Sadly, there is not just one but many destructive ideas that prominent sections of Pakistani society have embraced with asking any questions. The one such outlandish idea is that the western countries are enemies of all Muslim countries, societies, and people. This narrative forms the core of intellectual discourses among religious groups, the lower-middle classes, and the largely uneducated public that gets the first and last lesson of world politics from their prayer leader. It is more disturbing to find this view gripping the minds of college and university teachers, as they pass on their flawed worldview to their impressionable students.
This anti-western tirade doesn’t end there. Our popular media persons — sadly without deep learning, knowledge and wisdom — never miss an opportunity to cultivate and sustain the image of the west as the enemy. They do this in several ways — by providing primetime slots regularly to conspiracy mongers, and allowing them to spin stories that may have nothing to do with reality.
Before I comment on why it may not be a helpful narrative for Pakistan, let me say a few words about the polarised worldview many of us have, where we see a conflict between ‘us’ and the ‘others’ (of course, this frame of mind exists also in western societies). Such divisions have rested on race, ethnicity, and religion.
It is precisely the world coming together through trade, tourism, investments, markets and migration that produce a sort of us-and-other imagery which is based on fear, anxiety about losing identity, and privilege. The conservative reactionaries in the western world and their counterparts in Pakistan and other Muslim countries work through the same fear psychosis — and this is that ‘the other’ is here to rob us of both our values and material comforts.
Interestingly, the western reactionary uses fear of alien culture and ghettoised communities just like Muslim reactionaries who fall back on religion and parochial identities to work against pluralism. Uncritically, the reactionaries in our part of the world use the same idiom of values, religion, history and symbolism, which they use to shape their societies, and in drawing boundaries of inclusion and exclusion (couched mostly in religious terms). These are at best very simplistic impressions of a very complex human world at home and abroad, as no society today is based on a single culture, religion, or value system. Under the grand narratives of the western and Islamic worlds are cultures, religions, multiple identities and competing worldviews.
What we hear and see on our television screens with pseudo intellectuals screaming at each on talk shows, or on our streets with religious groups demonstrating, the message is not encouraging at all. While, India, our historic friend China, and forward-looking countries like Turkey are integrating with the western world, notably the US, we want to do anything that would turn them away from us. That will not be wise.
In being overly critical of the western world and promoting fear, we may end up creating an atmosphere of xenophobia. Not that we don’t have it already, it will get worse and make it difficult for our present and future leaders to engage with the outside world. Our media persons and their celebrity guests don’t realise that the sustained — and unqualified — enemy image of the west that they show has produced violent social groups and movements which question the legitimacy of all Muslim regimes, labelling them as puppets.
Our homegrown reactionaries, in their political plan to isolate Pakistan, will only end weakening it further and causing further polarisation. We must not fall into this trap.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2011.
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