If I am asked to use one word that describes Pakistanis most accurately, I would be compelled to respond with ‘fatalistic’. No other country has faced as much and varied chaos — natural and manmade — as we have; from drone attacks to floods, targeted killings, earthquakes, suicide bombings, honour killings, disease, poverty and everything in between, we have faced it all and still go on with our lives in a business-as-usual manner, believing it to be “God’s will”.
Most Pakistanis have a defeatist approach towards doom and death. Yes, death is inevitable, but the way we readily accept it in all its forms does speak volumes about the fatalism that pervades our society. It can be said that such a stoic approach to life is a coping mechanism for the majority. This attitude stops us from being proactive about bringing positive change and makes us unprepared for things like floods, fires and earthquakes. And while such an attitude helps us get through these disasters, it also ensures that we live in the worst possible conditions and somehow continue to exist despite everything.
The preponderance of matters related to religion in all spheres of life has also contributed to this aspect of fatalism. For instance, Shah Waliullah, a Muslim scholar from the 19th century, who has heavily influenced scholars in the Indian subcontinent, declared fate to be a fundamental article of faith and that anyone who disbelieved it should not be entitled to be called a Muslim. So, in order to retain purity of faith, acknowledgement of everything as a God’s way of testing humans is accepted, be it corrupt leaders or a broken down administrative system, or young children dying.
I recently visited a village in Hingorno near Mirpur Khas, where stagnant water around a cluster of houses stood like a sad reminder of the devastation that the floods brought in last year. Quite a few of the villagers lost their homes and almost all had lost assets like livestock and furniture. Except for one family, all others have rebuilt part of their homes despite abject poverty and some even have saved up enough to buy a goat or two. I was later informed that the neighbours in that poor village have decided to contribute some money and labour to help that family build a room before the next rainy season.
It may not be much but this, I think, is the saving grace of Pakistani fatalism: a commitment to one another and the spirit of community. Most of us are mindful of the fact that while our life stories are heartbreaking, that of our neighbour’s might be even worse.
But can I really blame the people of Pakistan for their stoicism? Would I retain any glimmer of hope if I lose my house in floods, a son to hepatitis C or a daughter to childbirth? What if half of my family is blown up in a bomb blast during their yearly shopping excursion in the city before Eid? How can I live through the trauma of being caught in crossfire between militants and the armed forces and see my friends and family die all around me? How can I ever hope to not die and get on with my life? I, too, will need repeated doses of fatalism to survive.
Resignation to one’s fate is a necessary evil and, perhaps, a powerful tool of survival but one must ponder if this is what is stopping us from taking charge of our individual and collective lives and preventing us from bringing in the changes that we need.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2012.
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