Source: Daily Times, February 04, 2010
by Zaair Hussain
In a country where a Senator has stood before the House and declared, with a gall that must surely have blotted out the sun, that the respectable tradition of burying women alive should not be unduly interfered with, it is the trappings of westernisation that are still the object of venomous ire
What is it to be a ‘true’ Pakistani? The appropriation of this term by the conservative wing of this nation is staggering in its vulgar daring, and in its unqualified success. By and large, the liberals of this land accept this annexation of ‘Pakistani-ness’ with either a timid, subconscious shame or a cheap, impotent rebelliousness. Neither attribute is healthy or productive.
Having metaphysically hijacked the portrait of a true Pakistani and defaced it to their own ends, the ultraconservatives are swift and shrill with complaints about anything or anyone that does not fit into this vandalised caricature. Whenever an idea is attacked as Western or non-traditional, the corpulent bulk of collectively offended dignity is viscerally felt.
Dear readers, I invite you to join me in an intellectual exercise: exploring some of the most patently non-Pakistani habits that our moral minority (or, God help us, majority) would so quickly descend upon first like hawks, and then like vultures.
Who, by their standards, is a true exemplar of Pakistaniness?
This could, I fear, be summed up in one concise line with little value that would degrade both the creator and the consumer; the literary equivalent of KFC’s Hot Shots. Leave us eschew this sordid territory and embark upon an imagining of who would not be considered an exemplar.
First: secularism. The slander of secularism must truly be considered one of the most egregious crimes against the Pakistani populace. Secularism per se has a rather commonsensical and pedestrian meaning: a preference for the separation of religion from politics that can be housed in either a religious or non-religious soul. A mere word and its defenceless definition, however, has never been a match for the profound power of politicking. A secularist in Pakistan, ergo, is often fitted neatly by his or her peers on a scale that begins at “thoroughly dangerous influence” and ends with “Satan’s little helper”.
A secular man who protested not only his Muslimhood but his status as a representative of Muslims would be condemned for his ‘shameless deceit’, with a liberal approach to the “tar and feathers” school of constructive criticism.
An ability and willingness to cooperate with non-Muslim states, even if the collaboration would be mutually beneficial is harshly derided as ideological treason, a willingness to bend before infidel winds for the unspeakably petty goals of progress and better living standards. Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, has come to mean “Death to the Impure”. The idea of interaction with non-Muslims in a way that does not involve proselytising, violence or (everybody’s personal favourite) proselytising through violence has become hateful to far too much of our body politic.
So much, then, for the secular man. God help, equally, the westernised man. With time and misplaced patriotism, the elite of our good nation have developed a peculiar attitude towards the West; an antagonism that is holistic by name, but selective by nature. Conservatives and liberals respectively denounce or ape the shallowest trappings of westernisation, while ignoring wholesale the deeper cultural hallmarks of individual freedoms, work ethics, classic literature and so on.
The conservative elite will live in the British Cavalry Grounds and Cantonment, clamour for membership in country clubs established by the British, send their sons and daughters to schools with British degrees (O and A levels) and later to universities in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, but God forbid anyone call them or their offspring “westernised” and disparage their Pakistani credentials.
In a country where a Senator has stood before the House and declared, with a gall that must surely have blotted out the sun, that the respectable tradition of burying women alive should not be unduly interfered with, it is the trappings of westernisation that are still the object of venomous ire. Anything seen as ‘our culture’ is by and large treated as sacrosanct, however profoundly it may clash with our Book, our sensibilities and our law. Look upon thy values, ye Pakistanis, and despair.
Faux-liberals, conversely, will latch on to the most superficial frayed threads of the tapestry of western culture — most of which can be helpfully summarised in the ‘Everything Shown on MTV’ category — and wave their lack of Pakistaniness like a lonely flag in a cultural wasteland.
But both groups agree, astoundingly (for they agree on little else) that westernisation and ‘Pakistaniness’ are mutually exclusive.
Let us reflect upon another stroke in the painting that will give lie to the contemporary Pakistani portrait: allowing oneself to be “dishonoured” by the women one is closest to. It always escaped me how the women in a man’s life could so raise or dash his honour, such an intensely personal attribute. It makes sense only when viewed through an ultraconservative lens: taking a woman not as an end unto herself, but as an extension of her male proxies; the rib of Adam, as it were.
What of the man who marries a non-Muslim woman and, furthermore, has a sister in the public eye? In today’s moderately enlightened times, the women will be considered an affront to all that is ‘truly’ Pakistani, the man a weakling who, by virtue of the women in his life, is somehow diminished for sparing the rod and spoiling Pakistani womanhood.
To what end this negative-portrait, this description of all that the modern Pakistani must not be? Forgive my indulgence, but I know of a man who was secular, western-educated and westernised in mannerisms, finery and pastimes, a man who married a parsi, had a sister in politics and worked most of his life for Hindu-Muslim unity. He was a self-styled representative of Muslims and though he failed every test of modern Pakistaniness outlined above, I stand by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
He would have every right to despise us, we whose unity has become uniformity, whose faith turned to fanaticism and whose discipline crumbled before demagoguery.
But the great tragedy of our time is not that, were he to return, the father of our nation would be ashamed of us.
It is that we would be ashamed of him.
by Zaair Hussain
Zaair Hussain is a Lahore-based freelance writer. He can be reached at zaairhussain LhJ gmail.com