Dear liberals, speak up!

There is a need for opinions to trickle down to areas where the vast majority of our country lives.

Maryam Jillani December 09, 2010
In my two and a half years in the US, I haven’t met a single Republican. An overwhelming majority of the Americans I have spoken to are apologetic about the drone attacks in Pakistan, were appalled by the “Ground Zero” mosque crisis, despise the Tea Party movement and don’t understand Republicans’ repeated attacks against health care reform.

This category of opinion is in large part echoed by liberal columnists and pundits that we even follow back home. I, therefore, find it interesting to reconcile what I witnessed in the November 2 elections with what I know of my personal experience in US.

It signals the insularity of academic and policy circles clustered in the Northeast, and the vast degree of political polarisation in the US. No matter how many columns Nicholas Kristof writes or how many thousands of liberal voters Stewart and Colbert can gather at the National Mall, when push comes to shove, people whose opinions really matter will stick to what they believe is true.

The failure or rather, the lack of will among liberal pundits to sincerely engage with the public is not limited to the US. While a large number of our English columnists mock the spread of Indian-Zionist conspiracy theories, warn against the return to military rule, rail against the blasphemy law etc, it doesn’t look like they are succeeding in making people who believe Indians and Jews are the problem think otherwise.

It’s true that analysts writing for English newspapers read by less than 10 per cent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million are aiming to change the opinion of policy makers as opposed to the much-touted “man on the street”. But the recent case of Aasia Bibi, I felt, only further highlighted the need for opinions frequently echoed in the country’s capital to trickle down to areas where the vast majority of our country lives.

While appropriate policy interventions at the state level may include curriculum reform, more schools etc, what I’m specifically interested is breaking the insularity of our educated populace. Even individuals who hail from areas where religious minorities are persecuted and girls are discouraged from going to school, and change their minds, are reluctant to go back. While this phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan, it’s still worth noting.

A PhD candidate conducting research on the National Outreach Programme (NOP) in LUMS noted that majority of the scholars from underrepresented regions had no intention of going back to their home towns and villages.

Rather, they were looking for employment within multinational corporations based in Dubai and Karachi. Since pursuit of economic opportunity is a decision that is both personal and in majority of the cases, necessary, we will leave that aside for now. But space still exists for dialogue across economic and social classes. Although many will dismiss blogs and Facebook as also being too exclusive, what they’re doing in terms of generating conversations between individuals who otherwise would have never met is monumental.

Greater emphasis on the Urdu and local press, public universities, adoption of the Teach for America model and pushing students in the Islamabad-Lahore-Karachi circle to intern and volunteer anywhere else within this country maybe starting points for pushing the dialogue out of the blogosphere. Even if these strategies for “exchange” fail to push forward “liberal opinion” so to speak, what’s more important is that they may be a small step towards weakening barriers within a jarringly stratified society.
Maryam Jillani A masters graduate in public administration from Cornell University who is currently working for an international development organisation based in Washington DC.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Maryam Jillani | 13 years ago | Reply Thank you for your comments! @ Usman Ahmad, you're absolutely right. Unfortunately, we (myself included) have gotten to the point where we find it hard to talk about anything conceptual in Urdu. The word you used, "pathetic" pretty much does sum up this situation. @ Umair, thank you for your comment! I especially like what you said about spreading out thin and reaching out countrywide. It brings to mind how we along with govt. officials are always looking to get postings in urban centers when it's in smaller towns where we can have the most impact. @ Zubair, thank you for your comment. I don't know if democracy is bound to fail in Pakistan. For democracy to work, our institutions need to grow strong, and that can only happen over the course of several years.
Zuhaib | 13 years ago | Reply Point highlighted here actually needs lot of interaction among the segregated classes of the society who are really immune to change themselves and the environment around em..
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