The real meaning of patriotism

Published: May 5, 2012
The writer is an author, most recently of Slum Child (2010). She has written for numerous publications including Dawn, The Friday Times and Chowk

The writer is an author, most recently of Slum Child (2010). She has written for numerous publications including Dawn, The Friday Times and Chowk

After watching the screening of the first episode of SOC (Sharmeen-Obaid Chinoy) Films’ Ho Yaqeen series, which highlights the work of changemakers doing everything they can to better society and the people who are most underserved in Pakistan, I was forced to think about the definition of patriotism.

The dictionary states that a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports his or her country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”.

This definition can be seen on every television channel at night, where news anchors and their guests verbally attack one another in their attempts to prove themselves the bigger patriot. It can be seen on social media, where people attack one another through Twitter or Facebook, and when called out on their abuse, say that they’re doing it in the name of Pakistan. “Defender of Pakistan”, “The biggest patriot”, “Love my country” are just some of the phrases bandied about, and pictures of Pakistani flags proliferate in the race to prove one’s patriotism on car stickers, television logos and online profile photos.

What if we’ve got it all wrong?

Watching Sabina Khatri talk about her work in Lyari, where she runs the Kiran School System, a preschool for some of Karachi’s most underprivileged children, not once did she lay blame on anyone, or attack any political party, politician, or government figure. Not once did she blame a ‘hidden hand’ for the problems of the community. She talked about responsibility, ownership, and change, and not only did she talk, but she backed up her words with actions. As she talked about her work amongst the people of Lyari, not just children but their mothers and fathers, there was a smile on her face, and positivity emanated from her like the waves of a powerful ocean. Instead of problems, she was focused on solutions. Instead of hate, she was focused on love.

I realised that patriotism is something far different from saber-rattling and chest-thumping. That kind of  ‘patriotism’ is not patriotism at all, but the taking out of one’s personal frustrations on others. Pointing fingers of blame and shouting louder than others is the projection of one’s personal biases, insecurities, and fears onto others. It’s a way of absolving oneself of responsibility, the need to actually get moving in the world. And it’s lip-service to a two-dimensional replica of a more evolved definition of what patriotism really is.

I think it’s vital that we redefine patriotism for 21st century Pakistan: not attacking or defending our real and imagined enemies, but being of service to our country. What will help Pakistan get out of its current morass of problems is not abusing or assaulting anyone in the name of Pakistan, but actually putting in the time and effort to make positive, tangible changes in our communities and societies.

It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do more for Pakistan than it has done for us — Abdul Sattar Edhi, for example, is someone who only comes along once in a country’s lifetime — but it wouldn’t be impossible for each one of us to sacrifice some of our precious time and energy to improve the lives of others around us. I was delighted to see that some of my former students from SZABIST, inspired by Sabina Khatri, have set up a small montessori called the Orange Tree, and are working with only 12 preschoolers, but that’s 12 lives that they’ve changed forever. My former students are all members of the educated elite, but they’ve decided to “pay it forward”, as the popular phrase goes: to give back in gratitude for the blessings and privileges that they have been lucky enough to receive.

As Sabina Khatri said at the Ho Yaqeen screening, “Upturn any stone in Pakistan and you’ll find a diamond”. But diamonds don’t appear overnight. They’re the result of hundreds of thousands of years of the earth compressing carbon into that elusive, precious stone. And once you find the diamond, it takes hard work to rub, polish, and cut that diamond into a beautiful, multifaceted gem. Look how hard the earth works to give us something so valuable, and learn a lesson from it. Pakistan could be our diamond, if we serve it with time, effort, and sacrifice, instead of chipping away pieces of it to take home with us and keep it in our personal safes to satisfy our greed, and shooting dead anyone who we fear will come to steal it from us.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Abbas
    May 5, 2012 - 11:18PM

    Ya…trying telling your story to the population which considers islam greater than pakistan! Good luck! As long as the nation is a slave to a religion, patriotism is meaningless concept.


  • Mirza
    May 6, 2012 - 12:05AM

    There is a global definition of patriotism and then there is Pakistani way of thinking. Never admit any wrongdoings, never accept responsiblity, always refute the charges and proofs by the world. Instead of showing the remorse we should show our anger to the whole world. Yet we should accept all cash from the West.


  • BlackJack
    May 6, 2012 - 12:11AM

    Patriotism can mean physical defense of the borders of the country, but that is not really an idea that can keep a people motivated during peace time; it then evolves into defense of a concept or a way of life. Unfortunately the concept of Pakistan is indelibly linked to its religious roots as well as its traumatic birth from greater India – and both of these ideas have been milked for their money’s worth by successive leaders and govts. Even today, when most of the world has moved on, Pakistan alone sees itself as a security state that seeks to be a defender of the faithful (to the surprise of even muslim nations) – a medieval concept which has no place in this day and age when economic relationships transcend boundary disputes and ideological conflict.


  • Max
    May 6, 2012 - 12:51AM

    Salute to the greatness of Sabina Khatri, and Mr. Edhi and thanks to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy for filming this series. What a fine young-lady are you Sharmeen? Glad that there are people like you.


  • Alizeh Imtiaz
    May 6, 2012 - 3:45AM

    Abbas, you obviously don’t know that the Quran itself preaches patriotism. Also, if everyone had such a negative aspect in which he/she would rather point at problems than solving them, where would we be? Or more importantly where would we go?


  • Falcon
    May 6, 2012 - 5:49AM

    Bina – Simply brilliant. Patriotism is the willingness to make a difference for people of one’s nation . It does not mean you love other human beings less, it just means that you spend more of your energies for betterment of certain class of humanity because you are at a vantage point to do so!


  • Aijaz Ali
    May 6, 2012 - 10:31AM

    patriots are those who have license to silence those who want to bring change.


  • Tulla
    May 6, 2012 - 12:25PM

    Sabina Khatri didn’t blame anybody but showed responsibility and ownership and started working for improvement. In contrast to her approach, the comments on this article illustrate that both the ‘Liberal Fascist’ group and ‘Ghariat Brigade’ refuse to show the same positive spirit and keep on spouting negativity and blaming the other for all the wrongs.


  • May 6, 2012 - 1:03PM

    yes indeed this is patriotism…another term Bina Pakistanis are unaware of is ‘posterity’ perhaps you write on that too….good work, God Bless you!


  • American Pakistani
    May 6, 2012 - 3:04PM

    Thinking about pakistani version of patriotism suffocates me.


  • May 6, 2012 - 5:16PM

    A great thought and refreshing article. Keep writing.


  • Abbas ZA
    May 6, 2012 - 9:08PM

    @Alizeh Imtiaz: It must made clear to you that kind of book-based thinking DID NOT help in creating peace. Please stop referring to religious book for every problem you could not solve because you could apply what is needed.May be you should using the same concept and talk to Taliban. Every sane person and idiot has his own intepretation of the book. That has been
    real problem.If a small country like Pakistan with only muslims could not intrepret the book well and have peace, what are you expecting???? Despite having only muslims in this country, Pakistan rulers and mullahs have contunued their hatred on other countries. One wonder what these fellows could have done if they had these nonmuslims living in Pakistan.Trying to prove religion is greater than country and other human beings, Pakistan has come to such a low level. Do you want to repeat the same story? Einstein once said-insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


  • Ebrahim
    May 6, 2012 - 10:00PM

    An appropriate article for the current times. We, as a nation can only hope to proceed on a path of modernisation by accepting our faults and by taking measures to rectify it. Seeing ourselves as victims who are in desperate need of vengeance harms our interests than our supposed enemies. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous narrative in our country is that ‘others’ are always responsible for our problems. With the media’s penchant to provide maximum footage to loud voices that portray the ‘either with me or against Pakistan’, the rational thoughts are always silenced. Bina’s article brings back the focus to issues where it rightly belongs.


  • Cynical
    May 6, 2012 - 11:31PM


    We the pure patriots, have made up our mind.Please dont try to confuse us with facts and reasons totally made of western conotations.This country is the only one among the Muslim world which was created on the basis of religion and as such we owe it to our forefathers that we remain rooted to our religion and it’s definition of patriotism i.e. we are the custodian and protector of every inch of the world, that the creator has given to us from pole to ploe and east to west.Man made borders do not and should not bother us.


  • Ashish
    May 7, 2012 - 6:44AM

    @Cynical : how about the so called man made “Blasphemy Law”?


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