Dec 10, 2009

A frivolous matter?

By Dr Tanveer Akbar

In these critical times, with terrorists on a killing spree and our cities burning, our politicians recently locked horns with one another on a matter like changing the name of the country from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to People’s Republic of Pakistan. And were we then supposed to live ‘happily ever after’?

This reminds me of a moving scene from Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. A little girl, after losing her family and home in riots, gets caught in pouring rain in the middle of the night. However, instead of panicking, she starts playing. The name-change proposal can be likened to similar indifference. Not that I am against changing the name or in favour it. Nor do I have a problem with people who want to express their opinions on the subject. But given the circumstances, one wonders what results such a change can achieve, apart from creating political chaos?

So what is the problem? To find that out, we have to analyse the times we are living in and the kind of governments we have been enduring. Our young generation opened its eyes when Pakistan was ruled by Ziaul Haq. Ziaul Haq was determined to impose Islam and Shariah in the country where 97 per cent of the population was already Muslim. He was in power for 11 years but to no avail. Islam was largely defined by a female dress code, which consisted in any female appearing on PTV having to cover her head, from news reading to singing or acting.

Jobs were created for mullahs. To make the process easier, the government made it possible for those who merely hitched their shalwar above the ankles and sported a beard to qualify for the job of a religious scholar. It was desirable, but not essential, for a candidate to have education.

After Zia, we witnessed brief periods of democratic governments. While Zia’s political offspring inherited his rhetoric, Benazir Bhutto kept her dupatta firmly planted on head.

The situation was bound to lead to the Musharraf era. Musharraf ‘served’ Islam from another angle by presenting the softer side of the religion to the world. This time around, fashion shows were held in the presidency.

While the dress code was essentially defining our religion for us all those years, somewhere down the line we forgot about those kids in tattered dresses playing or just wandering around.

We kept on seeing what we wanted to see. We threw all logic and rationality to the winds and kept running in circles, calling ourselves the champions of Islam. We are content with reading something without understanding a word of it. We read the whole Quran fluently and some of us memorise it too without knowing the meaning.

Without any real education, how can we debate issues which only stir our emotions? Shoud we not focus more on who we really are and who we should be? No doubt giving the country a new official name can be really interesting and a great subject for drawing-room discussions over a cup of tea and cake. But even at my superstitious best, I doubt giving a new name to the country can bring us luck.

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