  8. March 24, 2012 3:30 am

    “Islam” vs…………………………………………………………………………………………………. anything you want to add, its on your good will, both can never be unbiased. Facile good or evil, we can’t see either!!!

  9. March 24, 2012 10:55 pm

    Dear, I liked your write up and confirm that all of us Pakistanis should, (must) understand each other and abstain from condemning other views just for the sake of it.
    Yet I could not digest your last line. We (I, lower middle class) consider Jesus Christ equally venerable and cannot understand his name taken in the same breath as a f word. I leave you with your choice as it is your right.I have no right to preach and I am responsible for my own actions.

  10. March 26, 2012 4:56 am

    Everyone desires peace, stability and happiness — for themselves and their kind. How many middle-class Pakistanis would take a stand for “peace, stability and happiness” for minority Hindus or Christians or Ahmadiyyas? Do we see middle-classes out on the streets to condemn the murder of Hazaras or Shias? Further, how many middle-class Pakistanis desire peace, stability and happiness for Indians? Do we see a popular call to bring our Mumbai attack planners to trial? Do we see middle-class outrage at seeing the likes of Hafeez Saeed and Malik Ishaq walk free?

    You are confused about the end and the means. Just because all of us Pakistanis aspire to happiness, doesn’t imply that supporters of right-wing Islam don’t have nasty views on how to achieve this. Killing of blasphemers like Salman Taseer (I still don’t get what blasphemy Taseer committed, but ask a “middle-class” Pakistani and you’ll get an earful — I guaratee it, because I have) and denying Ahmadiyyas a place to pray figure prominently in the religious right’s means of achieving this happiness.

    Reading this has done nothing to convince me that your earlier view (“religious right bad! ‘Islamism’ evil without a cause! Silly middle classes!”) is off the mark. There is nothing good that the religious right can bring because their version of good doesn’t have space for minorities! ‘Islamism’ is evil without a cause because that cause doesn’t include all Pakistanis! Silly middle classes have bought into a narrative of hatred peddled in our history books and by our media!

    While I don’t think “their intentions as evil solely for the sake of being evil”, there is no doubt that the road to evil is paved with religious and happy intentions.


  1. Fallacies that befuddle the ‘educated’ Pakistani mind | Pak Tea House

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