Aug 13, 2011

Raising Pakistanis

By Babar Sattar

August comes along with mixed feelings. As a child there used to be a sense of festivity and gratitude around Pakistan’s birthday. The gratitude – indoctrinated at some point in school – was misguided for it was largely about not being the other ie not being born Muslim in India where one would be predestined to do menial tasks for ‘evil Hindus’.

Notwithstanding this hangover from the bitterness surrounding the events of 1947, the sense of national pride was genuine. Occasionally tears would well up on hearing the national anthem and ‘mili naghmay’ or watching the national flag flutter over rooftops. That was then. Now August tends to invite introspection. It raises disturbing questions of what our identity means and what the Pakistani brand stands for. And it engenders gloom – if not despondency – over the tragedy of this nation that continues to punch well below its weight.

This year brought the happy August back. Shameer, our firstborn, joined our family last week. The excitement of experiencing the miracle of birth can hardly be described. But once the initial euphoria settles down, the mind draws toward all sorts of worries that accompany the joy of parenthood. At the top of this list is the responsibility of raising the innocent child you bring into this world as a decent human being.

But what seems more pressing, in our case at least, is the challenge of raising an honourable, kind, law abiding and confident Pakistani devoid of anger, prejudice and complexes amidst the corrupting influences that afflict our state and society on the one hand and all the negativity that the Pakistani brand attracts across the world on the other. Are these legitimate concerns? Were worries about the ethical health of impressionable children as pronounced for our older generations?

How do you raise a child to develop a strong faith while protecting him from obscurantism and religion-inspired hate? Which centre of religious learning can you enrol a child in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan that will imbibe him with universal humanitarian values, narrate to him an objective account of religious history and teach him to practice his faith without judging those who follow other ideologies or epistemologies? How do you teach him not to create ‘us’ and ‘them’ distinctions on the basis of religion?

How do you raise a child who is proud to be a son-of-the-soil and of being raised by honest and hard working Pakistani parents, who worries little about the vocation and ancestry of his forefathers and whether or not one-millionth of his lineage can be tracked back to the Arabs or Greeks or some alien land? How do you raise him to be proud of his roots, ethnicity and clan, however humble or privileged, without being bigoted or apologetic about his identity?

How do you ensure that character and decency is his measure of fellow human beings and not their wealth or pedigree? How do you raise a child to be ambitious, but not crafty or greedy? How do you teach him to view success and achievement as a means to render public service and do some good in life, and not as an end in itself that justifies the employment of all means fair and foul? How do you teach him that the quantum of power and influence that he seeks to acquire as a consequence of professional success is less important than what he plans to do with it?

In a society where the wealthy are admired and derided at the same time and the distinction between good and bad money has been washed away, how do you teach a child that money might be overrated but that there is nothing wrong with having it or wishing to have it so long as it is not ill-gotten? How do you teach a child to value being right more than being successful in an environment where the distinction between right and wrong is largely blurred?

Is perennial violence dehumanising? Even if you calm yourself down with the logic of probabilities and quit worrying about your child inadvertently getting in harm’s way, will growing up in a country where the count of violent deaths runs into a few dozen each day make him impassive to violence or death? How do you raise a child to value and respect rule of law in a country where the ability to break the law and not be constrained by rules is the gauge of one’s power, influence and success?

How do you teach him that waiting in line for one’s turn is a mark of respect and fairness to fellow human beings and seeking the ability to jump the cue or attract preferential treatment neither enhances one’s dignity nor self-worth? How do you teach your child that genuine reverence does not incite flattery and the measure of success ought to be one’s ability to sleep well at night and not the envy of others or praise of sycophants? In a society that shuns dissent, how do you teach him to speak his mind without being offensive?

How do you teach your child to love his homeland without feeding him false history or making him chant the my-country-right-or-wrong mantra? How do you teach him that the events that led to the creation of Pakistan are matters of history and what we do with our country today and tomorrow are the more relevant and essential matters of fact to attend to?

How do you teach him that despite being a Pakistani who is singled out in immigration lines for special security checks or simply denied the ability to travel freely across the world, he is not a lone wolf up against the entire world conspiring against him, and that notwithstanding the hypocrisy and bias defining international politics there exist valid reasons for international community’s concern about the direction and policies of our state? How do you ensure that he understands that just because he finds the policies of a foreign state reprehensible doesn’t mean that the people of such country are evil, and that a gap similar to that between the policies of our state and the aspirations of ordinary Pakistanis also exists in other countries?

The world is becoming smaller and smaller. A first generation citizen of Pakistani origin in the US or Canada or a European country continues to feel the weight of the events that transpire in his country of birth/origin. Pakistani expatriates nervously hold their breadth after each incidence of terrorism and violence anywhere across the globe waiting for it to find links back to Pakistan. Their children are asked difficult questions in schools about their country and religion.

How can we get comfortable with a state of affairs where Pakistan continues to ask for sacrifices, whether from expatriates wishing to associate with their country of origin, students/professionals wishing to return home after getting educated/trained abroad or those who choose to continue living in this place? The concerns about raising a child as a Pakistani will not melt away simply by evading the question or relocating to a different country.

It is about time we realise that while the elites might have led our country astray to begin with, the society at large has acquiesced in living within a predatory state and acquiring a predatory character to survive and thrive. Our parochial instincts, insular vision and lop-sided priorities are transforming our state and society into an inhospitable place for our future generations. And individual fortune, success and effort might not be sufficient to confront the challenges created for the value set of our children by depraved communal ethics and public morality. The cost of supporting reckless policies and hedonism in Pakistan is not all tangible and that much of the damage it is causing might be irreparable.

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