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A time for some introspection!

June 10, 2010

What defines people? Is it civilization, culture or religion or perhaps ideology? Samuel P. Huntington in his essay “The Clash of Civilization” includes religion as part of civilization and then goes on further to distinguish the groups based on Geographic location. His argument perhaps, implying that the dominant religion influences the civilization. It is true that cultural practices and religious ideology get interwoven where it’s hard to tell one from the other.  But, then can religion determine the psyche of a people and remains the dominant force in defining their ideology and a code of national conduct?

At least I know such is the case in Pakistan and may in fact be unique in this regard. In India, and amongst many other nations certain rituals clearly stand on their own merit of being one or the other meaning cultural or religious.  Perhaps from Samuel Huntington’s perspective India presents itself as a challenge. For example in the US a commonly heard dictum is; God, Country and self.  On the surface a cry for religion with the difference that the concept is not a blatant cry for Christianity but the concept of God, which ever form it implies Allah or Zeus.  Religion plays a role in the American psyche but then the American Psyche cannot just be characterized by religion alone. The concept of the separation of Church and state put an end to that notion.

So then what about the psyche of the people of Pakistan; what makes them tick? Or perhaps what ticks them off? Is it religion, ideology or lack of it or perhaps just growing pains? Some I suppose take longer than others.

Whatever it may be the fact is that the World seems to be moving right along past Pakistan. Countries that a few years ago were behind Pakistan in economic output and stability have now surpassed Pakistan. Bangladesh is just one such country. There is now more foreign investment in Bangladesh than in Pakistan. Pakistan it seems is racing back in time some as a result of the disappearing economic activity and the rest as a result of the desire by the Wahabi Shariah Mongers to take the country back 1400 years to the time of the Prophet Muhammad.   From a purely metaphysical perspective Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to be racing backwards in time. Best case scenario at a standstill as if in a time vacuum waiting for the next move from someone perhaps from the heavens.  All seems to depend on Allah all the while “sorrow rides a fast horse”1. It is true that Pakistani’s true to their religious convictions place a more than heavy demand on Allah for just about everything including their day to day activities.  They wait for signs from the heavens to either provide for them or give them direction for things they need to do. They walk and wonder the dusty streets, fields and courtyards as if devoid of reason or direction yet in search of their destiny and Allah; disheveled and bewildered they seek the promise someone may have made but no one knows where to find.  Alas, Allah will save them; they hope and pray. It reminds me of that song by Bob Dylan “God on our side”:

Oh my name it is nothin’
My skin color tan
The country I come from
Is called Pakistan
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to ignore
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.

Pakistani’s rejoice and revel in the past, the glorified past of when Islam was the beacon of “mankind”. Travel down memory lane detailing Muslim glory in the battle of Badr like the veterans recounting the gallantry.   

The present lacks glory (it has not happened) and thus seems to evade even frighten because the realization that they may have missed the boat that could have carried them to the shores of modernity and progress.   Inextricably entrenched in their ways and so deeply anchored into the past that change just comes so hard.  Inflexible, stubborn people who practicing rituals that are outdated, inhumane and cowardly like honor killings and stoning to death.  Mired by draconian practices and distorted, misguided ideologies most Pakistani’s remain deluged with the burdens of outdated religious practices.  If it has withstood the test of religion (they think) and has been done a certain way for a long time then it must be right remains the modus operandi.  Take me back to Mecca; they remain hard at work trying to track back to the olden times.

One thing is for sure there is a lot of baggage both present and past.  The sahib left the sub-continent with the Union Jack securely tucked under the arm, while leaving the distraught with many things to remember them by including Kashmir a literal diamond in the rough of the sub continent. A madness Pakistan and India are consumed by and in the process this Diamond in the rough has roughed up and destroyed six decades, countless lives and daily dreams.  Pakistan has the added dubious distinction of losing it’s (with Indian help) East wing now Bangladesh a loss arguably, a correction to a wrong that should have never happened.

God helps those that help themselves oft repeated but never practiced. Illiteracy blankets other ills like an acute case of self pity and, lack of self-reliance, low self esteem and a victim mentality. Pity is preferred over self help and self-reliance.  The problem of self pity runs deep on both sides of the divide and has permeated every aspect of their lives and every stratum of the culture and society.  The otherwise rich and vibrant literature exudes self pity. This same literature in form of poetry and prose then takes to the films and theatres spewing out sad songs and sad movie plots that are thick with elements of self pity.  Hum aas lugaa a bethay hain tum wada kar kay bhool ga a.  She wales because the lover did not keep his promise and she sits waiting.  I wonder how it would have played out in the West. Hum aas lugaa a bethay thay tum wada kar kay bhool ga a. Koee dusraa aya garee main hum ass utha kay chalay ga a.  (Excuse the poetic license) I was waiting for you to show up but then someone else came in a car and I took off with him.  I may love you and wait for you but I have a life too.  Self pity goes flying out of the window.  But then that is Progressive, self reliant thinking!

Never short on advice and ready to lend a helping hand. It is true for most Pakistani’s if not all; never shy away from lending a hand, even when not needed. A combination I think of a generous spirit and of course the limitless time.  Spill your beans, lay your weary head on my shoulder and follow my advice. Never shy about giving advice all Pakistani’s consider it their moral obligation to give unsolicited advice. Mushtaq Ahmed Youssefi the famous satirist said it best when he remarked about the generosity of Pakistani’s when it came to giving advice and I paraphrase “what else can we give instead anyway”.

 Expressions like “Koee baat nahin Bus khuda sub theek karay gaa” or another classic “Bus uss kee yea hee murzee thee” are meant to make the miserable soul either feel better or admonish by implying that God wanted him/her to fail. Fate accompli is the fate relied on by most. Always blaming and maligning the God(s). I wonder if it would be blasphemous to wonder on behalf of God. If I was God I would have a serious issue with most Pakistani’s and Indians for dragging me into every petty little thing they were too incompetent to do themselves.

Education they say is the key to enlightenment, progress and change. Pakistan lags way behind India in this regard. While few that attend school or even college the standards of education in Pakistan have been suspect at best for a number of years. The situation gets even murkier when we look at the scope, curriculum and nature of education being imparted to the prospective students.  While there seems to be a steady supply of IT and business school graduates there is a declining interest in Liberal arts education.  Many reason for that but mainly because both in Pakistan and India most parents either want their daughter or son to either be an engineer, doctor or maybe a lawyer. No Indian chiefs here, not even in India! Evident by stories like the one I came across in dawn in the June 8, 2010 issue, where a Pakistani student after dropping out of an Engineering program upon inquiry wrote to his parents that he was studying “Social Engineering” when in fact he was studying Sociology. Point being that anything that has Engineering next to it must be good. 

The current cadre of the Pakistani educated young is the product of IT factories churning out technical diplomas and certificates.  The enterprising (severely lacking math skills) head towards business education and the infamous MBA program.  Does not matter if we have any business to manage the vigilant always remain ready when Allah drops a few our way on the next go around?  Pakistan now has enough MBA’s to man every 7-11 around the globe. Just like in the case of India where there are now enough IT professionals to fill every help desk position around the World. Lack of education based on a broader curriculum with equal emphasis on liberal arts education serves as an impediment to both countries to help its citizens usher in new ideas and implement change.  In the US Universities and employers alike are encouraging perspective student/employee to come with an open mind and a liberal arts background.

“The only education that prepares us for change is a liberal education. In periods of change,

narrow specialization condemns us to inflexibility—precisely what we do not need. We need the

flexible intellectual tools to be problem solvers, to be able to continue learning over time.”

—David Kearns, former CEO of Xerox Corporation

Pakistan is paying the price for it on a daily basis.  Stephen Cohen in his book “the Idea for Pakistan” bemoans the lack of liberal arts based education in Pakistan. 

It starts with an effort to change the hearts and minds. No better way than education to help ease in change, tolerance and self respect and self reliance. Pakistan has many problems to include a battle with its idea, identity and ideology (a subject of another blog coming soon).

However, the journey to a thousand miles and for 200 million people still starts with the first step. Perhaps, its time for some introspection!

1-      Sorrow rides a fast horse, a short story written by Dorothy G. Butters.



  1. Sophia permalink

    Many Pakistanis have always tried to do what is “right” based on tradition. I feel that tradition has its proper place in terms of treatment of elders with respect and modesty in clothing, etc. but the problem is that Pakistanis apply the same blind following of tradition to education and everything else. As a result, there is no one in Pakistan to break the tradition and initiate programs for a liberal arts education in schools. Perhaps the only people to introduce such initiatives in Pakistan are the Pakistanis who now live in Western countries like the United States and Britain and have been exposed to the liberal arts education and free thinking of the West. But then again who has the time? It seems to me Pakistan might be stuck in this cycle for a while…

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