Issues in Pakistan: ‘The idea of a single language and identity is problematic’

Published: March 13, 2012
" Our aim is to
challenge the
stereotypes of
Pakistanis in the US
while questioning the
suppressed cultural
currents in society,"
Nicky Tavares and
Shams Tabraiz Muzaffar.

" Our aim is to challenge the stereotypes of Pakistanis in the US while questioning the suppressed cultural currents in society," Nicky Tavares and Shams Tabraiz Muzaffar.


Nicky Tavares and Shams Tabraiz Muzaffar, on Monday, gave a presentation on their in-production documentary on the rock bands in Pakistan in the ‘60s and the ‘70s. Son of a Bug: Exploring early rock and roll music in Pakistan, explores the rock scene in Pakistan through the band members of the ‘60s band The Bug, one of whom is Muzaffar’s father. Tavares and Muzaffar, both Iqbal Fellows at the International Islamic University said their aim was to challenge the stereotypes of Pakistanis in the US while questioning the suppressed cultural currents in Pakistani society.

The presentation was part of the second day of the conference, Issues in Pakistan, South Asia and Muslim Societies, held at the Forman Christian College University (FCCU).

While examining the definition of Pakistani, FCCU Dean of Humanities, said the question of identity was multifaceted. Dr Anwar said contemporary Pakistani writers writing in English were examining diverse issues in their work.

Speaking about Pakistani literary forms in English, Dr Anwar said the tradition of Pakistani literature was amorphous and beyond the overly simplistic binary of ‘east’ and ‘west.’

Dr Shaheena Bhatti, head of the English Department at the National University of Modern Languages, in her paper, Muslim identity in the non-Muslim world, examined the poetry of Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye. Nye’s writing focuses on Arab-American issues especially relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict Dr Bhatti argued that her poems reflect her love for both her birth country and that of her parents juxtaposing the two cultures. Nye’s poetry, she said reflects her ‘American-ness’ as well as her identity as an Arab.

Dr Nukhbah Taj Langah, an associate professor at FCCU’s Department of English, said post-colonial identities in Pakistan were far more complex than the Hindu-Muslim divide at the time of the partition. In her presentation, Islam and Ethnicity in Post-colonial Pakistan, Dr Langah claimed that there had been a shift from the two-nation theory, based on religion and language, to a more diverse definition which included various ethnicities. The multilingual and multi-ethnic Pakistan must be acknowledged, she said. Pakistani writers were employing their platforms to continue and propagate this debate.

The second session of the day, Music in Pakistan, included lectures and a musical performance by Dr Afroz Taj, of the University of Pennsylvania, who had delivered a lecture on the first day of the conference. Dr Taj performed, what he called original 18th century versions of Dama Dum Mast Qalander and Chaudween Ka Chaand. Prof John Caldwell, of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina, accompanied Dr Taj on the harmonium.

Pakistan is at the forefront of how music and Islamic societies can interact said Prof Caldwell. Speaking about trends in Pakistani music, Prof Caldwell said as sufi music challenged social norms, it was often considered dangerous and even threatening. Encouraging translations as well as experiments with diverse musical traditions, he said there was a lot to be explored.

Dr Charles Kennedy, professor of politics at Wake Forest University, speaking on the Federal Shariat Court and judicial activism, said during the past three years the Supreme Court had reached a state of judicial activism that had not been witnessed in the past. However, he added that the Federal Shariat Court still held powers greater than the apex court, giving it broader jurisdiction.

The idea that a nation must have a single language and a single identity rather than the ethnic plurality of a society is a problem, said Dr Rasul Baksh Rais.

Dr Rais, a professor of political science at the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at Lahore University of Management Sciences, emphasised that suppressing ethnic identities in Pakistan had stymied the cultural growth of the country. “We have to realise that identity is and has to be multi-layered,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Minority Issues
    Mar 13, 2012 - 8:52AM

    Let Urdu along with English as the official languages of Pakistan Govt.
    But we must not sideline any local languages. Now that whole world is going back to the idea of tolerance through inter-mixture and diversity as a necessity for healthy society why are we even considering one language or one culture. Whats wrong with diversity? There are more choices, ideas, business, growth, future, art and beauty in our culture with variety than with similarity.


  • dv sikka
    Mar 13, 2012 - 4:29PM

    An easy path of self destruction.


  • ZYX
    Mar 13, 2012 - 10:51PM

    Man…what’s with the flurry of articles questioning the reason for Pakistan’s existence? Doesn’t ET do enough propaganda with the ‘Forced Conversions’ headlines type of shenanigans that it pulls? I’m just amazed by how brazenly ET just goes about regularly doing the anti-Pakistan/anti-Muslim thing and how it just seems to keep getting away with it. Mark my words, you people have gotten over-confident and its going to backfire on your any day now. I’m going to be donating lots of money to the other side….I guarantee itRecommend

  • RH
    Mar 27, 2012 - 6:59PM

    @ZYX: It is only when a society doesn’t question that it decays…why are you so intimidated by someone questioning your ideas? Can’t you defend them? IMO, there’s plenty of people articulating the hardcore nationalist propaganda already, and ET is a breath of fresh air.


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