The Bottomless Cup

Category: Global Development

Pakistan: A nation that needs to slow down and catch a breath.

Everyone has their own theory about why Pakistan is undergoing such difficulties. Some attribute it to corruption while others say that it is the fundamental beliefs and values of its people that have lead to such turmoil. As I’ve said before, a nation is never built by its leaders, but by its people. And this current age where self determination is valued, there is no reason for us to solely blame our leadership.

The death of the governor of Punjab was an extremely sad setback for the nation. It marked, dreadfully, the beginning of a time where people have realized that speaking up for the rights of others can lead to dire consequences. Pakistan has become a country where the concept of fraternity has been replaced by a philosophy of every man for himself. Aren’t all these signs chaos?

I am not here to give a lecture on what went wrong; I am here to give one aspect of change that the nation seems to be struggling with: rapid freedom of speech. Mr. Musharraf was noble enough to allow freedom of the media, but he never thought how such an overnight change can have devastating results. Neither did he think about whether our new media sources would be responsible enough to guide instead of mislead the people. Suddenly, public debates, where fundamentalist ideologists were allowed to appear to the world appeared in front of a nation where people weren’t fully capable of deciding between good and bad sources of information. They were never given the power to do so.

What I find particularly distasteful is the way the assassin was shown repeatedly on television, with a calm and composed face claiming his martyrdom. As I walked across the streets and in the shops of Lahore, it was common to hear people sympathizing with this so-called martyr and discussing how at peace he was with himself. Hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of people in the country were brainwashed by the footage that was shown by the media stations. It is very unfortunate that this fanatic was seen as a hero for so many.

We might criticize the middle east for its limited freedom of speech laws, but at least they realize that leniency in this area needs to be gradual instead of sudden. This is just one of the many instances where I feel the people of Pakistan are trying to cope with rapid change whilst holding on to their values and traditions.

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Can Global Awareness Solve Today’s Problems?

Before I start blogging again, I would like to take a moment to apologize to those few who read my blog, and look forward to my posts. Sorry for not being regular – I was suffering from writer’s block. However, I hope I’m back again, doing what I love – write.  

The founder of the “One World Youth Project” (OWYP) was on campus, to kick of the International Education Week in Education City. As evident from some of my previous posts, I wonder what the recipe for world peace would be. I understand that it can obviously not be achieved in absolute terms, but I do believe that we can at least reduce, instead of increase, violence, hatred and intolerance. And here I look at Education City, a microcosm of what can go right in this world. It makes you realize that ignorance is our biggest enemy, and this ignorance has nothing to do with traditional education, it is ignorance in understanding the world.

Clearly, we can’t make everyone in the world have an international experience like we do in Education City, nor can we make everyone travel the world. However, what we can do is bring a slice of the world into the lives of every single person on this earth, especially those living in secluded societies.  OWYP aims to include cultural competence into the curriculum of all high school children, so that they can realize our shared humanities and make life choices accordingly. It aims to allow global conversations between schools from different cultures so that they can learn and appreciate each other. It’s a fact that regular teachers do not have the time, resources or the support to pull this off. As Jess said, we are not able to to keep up with the rate of globalization. Even though technology has allowed us to come closer in many ways, our minds have not yet adapted to this change. The activities that OWYP does is very similar to what we did during our visit to City High.

I myself have seen how cultural incompetence can lead to intolerance, be it in the east or the west. For instance, I am surprised when a lot of people tell me not to “trust” Americans by educated Pakistanis. Furthermore, I believe that terrorism exists because certain societies have no window to the outside world. On the other hand, I read disturbing posts by literate Americans who think that we “deserved” the floods that killed and affected million of poor, innocent Pakistanis. The fact is that war exists because there is public opinion backing it, and this is what OWYP aims to change for the generations that will replace current policy makers.

For more information on the One World Youth Project, visit their blog at http://owyp.wordpress.com/

Not so Funny: How we Fuel Intolerance in our Daily Lives

A friend of mine once said that I should become a script writer for South Park. Yes, I am infamous for racist jokes; they always seem to crack everyone up. They are also a way for someone with limited sense of humor such as myself to make everyone laugh. Yet I don’t really find it funny when the media or my friends make fun of Pakistanis or Muslims. No matter how good a sport you are, making fun of your heritage and race can never feel good.

I know, we all think that we incapable of being truly racist. I mean we still hang out with people from all races, and think we don’t treat them differently. We overestimate ourselves. In fact, we overestimate the good that is built in to our humanity. My ethics professor says that ethics can is learnt, and that it is a person’s conscious decisions that makes one ethical.

Let’s face it – we all get our kicks from jokes based on cultural prejudices. The Lahore-Karachi jokes, the terrorist Pakistani/Arab Jokes, the African American “hood” jokes etc. We think of them as nothing more than jokes. What we don’t realize is that these jokes are spread again and again, until the cement themselves into our general stereotype. Aren’t you more likely to think that a terrorist attack is done by a Muslim? or that a stingy person is more likely a Jew? Or that a person from Karachi is less Pakistani than a Lahori? I am not saying that humor is responsible for this, but it can propagate this. I am sure a part of you believes that the person cracking that racist joke believes in what he or she saying to a small degree.

The same goes with how we are just “okay” with intolerance when it comes to suffering of others. We have become “okay” with migrant workers being treated as ghosts in blue as we walk between classes. We have become okay with them not being able to go movies, or be integrated into our daily lives. These little things can truly make the world better. Preposterous lapses in our humanity such as islamophobia or antisemistism don’t happen over night. Gradual increases in our intolerance makes us forget why things get so far.

Yet, when Muslims are mistreated, we believe that we are being insulted. I would like to direct you to the video that has Keith Olbermann addressing the “Ground Zero” mosque issue:

I feel like a hypocrite writing this, because I am a part of the problem I have described above. Therefore, all I am saying is that one should be conscious when one does such actions, because they are just a microcosm of something much bigger. Being politically correct really does do wonders.

Pakistan Floods: A Message to the International Community

Perhaps someone in the international community sitting on their couch will read this and decide to act…

Despite some generous donations, the response by the international community has been very disappointing. This is not to take credit away from countries like Saudi Arabia, who has overtaken the United States as the largest aid donor. Is it because the world thinks their aid is an issue of politics instead of humanity? Or, is the world just sick of Natural Disasters? Or, do you think we deserved this? “We” includes the woman, children and the hardworking Pakistani men who were leading honest lives trying make ends meet. It also includes families of soldiers who have fought the war against terror. If nature was fair, the first place where lightning would strike is on Mr. 10% percent’s head instead of the poorest sector of Pakistan.

The flood has more affected people than any other natural disaster in our times. The keyword here is affected. This means that you still have the opportunity to save millions of lives.  The risk of waterborne diseases is extremely high, and we have already seen the first instance of cholera. The irony is that there is no clean water for these people for consumption and for hygiene. If the world doesn’t act fast, there will be a public, global health crisis. An entire generation of Pakistanis will be lost; we will have a generation of Pakistanis that will not be able to serve our crippled economy.

Picture by Khurram Siddiqi

Let’s for one moment forget that this is a humanitarian crisis. Let’s pretend that the lives of Pakistani children don’t matter to you. If you ignore this calamity, the Taliban and other extremist organization will fill the void. This will be an opportunity for them to capitalize on the hardships of others and help out in hard reaching areas where aid organizations have still not reached. Their networks will go stronger, and our fight against extremism, which poses a global threat, will face a major setback. Your lack of support can cause global political turmoil.

I know members of the international community has it in them. We have seen their support during difficult times, such as the Pakistan Earthquake. All it needs is a big wake up call, the realization that a world-changing calamity has occurred, and that lack of immediate support can have devastating effects on the world.

Our economy is in very bad shape. Our government is probably the most corrupt we have ever seen. We look to you for hope, and we beg for your support. Please do not disappoint us any longer.

If you are outside Pakistan and wish to contribute, please contact me and I will give you channels for donations that I can personally vouch for.  I promise you your aid will make a difference.

Can Terrorism be Attributed to Socioeconomic Divide?

Light entered through the window besides the office, illuminating the “paan stains” on the walls of the police station.  Three prisoners, who lay on the hard, hot ground, stared right through me. Was I supposed to feel sorry for them or angry at them? What crimes were they in for? Did they, like many poor Pakistanis, fall victim to a rich person’s crime or negligence? All I could see were numb faces; numb by ridiculed of the police officers and by the people who walk past their invisible existence. As I was about to file my report, an old man walked in, claiming that someone had stolen his rikshaw* parts. The young policeman looked at him with anger and suspicion. “Why did you leave your rikshaw* unattended?” he asked. As the old man mumbled a response, he stood up and shouted “You careless man! What do you expect us to do? Take care of your things! Come back later you mad man!”. He then looked at my worried face, smiled, and said “How can I help you sir?”

At TEDxLahore, Asher Hassan spoke about how socioeconomic divide is plaguing the Pakistani society . As laws of nature hold true for the rich and the poor alike, consequences are to be expected. One of these could be the birth of terrorist acts.

Terrorism is a phenomenon that cannot be attributed to one factor. As mentioned in one of my posts, ideology is one of the primary factors. But where do terrorist organization recruits come from? Why do they feel the need to find their so-called  “ultimate glory”? The answer could lie in the socioeconomic divide that you, I and our society have created.

The truth is that we no longer feel any empathy with the poor of Pakistan. We are locked up in our airconditioned, generator-driven rooms and yet think our lives are miserable due to power cuts. We stare right through our servants as they bring us tea, with wrinkles on our foreheads as they block our view of the television. Use of common courtesy, such as thanking them, asking them for their opinion, or giving them a smile, would mean that you are not “sahab” enough and that you don’t know how to live like a “respectable”  person.

The poor of Pakistan is left with a diminished self-esteem as it carries on with its day-to-day tasks with no feeling dignity. These people cry for attention, but with no avail. Their thoughts, opinions or life goals are not important to no one but themselves. The only way they get attention is by generating fear. Terrorism appears to be a way for them to feel empowered. For a moment, the tables turn, and they hold a leash to society. With the lack of a will to live and the promise of paradise, their decision does not seem unimaginable.

With the recent floods in Pakistan, they are desperate for your attention once again. Please do not disappoint them. If not for them, do it for your future generations. The elimination of this socioeconomic apartheid is the only way to a safe and happy Pakistan.