Our collective apathy

Published: October 10, 2012

The writer is a third year student at Mount Holyoke College in the US. She is also the opinions and editorials editor for Mount Holyoke News

In Pakistan, we are very good at feeling outraged. People are outraged at a number of things — angry at one another for being too liberal, too conservative, too violent, too peaceful, too privileged, too narrow-minded, etc. However, one thing Pakistanis seem to agree on unanimously is that anger is a fundamental human right and passing judgments about the actions of others is another crucial one. The tragic shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old women’s rights activist who spoke out courageously and persistently against the Taliban, has again elicited vast quantities of moral outrage.

We are angry for a number of reasons — we are angry because Pakistan is not a safe place for women to live in; we are angry because every time we try to pick ourselves up and believe there is a silver lining, something happens and it is back to square one. For every ladder we climb, there are 10 snakes waiting to push us further back. We suffer from misplaced guilt that turns into anger and finds various outlets: the inability of the state to protect a 14-year-old, who intimidated armed extremists through her words and actions; the ignorance and intolerance in our society and the lack of action against injustice; anything we can get angry at, we do. We attack one another for not doing enough. We are changing our Facebook display and cover photos to pictures of Malala, tweeting about her and reflecting on what is wrong with us and our country. We have virtual moments of silence to show our condemnation for the attack on her, our sorrow and our hopes that she will recover. We are doing everything we can to prove that we are unlike those who shot Malala.

Let us keep in mind that Malala had been writing and protesting for a while. Her struggle started when she was 11. What I find most tragic in this situation is the way many Pakistanis became aware of her existence — not through the work she did, but by the incident of her being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. Were we not interested in her work before it came to this? After all, shouldn’t women’s education be a priority in Pakistan? There are many of us who are afraid to say too much because too much means we might be putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk, and that’s okay. No one should feel obligated to endanger their lives. But when someone does put themselves at risk, our inability to protect them is what appalls me the most.

There are those who have given up all hope and blame other people for the privileges they enjoy, while refusing obstinately to use their own to change anything. I am not trying to mock anyone’s sense of disillusionment or pessimism because I am no one to judge where people might be coming from. However, it does leave a bad taste in the mouth when a person not only mocks those who try to do their small bit, but also insist that trying is no use. Steering Pakistan towards any social progress is a gargantuan task and will obviously be one of the biggest challenges faced by the government and society as a whole. It will require a change in everyone’s mindset; a government alone cannot get into people’s minds and change how they think even if it were to become the epitome of progress and enlightenment.

In our 65-year history, one of the things that has been most difficult for us to do is to find a sense of identity that will unite us in some way — and religion has not been the answer. We have become very good at pointing out what is wrong with us, but somehow have not been able to fix it. The biggest question is, why not? And isn’t it time we started trying to find out?

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2012.

Reader Comments (18)

  • BlackJack
    Oct 11, 2012 - 12:17AM

    In our 65-year history, one of the things that has been most difficult for us to do is to find a sense of identity that will unite us in some way — and religion has not been the answer. We have become very good at pointing out what is wrong with us, but somehow have not been able to fix it. The biggest question is, why not?
    The answer to the question is already in the statement above. You need to accept as a nation that religion is not the principle source of identity as a people and as a nation, and should remain within the privacy of one’s home. Once that happens, your choice of friends, enemies, heroes and history may also need to be revisited and judged impartially. Your country has been mired in a sunk-cost fallacy, in that we were made in the name of religion, so religion is what unites us. Partition along religious lines cannot be reversed (thankfully), but need not define who you are for perpetuity. Pakistan is what you make of it.

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  • karma
    Oct 11, 2012 - 12:20AM

    Madam:

    I truly wasn’t aware of her till she was shot. Ensconced in tony Bangalore, where my kids (about her age) go to school as a matter of routine, I wouldn’t even have suspected a girl may have to struggle, fight and risk life to go to school somewhere in the world!!

    This girl’s plight touched me like no other story from Pakistan. I have rarely been moved to tears on a news story, and never on a story from Pakistan. I always believed Pakistani’s asked for this by playing with extremist ideology. But, checking various interviews and stories of her on youtube compelled me to ask myself – Did she ask for what she got? Did she ask for extremist ideology in her country?

    Not many in this world would be as brave as her, even when they have nothing much to live for. Not many will ever speak out for others, show courage under fire. Most importantly not many kids her age would be so aware, prolific, articulate on subjects of concern to them and clarity on what the problems are and how they’d address it.

    Now, I think those like her, deserve far better. Likes of her are Pakistan’s hope. If Pakistan can’t find a way to heed to her message, then so many more like her will find a fate that they truly don’t deserve.

    Wish her the best.

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  • gp65
    Oct 11, 2012 - 2:51AM

    @karma:
    You said what I wanted to. Only better.

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  • Jat
    Oct 11, 2012 - 3:23AM

    The author got so close to the crux of the problem and then missed it; perhaps intentionally. She says,

    “In our 65-year history, one of the things that has been most difficult for us to do is to find a sense of identity that will unite us in some way — and religion has not been the answer.”

    As you rightly say, religion is not the answer, but then the questions arises, what is ? If we look at Pakistani nation and try to fix its sense of identity, ideology and geography, we will fail. Not because of lack of trying but because there isn’t any.

    Pakistanis do not have an attachment to a common ideology, culture, language, race or even to land. They just seem to be floating in a intellectual and historic void. And then they clutch at straws in the form of various shades of religion. That’s all they know and that’s all they have…

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  • R2D2
    Oct 11, 2012 - 3:43AM

    in a country where even oxford educated politicians favor hadood ord. and want to have jirga justice, what do you expect?

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  • Raw is War
    Oct 11, 2012 - 6:03AM

    outraged for being too violent? Not in Pakistan.

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  • Oct 11, 2012 - 11:10AM

    @R2D2:
    “in a country where even oxford educated politicians favor hadood ord. and want to have jirga justice, what do you expect?”

    Oxford Educated? Let’s stick to Oxford Returned—the folksy term for that.

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  • wonderer
    Oct 11, 2012 - 11:18AM

    I must compliment the young lady writer for almost discovering the magic wand that could cure all ills in not too long a time. If she had gone on after touching “religion” and probed the misguided practices that take place in its name, the cure would have been more evident. It is an entirely separate matter that the majority of Pakistanis will not cooperate, just because the very thought of religion being a problem is blasphemy.

    The other way a Nation may correct its course after having been on the wrong track for a long time, is if it feels ashamed of its past. But, there is so much Ghairat all over for that. It is not completely unknown that it is this Ghairat that has even forced us to mutilate our history, tell white lies, mislead our people and other nations for so long that some of us have started feeling it is not possible to fool everyone all the time. No grand nations or individual character was ever built on the foundations of falsehood. We have to learn the unescapable necessity of TRUTH.

    For those interested in knowing our perfidy in relation to Kashmir I can recommend the revelations (in Urdu) by a Kashmiri (Hamid Bashani) from Azaad Kashmir on the following link:.

    http://www.siasat.pk/forum/showthread.php?137138-BilaTakalluf-with-Tahir-Gora-8th-Oct-2012-Hamid-Bashani-on-Kashmir-Dispute

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  • Ducky
    Oct 11, 2012 - 1:48PM

    The title should be: Our (selective) collective apathy

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  • Parvez
    Oct 11, 2012 - 2:10PM

    When 65 years ago the country was formed as a homeland for Muslims……….religion was the base for this to happen. Today to say otherwise would be self deception.
    The problem seems to be that ‘religion’ has been highjacked and turned into a vehicle, on which people with a political agenda ride with the ultimate goal of gaining power.
    The answer lies in understanding the meaning of the word ‘secular’ and then work towards eradicating the perception that it is anti-religion. A perception deliberately introduced by the mischief mongers. Taking back the pulpit from these usurpers will not be easy but it must be done it we are to survive.

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  • wonderer
    Oct 11, 2012 - 3:29PM

    Those interested in knowing more about Malala and her family please use this link:

    http://video.nytimes.com/video/2012/10/09/world/asia/100000001835296/class-dismissed.html?ref=world#100000001835296

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  • Abhinav
    Oct 11, 2012 - 6:11PM

    I think it is clear case of extremism from both talibans and liberals.
    While talibans are obvious culprit, liberals must also share equal blame.
    While talibans are bad for forcing their narrow minded interpretation of islam, liberals are also equally blamed for forcing concept like girl education and gender equality on rest of the population.
    Hope both side of extreemists stop so that poor children are not hurt in the crossfiring.Recommend

  • karma
    Oct 11, 2012 - 9:44PM

    Abhinav: Get real – Liberals are not ‘forcing’ a concept like girl Education or Gender equality. They are asking for it. Liberals don’t go around ‘forcing’ their opinion with guns. “Liberal extremist” is an oxymoron.

    In any case, what liberals are asking for is enshrined in the UN charter of human rights. You can’t treat women as a second class citizens, even if you had done it before. It is against the concept of all humans are equal. If you allowed that – then you should also accept all other sort of classification – Race, Caste, Religious etc. If you accepted second grade citizenship for women – then you also accept slavery.

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  • Alina
    Oct 11, 2012 - 10:19PM

    “What I find most tragic in this situation is the way many Pakistanis became aware of her existence — not through the work she did, but by the incident of her being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen.”

    So it’s not the fact that a child was shot at for voicing her opinion? The real tragedy here is that the Taliban which shot her are Pakistanis themselves. They’re not Afghans or the result of an American invasion, it’s us. We cultivated the Taliban and we let Malala get shot; the question is, how much more worse does it need to get? This should be the turning point for Pakistan. Remember Bouazizi, the unlicensed street vendor in Tunisia? His death sparked the nation wide protests which spread across the region. Malala is still alive but do we need a bigger push? Have we not had enough yet?

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  • Oct 11, 2012 - 10:31PM

    @Abhinav:
    You are right, what would we men do with all these educated girls around. Isn’t food making and cleaning the running noses of young kids interesting enough for them? Perhaps the Taliban could demand that there should be a solution to so many females being born. They can, very well take care of the problem themselves.

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  • Jat
    Oct 11, 2012 - 10:45PM

    @Alina: “…Malala is still alive but do we need a bigger push? Have we not had enough yet?…”

    Compare the countrywide protests against an obscure film made by a criminal, to the protests against attempted murder of Malala. The answer is obvious. You have a long way to go, my dear Pakistani friend.

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  • Abhi
    Oct 12, 2012 - 6:05PM

    @Abid P Khan
    Solution to the problem of too many femals being born already exist. By the grace of God, man is allowed to have 4 wives. Talibans are not only against female education they also oppose modern education for anyone regardless of their gender. It will be probably good idea to let them take contol of the their land and do as they like.

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  • Muhammad
    Oct 13, 2012 - 1:38AM

    Take religion out of the public life and see how this nation will improve and progress. Religion is the root cause of most problems. Believe in yourself first before believe in a God or Prophet.

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