Friday, January 30, 2015

Charlie Hebdo Protests Reveal the Damaged Culture in Pakistan

By Mehr F. Husain
30 January 2015
Last week, the country witnessed a mini rally of sorts, protesting against the publication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
It was not a violent one with protesters foaming at the mouth or destroying public property. It was perhaps aimed more at making the local vendors aware of the higher moral ground the protesters had over those of us who merely drove past them.
Or maybe they really felt for the cause they were on the streets for.
Whatever the case, it was their right to protest; but what continues to be exposed in such cases is the complex Pakistani consciousness.
While Pakistan’s official statement was one condemning the attacks, clearly aimed at highlighting the country’s commitment to eradicating terrorism, emotional fervour in the form of religious belief ensured that people came out to protest against the cartoons.
Somewhere between vision, emotion, and reality lies the Pakistani mindset.
Broadly speaking, there are the Islamists who are pro-religion and anti-West with regards to a secular system and liberals in general.
There is also the anti-West, anti-religion/pro-secular mindset perfectly captured by those who protest against Western intervention but campaign for a secular, democratic Pakistan.
The pro-religion and pro-West tend to be those who supported the war on terror but also defended religion as the factor behind terrorism.
And finally the pro-West, anti-religion/ pro-secular, who are mostly among the urban residents.
Of course these can vary from issue to issue, but the formed consciousness is an amalgamation of all these.
Baffling to most, Pakistani or otherwise, the reality of the country is often much more complicated than what is depicted or offered as national policy.
What was envisioned by Muhammed Ali Jinnah for the country — a peaceful, secular state — was frittered away by years of crippled political growth and dictatorships, especially during the Zia-ul-Haq regime where the political make-up of the country took on a more emotional fervour.
Another example is how the Pakistani nation as a conservative society may rally behind the military in its war against terrorism, which is largely fuelled by a mindset that has usurped the religion of Islam, but then take the reaction to Malala Yousufzai and Dr. Aafia Siddique.
The vision of a Pakistani woman depicted so gracefully by Fatima Jinnah, an enlightened and educated woman, has been done away with.
Instead, the choice is between Malala who fights for education but is criticised for being a ‘Western’ icon, and the other who is educated but hailed for the way she ‘took on’ the West.
The Pakistani media, known for its vibrancy, has fought hard for the freedom of speech. Journalists have paid with their lives to uphold the truth. But while it is easy to condemn the West for their hypocrisy when it comes to freedom of speech, it is a lot harder to condemn Saudi Arabia over the punishment meted out to blogger Raif Badawi.
Again, a consciousness driven by anti-West but pro-religious standing leaves Pakistan's reality far from what was originally envisioned.
Religion, foreign influences and intervention have caused much damage to the country environmentally, politically, socially and physically.
But the most damage has been done to the consciousness which will take time to repair.
While the state grapples with the problem of terrorism, emotional empathy on the basis of upholding religion overrides the rationality of almost any situation.
Mehr F. Husain is a columnist based in Lahore

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