By Harris Khalique
October 15, 2014
In Pakistan, with Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize, it is proven once again that those subscribing to conservative social and political views reject new facts if they challenge their preconceived notions. They claim to have rooted their cultural orthodoxy and a myopic worldview they choose to subscribe to into the tenets of our faith. That is a refuge. An attempt not to take on the challenges posed by the modern world and to shy away from competing in the realms of arts and sciences, economics and sociology, philosophy and technology.
Even in the realms of modern theology, after invoking religious symbolism in every possible conversation or discourse, they offer nothing of substance to the modern Muslim world. It is an attempt which is proving not only futile but also inflicting incredible damage on the lives and livelihoods, intellectual health and economic interests of our people. This position causes incredible disservice to both our faith and our country. It affects our future by confusing our youth and our students.
When Malala is being celebrated across the world as a champion of girl education in hostile environments across the world, across people holding divergent political opinions – from right, left and centre – and across national and ethnic divides around the globe, we as a nation stand with a fragmented and confused narrative. I wrote a short poem when Malala was shot but was fortunate enough to survive. When many of us were rejoicing her success on receiving the news of her winning and sharing the coveted prize with an Indian girl rights activist, I reposted it on the internet. There were loads of other celebratory posts. People were sharing, cross-posting, commenting on her success and seeing her not as an individual but a symbol of unarmed struggle of the weak, the dispossessed and the disempowered.
At the same time, hate messages came pouring in – vitriolic to the hilt. Not only Malala was castigated and dismissed for being an agent of the west, those celebrating her success were called names, excommunicated from the folds of believers and termed traitors. The rage and spite was such that I requested those who disagree with me to unfriend me and block me, to use modern internet expressions, from their social media. I wouldn’t want to cause my friends and acquaintances, or even those who hold an adversarial political opinion, such anger, frustration and mental suffering.
But I have a few questions to pose for those spitting venom against Malala to mull over, whether they agree or disagree with the submissions made above.
1. Interestingly, most of you Pakistanis living here or in diaspora who hate Malala, are huge fans of Pakistan Army. When Malala was shot, you said it was a big fat lie. She was not shot. It was a conspiracy against Pakistan harboured by western agencies. Did you ever think why a Pak Army helicopter was sent to her rescue and brought her from Swat to Rawalpindi? Why was she first treated in a military hospital before being sent off to the UK for the complicated surgical treatment she needed? Just recently the army announced apprehending Malala’s attackers. No one from the anti-Malala camp cared to comment, let alone challenge the army. Is that reflective of confusion or gross hypocrisy?
2. Why have the Pakistanis like you disowned, dismissed and despised, if not hate, everyone who has brought laurels to Pakistan in shape of international recognition, fame and respectability? Leave alone international recognition, even those who have demonstrated commitment to contributing to our physical, intellectual and emotional development were shabbily treated. Jog your memory ladies and gentlemen. I give you just three examples from before Malala winning the prize.
Dr Abdus Salam was and is until now the only Pakistani scientist who won the Nobel Prize. Due to the religious beliefs he was born into, even after being acclaimed as one the greatest scientists of the world, he was not invited to speak to most universities in Pakistan. The reason cited was that his speech on his subject may cause turmoil in the ranks of students and faculty because he does not share the same faith as the majority does. His epitaph also had to be rewritten. The man who wore a Sherwani, Shalwar Kurta and a pag while receiving the prize among suit-clad men, died unhappy because of the way he was treated by the people he thought were his own.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the arch poet whose poetry after his death is even read, sung and enjoyed by the next generations of those who hated him, was awarded the Lenin Prize. He was made to spend four years in prison and eight years in exile. He was called a communist who professed atheistic ideas. His books were removed from some government libraries.
Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, a recipient of Ramon Magsaysay Award and seen as the father of people-centred community development in Pakistan and now Bangladesh and considered one of the visionaries and pioneers in his subject across the world, had to fight trumped-up blasphemy charges when he was more than eighty years old.
He was termed profane and misguided. Malala comes after them, much after them. She has met the same fate at your hands. You have kept the tradition of bigotry and intolerance alive. Think, my friends!
3. Why do you see people making worthwhile contribution to art, sciences, public service as villains and those providing entertainment by participating in spectator sports as heroes? Mind you, I am not just talking about Imran Khan as some of you might reckon. It is also about the Shahid Afridis and Kamran Akmals of this world. People contributing to a sport that is played in a dozen out of two hundred countries are the real heroes and those contributing to universal knowledge have to be castigated, criticised and rejected?
4. Coming to my fellow country women and men in our diaspora in the west who think Malala is working against the interests of Pakistan and Islam, may I ask them why they have not chosen to seek citizenship in a Muslim-majority country ever? Those who go abroad to study, why do they seldom consider going to a Muslim country for higher studies or specialised professional education? Their cousins here who are left behind queue up in hundreds if not thousands, outside western embassies – North American, European or Australian – to get a visa. So many of them would blatantly lie to get through and then leave no stone unturned to get the citizenship. Who gives all of you the moral authority to issue certificates of patriotism and right beliefs to those serving Pakistan?
5. It is an obligation for Muslim women and men to become literate and numerate and seek education. It is obligatory for us to learn from any possible sources of information, knowledge and wisdom. What have we done to that end as a state, society and individuals? How many world class scientists, philosophers, artists, writers, social scientists, historians, anthropologists, economists, sociologists, etc. have we produced? What contribution have we made as Muslims or as Pakistanis in the last 66 years to collective human knowledge, wisdom and technology?
I reiterate in this space once again that the power supply, computer and keyboard I am using to write this, the software for typing this up, the internet connection which will help me send this piece to my editor sitting a thousand miles away in a fraction of a second, all are someone else’s inventions. My people have not discovered or invented a fraction of what was discovered and invented over the last few centuries.
Please think and try to answer these questions. I rest my case.
Harris Khalique is a poet and author based in Islamabad.