Optimism is not passé

Quatrina Hosain May 24, 2010

Cynicism should be the purview of a few select few, whose jobs require them to take everything with a pinch of salt — like traffic policemen, bank loan officers and debt collectors. But when did cynicism become a national characteristic? And why are we so angry all the time? And sadly, it is the younger generation that seems to be the most jaded, angry and cynical of us all.

As a teenager, I took my identity as a Muslim and as a Pakistani for granted. Yet today, almost every young person I meet is looking to define their identity — an identity they feel is under threat and they feel obligated to defend. It all changed on 9/11. A group of 19 hijackers split the world irrevocably into two camps, best exemplified by George Bush’s infamous “either you are with us or against us” speech. Never mind that all 19 hijackers were Arabs. It was Afghanistan that housed Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

But today Pakistan is considered to be the most dangerous place in the world and a breeding ground for international terrorists. No wonder we feel resentful and defensive.

Ask someone what makes them happy and you will be greeted with a blank stare. Somewhere down the road, we have lost our ability to smile, laugh and enjoy life despite the challenges it throws us.

Sure we have plenty to be disconsolate about. If I were to make a list of everything wrong with our lives, I would run out of space in this column. And if I were to make a list of everything going right, I would be done with the list in a few words. Or would I? At the heart of the matter is the fact that being perceived as optimistic is passé. It is seriously unfashionable to be naive and idealistic. But without ideals, we are nothing. Without optimism, we cannot grow. And without happiness, we cannot live, we can merely exist.

Without idealism, we will lose the battle. I am still optimistic that the battle has not been lost. We can change the world or our corner of it anyway. Who cares if the world wants to paint us as global terrorists? We know we are not jihad central. We are warm, generous and affectionate people. We care for our elders, we love our children and we look after our own. Let’s recall how we all rose to the occasion in October 2005.

The earthquake killed thousands in Azad Kashmir and northern Pakistan and the country was galvanised into action. We put aside ethnic and sectarian considerations and worked together as Pakistanis. So let’s not allow others to define us. We have to define ourselves.

The first is to take a good long look at ourselves as individuals. I, for one, am sick and tired of the constant moaning and groaning that is becoming our national hobby. I say it’s time to fight back and reclaim our lives. I have started by making a mental list of all the things I have to be grateful for, including even the most mundane things that bring me happiness. You will be surprised at how many things will be on your list. Let’s smile again and spread the word. Happiness is contagious and idealism addictive. Have a great day!

Published in the Express Tribune, May 25th, 2010.


Niaz Ali | 13 years ago | Reply I am impressed at the level of intelect and passion. Mr. Malick I went to you blog and read your writings elsewhere as well. It is very saddening to note that intellectuals like you have to remain on the margins. ‘Les extremes se touchent,’ goes a well-wrought French phrase. The value of this insight has not escaped a growing number of contemporary critics of what can be called a kind of marriage between postmodernism and religious fundamentalism. Recent writers like Meera Nanda in her book Prophets Facing Backward have explored the relationship between postmodern critiques of science and the rise and proliferation of religious fundamentalisms, arguing that the critique of scientific rationality that postmodern thinkers put forth as a left-wing attack on social domination and power goes hand in hand with right-wing political and cultural projects. Reading both of your comments I am reminded of another book "Fashionable nonesense" by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Both of these writers have skilfully picked apart the nonsensical approach of postmodern thinkers to science and mathematics, revealing postmodern thought as lacking any understanding of science or scientific rationality and therefore possessing no real ability to make a substantive critique of it. The reason I mention these writers because you seem to share a common concern to defend reason and science from the dismissive approach of postmodern thought (let's all be happy - optimisim will lead us to success). And there is something to be said for this new defence of rationality, the Enlightenment and even science as a means to revive a left political discourse that can reclaim the political project dedicated to political equality, human rights and social justice. I am a student at Stanford University and I also remember watching your YouTube piece when Gen. Musharaff came here to dishonor our nation. Please keep these journalists honests- even if you have to stay at the margin.
Malik Rashid | 13 years ago | Reply A wonderful list we have. A secular, democratic country where civilians rule. I don't know how the poor, unarmed civilians could grab power from those who hold missiles, guns and nukes. The country is Islamic, because they want it to be, and democracy song plays on request of the generals. Helplessness must not overtake us because some distant galaxy cannot be conquered right away. Education is most important for any change that we might encounter. Pakistanis have been corrupted by ignorance and orthodoxy. Only rational thinking people could impact their own future. Perhaps 18th century French had better literacy than we have in Pakistan today. A network of libraries and self-help adult literacy centers could give birth to the first democratic, secular and civil structures we desire. The goal of gender equality must be impressed upon the poor, working folks as they step into these centers. Single-earner family cannot survive and both husband and wife must work while their little ones are cared for. These centers could serve multiple purpose of education for adults, vocational training/advise, child-care and social networking. Instead of seeking high political goals that require lot more power than we have, an hour a day volunteering by educated, middle-class could make big difference if done consistently, devotedly, with modest goals in mind. Respect. Peace.
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