A blogger for the last two years on topics ranging from international relations to social issues, Mehreen Kasana got sick of comments posted on her blog asking whether all Pakistanis were extremists.
“When it comes to international media and reporting, a stereotype has been established of Pakistanis as people full of hate,” said the 23-year-old student of FC College, where she studies media and political science. “People would post on my blog asking whether Pakistanis were really how they were shown in the media.”
So on August 8, Kasana set out to make a statement against this stereotyping. She advertised heavily on social media, inviting people to contribute to her project by taking a picture of themselves holding a piece of paper with the Pakistan flag on it and a message declaring: “I am a Pakistani and I refuse to be stereotyped.”
“The idea was to encourage Pakistanis to speak out and tell the world that we are a lot more than what people see on the television,” Kasana said.
Within an hour her appeal for entries, Kasana’s project 'Pakistanis against Stereotyping' received close to a hundred photographs. And much to her amazement, she received contributions not just from Pakistanis across the world, but people of other nationalities too.
“I got mails from people saying even though we are not Pakistanis, we want to send in a picture speaking out against the stereotyping of Pakistanis,” she said. Pictures were sent by Britons, Americans, Canadians, Afghans, Palestinians and Indians. “An Indian sent in a picture saying I am an Indian and I am against the stereotyping of Pakistanis,” she said.
In all, she received over 200 pictures, many carrying serious or sometimes humorous statements condemning stereotyping.
She put up a collage of the entries on her Tumblr blog on August 14. “A collage is just a fun way to engage with people and make their contributions visible,” she said.
Not all the response to the project was positive. Several posters criticised it as a waste of time. She shrugs off the criticism. “You should expect to be criticised for everything,” she said.
The aim of the project, she said, was to open a dialogue to help better understand Pakistanis and their diversity. She said that “constant negativity” results in people believing in lies about themselves and their country. “We are such a diverse group of people with a rich culture and heritage. How can we be reduced to being just extremists and not raise our voice against it?”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.