Published first on the Dawn News Blog
After going through the Herald magazine’s annual issue, which this year included a survey on Pakistani youth, I was compelled to write about the identity crisis plaguing the youngsters of this country today. Pakistan’s turbulent history has widened, rather than resolved, the contradictions present in our society, leaving society as polarised as ever. The young generation is still searching for the answers that previous generations of Pakistanis have failed to provide.
This prevalent identity crisis is spurred at an early school-going age. Text books are written to pursue expedient policies and internalise certain notions of ‘national interest,’ which may come at the expense of imbuing the children with ideologies that promote hate and intolerance. For this purpose, history is twisted and turned to suit petty interests. Few individuals are revered, others are demonised. Accounts of events from history are printed with knowing distortions and glaring omissions. According to a report compiled by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), which examined text books for grades one to 12, most text books “[encourage] or [justify] discrimination against women, religious and ethnic minorities and other nations.”
War is glorified in the process, while peace is not given the emphasis it needs. War is a breakdown of diplomacy, an utter failure of humanity, one that is often branded and disguised as an expression of bravery and courage in our books. This practice reminds me of a Stephen Fisher dialogue in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940), when he says, “they combine a mad love of country with an equally mad indifference to life, their own as well as others. They are cunning, unscrupulous, inspired.”
One may argue that this kind of text book perversion is a standard practice in order to promote nationalism and patriotism. The troubling effects of this ‘standard practice’ are pretty much evident in the increasing social turmoil in our society. If our youth are not aware of our historical follies, how are we planning to ensure that we do not end up travelling down the same cul-de-sac again? Is it really due to our ‘security interests’ that findings such as the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report never see the light of the day? Young individuals, who get the opportunity to read beyond their text books, are increasingly questioning the biased versions of our historical narratives. Others, who are not lucky enough to read widely, have formulated views which are far from the truth.
Many recent surveys, like the British Council’s ‘Next Generation Report’, have also highlighted an alarmingly high ratio of youth that have no faith in democracy and would prefer a totalitarian regime under military rulers. This is not just about the large Facebook following of a former military dictator; rather, it’s about the rampant disillusionment among today’ youth with the present system, which they believe has failed to deliver on countless occasions due to inept policies and politicians.
Moreover, many young people feel that reaffirming their national identity comes at the cost of losing their provincial identity. Concepts such as unity in diversity or multicultural coexistence are very much needed today. In a country like ours, until the voice of every ethnicity and minority is not heard, until their due concerns are not addressed, a true consensus – which is indispensable for a federation to show progress – can not be forged. For instance, it does not amount to lack of patriotism or treason for a Baloch to ask for more provincial autonomy.
This brings me to another disturbing trend. The intricate issues in which we are caught are often very frustrating for the youth. While groping for solutions in this dark period, the youth are exploited by certain individuals who with their oratory skills present a simplistic answer to complicated dilemmas by urging them to focus on a common external enemy. They spit venom, blabber about conspiracy theories, and preach jingoism in the media.
This strategy works, and it is nothing different from our flawed policies of looking at everything through a security prism, which we have already been doing at a larger level. Well, when the rival countries of Europe could be brought under a single banner by highlighting an external threat of communism, many believe same effect can be achieved with the diverse population of Pakistan by the use of a single external enemy. So manipulative minds use a bit of warmongering to unite the nation. Of course, in the process, our own inefficacies can be brushed under the carpet as well.
In the words of Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, an Islamabad-based youth activist and the founder of the Pakistan Youth Alliance, “we are a nation of 170 million, confused about our ideology, our very basis, our culture and sociology, our religion, our priorities and our enemies.” He points out that it is easier for most Pakistanis to condemn atrocities committed by a Jewish state thousands of miles away, than to raise a voice against extremism which may have claimed more lives in our own backyard. The point is not to underscore Gaza atrocities, but to highlight the reluctance on our part to identify our own failures as well. To do that, our youth will have to rise above bifurcations to call spade a spade and will raise their guard against the chicanery of hate-preaching demagogues.
Husham Ahmed is an engineer, youth activist, and freelance writer. He blogs at USF and tweets at twitter.com/hushamahmed.