After watching the screening of the first episode of SOC (Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy) Films’ Ho Yaqeen series, which highlights the work of changemakers doing everything they can to better society and the people who are most underserved in Pakistan, I was forced to think about the definition of patriotism.
The dictionary states that a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports his or her country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”.
This definition can be seen on every television channel at night, where news anchors and their guests verbally attack one another in their attempts to prove themselves the bigger patriot. It can be seen on social media, where people attack one another through Twitter or Facebook, and when called out on their abuse, say that they’re doing it in the name of Pakistan. “Defender of Pakistan”, “The biggest patriot”, “Love my country” are just some of the phrases bandied about, and pictures of Pakistani flags proliferate in the race to prove one’s patriotism on car stickers, television logos and online profile photos.
What if we’ve got it all wrong?
Watching Sabina Khatri talk about her work in Lyari, where she runs the Kiran School System, a preschool for some of Karachi’s most underprivileged children, not once did she lay blame on anyone, or attack any political party, politician, or government figure. Not once did she blame a ‘hidden hand’ for the problems of the community. She talked about responsibility, ownership, and change, and not only did she talk, but she backed up her words with actions. As she talked about her work amongst the people of Lyari, not just children but their mothers and fathers, there was a smile on her face, and positivity emanated from her like the waves of a powerful ocean. Instead of problems, she was focused on solutions. Instead of hate, she was focused on love.
I realised that patriotism is something far different from saber-rattling and chest-thumping. That kind of ‘patriotism’ is not patriotism at all, but the taking out of one’s personal frustrations on others. Pointing fingers of blame and shouting louder than others is the projection of one’s personal biases, insecurities, and fears onto others. It’s a way of absolving oneself of responsibility, the need to actually get moving in the world. And it’s lip-service to a two-dimensional replica of a more evolved definition of what patriotism really is.
I think it’s vital that we redefine patriotism for 21st century Pakistan: not attacking or defending our real and imagined enemies, but being of service to our country. What will help Pakistan get out of its current morass of problems is not abusing or assaulting anyone in the name of Pakistan, but actually putting in the time and effort to make positive, tangible changes in our communities and societies.
It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do more for Pakistan than it has done for us — Abdul Sattar Edhi, for example, is someone who only comes along once in a country’s lifetime — but it wouldn’t be impossible for each one of us to sacrifice some of our precious time and energy to improve the lives of others around us. I was delighted to see that some of my former students from SZABIST, inspired by Sabina Khatri, have set up a small montessori called the Orange Tree, and are working with only 12 preschoolers, but that’s 12 lives that they’ve changed forever. My former students are all members of the educated elite, but they’ve decided to “pay it forward”, as the popular phrase goes: to give back in gratitude for the blessings and privileges that they have been lucky enough to receive.
As Sabina Khatri said at the Ho Yaqeen screening, “Upturn any stone in Pakistan and you’ll find a diamond”. But diamonds don’t appear overnight. They’re the result of hundreds of thousands of years of the earth compressing carbon into that elusive, precious stone. And once you find the diamond, it takes hard work to rub, polish, and cut that diamond into a beautiful, multifaceted gem. Look how hard the earth works to give us something so valuable, and learn a lesson from it. Pakistan could be our diamond, if we serve it with time, effort, and sacrifice, instead of chipping away pieces of it to take home with us and keep it in our personal safes to satisfy our greed, and shooting dead anyone who we fear will come to steal it from us.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.