By Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi
December 26, 2014
Norms are beliefs about how members of a group should behave in a particular context. They are informal and often ‘invisible’ understandings and rules that govern a group’s behaviour towards particular religious, social, cultural, political and socio-economic triggers.
Norms generally define what is acceptable in a society or group and are the building blocks for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, ideologies and narratives.
These rules are generally implicit.
In addition to what is considered normative in societal, political or cultural context, there are smaller groups within a society which endorse a particular norm. On one hand, norms define how to move, what to wear, how to speak, what to discuss, what not to challenge and the likes, while on the other, they shape narratives that construct the social fabric and religio-political discourses. Quite often, these norms are reflected in laws but not always. I will try to short-list some bizarre norms and beliefs that are prevalent in our society today:
1. Attributing Failures to Fate, Foreign Hands or Conspiracy
“Jo Karwaya, Amreeka Ne Karwaya”
(Whatever happened, happened because America made it happen)
“This is a conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan…”
“Foreign hands were involved”
“It was fate.”
Instead of looking within ourselves for internal errors that led to our failures, we attribute failures to anything and everything other than that. This has become a norm for many individuals and groups. However, there is an interesting debate by Maulana Tariq Jameel, which counters this thought process, one I would suggest every one of us should listen to.
2. God Will Take Care Of This, Insha’Allah!
God will help, yes, but only if you are willing to help yourself as well. Apathy never goes rewarded anyway. This idea has become a convenient scapegoat for our leaders and people alike when one’s incapability to strive against an unwanted situation is tested.
3. The West versus Islam
Many modern extremist narratives are built from the idea that there is a constant war between the West and the forces of Islam. At a societal level, the general understanding is that westerners do not have ethical or moral values, and are Baisharam (shameless) and Baighairat (without any integrity).
Just to get facts straight, Muslims are happier and more secure in Western countries than most of the minorities living in Pakistan – if I remember correctly, the million-march against the Iraq war took place in the United Kingdom, not Islamabad.
4. Let’s Ask the Religious Scholar Instead
Different matters related to the broad spectrum of human life, sciences and other knowledge-based fields are taken to mullahs or clerics, as if they have all the knowledge in the world and are the most potent problem solvers. They are human too; stop putting them on a pedestal.
I remember a few kids in my street who took the debate of whether a cricket ball should be polished from one side or not to the local mullah.
I mean, when did he become the Sultan of Swing?
5. Civilians Are Less Patriotic
An idea that exists in a few military circles, and in some shades penetrates into mainstream society as well, is that men in uniform are more patriotic than civilians.
Who introduced this scale to determine ones patriotism anyway? This is absurd. The establishment driven narrative that politicians are all dirty gets endorsement from the same thought-process. I am no less patriotic than the men in green.
6. Homosexuality Does Not Exist
The debate around homosexuality is virtually absent in Pakistan simply because, even though everyone knows it exists, it is silently shoved under the carpet. Saying it does not exist won’t change reality.
Assad Khan’s story is a testimony to that.
7. Shaadi Karwado – Sab Maslay Hal Hojayein Gey!
(Get them married – all their problems will get solved)
Marriage is not the solution to every problem.
I have often heard that the solution to drug abuse, non-normal sexual orientations or other ills is marriage.
“Bacha Heroin Addict Hai? Shaadi Karwa Dou, Sab Maslay Hal Hujaen Gey.”
(The child is a heroin addict? Get him married, all problems will be solved.)
8. Secularism means Godlessness
This common notion in our society highlights that secularism means Godlessness. Those propagating these beliefs, for obvious political reasons, need rigorous lessons in political science.
Secularism means the right to be free from religious rulings of the state and the right to freedom from the government’s imposition of religion upon people within a country that is neutral on matters of belief. It essentially means a religiously neutral country, not Godlessness.
9. Its Always The Woman’s Fault
Whether she is seen smiling on the streets or just got out of a relationship that did not end well, it is always the girl’s fault.
“Why is she wearing such clothes? Is she asking for it?”
“Why did she smile? That must mean a yes!”
Should a woman always wear an angry look on her face while walking on the streets? Is she not virtuous otherwise?
‘He raped her, she probably asked for it.’
‘They broke up? She was probably cheating.’
‘They got divorced? She didn’t compromise enough.’
How can this logic be right?
10. No Power on Earth Can Undo Pakistan
Well, this narrative should have drowned in the Bay of Bengal in 1971 but it still manages to stir hyper (blind) nationalists to the core.
The Two Nation’s Theory (which was a political agreement, not a divine revelation) has also been challenged by scholars but certain circles label these intellectuals to be traitors, just because people are blinded by a false sense of nationalism.
11. Sharing Food with Non-Muslims
This is one of the most shameful norms I have noticed. Many families do not share food or crockery with non-Muslim domestic staff. Lots of research needs to be done about how it became a norm even though there seem to be no Islamic rulings preventing a Muslim from sharing food or utensils with non-Muslims that I have come across.
13. A Veil Is a Symbol of Modesty
To some, wearing a veil automatically makes a person more modest and pious than others. It is like a sign-board, shouting out to society that those who are veiled are modest and those who aren’t are not.
When did modesty become solely about what you wear?
15. Modernism Is Taking Off Ones Clothes
In the same way, being ‘modern’ is also gauged on an illogical scale.
“Baray Modern Ho Gai Ho!”
(You’ve become so modern!)
This phrase is usually used to denote wearing ‘less’ or more revealing clothes. Modernism is completely misunderstood here. It means a different set of ideas, introspective values and tools for social progression but in Pakistan, it symbolises shamelessness.
This norm was first propagated by caretakers of religion, who did not want a modern, forward thinking approach in the country, and soon enough, the masses followed suit.
16. Liberalism Means Partying
Political liberalism is equated with life-style liberalism, which is not the case. The ‘liberal-secular’ is a metaphor used by right wing parties and writers with a negative connotation, to mark someone as having no values. It is part of the larger discourse that utilises these norms in the society and sees liberalism as a threat.
17. You Love Someone? Mounh Kala Karwa Diya
(You have disgraced the family)
If you finally gather the guts to tell your elders about your love-life, the usual response is that you have brought shame to the family. This is a sad norm that needs to be addressed by parents. Love happens and it’s very natural. Dear Parents, I suggest you accept it and understand it – snubbing it will not stop it from happening.
18. It’s Okay to Bribe, Sometimes…
Many of us have come across religious, pious people giving the explanation that,
“It’s okay to bribe someone, if it gets the work done.”
Hypocrisy knows no bounds when religious people indulge in an evil practice which they themselves preach against in public gatherings.
19. Your Elders Are Always Right!
Common sense would suggest that they might be right sometimes, maybe even most of the times, but not always. There are many things and new trends which they do not know about. How can they be in any position to give a verdict on such novelties, let alone be right?
20. Pakistan Ka Matlab Kya? La Ilaha Illallah
Whether this slogan was denounced by the founder of Pakistan or not is a different debate, but it darkens the white portion of our flag. We need to be more sensitive to the non-Muslim minority of Pakistan.
And on a logical basis, intellect also begs to inquire how a country’s name can mean ‘there is no God but Allah’.
21. Extremism Is Because Of Drones
Narratives around extremism have greatly been influenced by right-leaning forces, equating extremism with drones, ignoring the thousands of deaths of minority sects who were not responsible for drones by any stretch of the imagination. History is full of extremism leading to violence before 9/11 and the drones-saga. Home-grown extremist movements get a clean slate as a result of this propagation. Extremism has dented the basic social fabric of our society, leaving behind human and financial losses. We vehemently need to challenge such narratives that seek patronage from the society.
22. Internet Equates To Porn
As the Internet expands into rural areas and lower-middle classes, this norm is usually used by elders to prevent youngsters from using the Internet. Yes, the Internet does give access to porn, but that is not all that it does. It is a medium to be used as the user deems fit. Many schools and colleges ban internet usage for students on the same pretext, preventing them from accessing an endless source of knowledge.
23. Arts? A Futile Pursuit
Artistes are change-makers in any society; they evoke new ideas through different art-forms and enable a society’s progress. The downfall of art as a whole in Pakistan has a lot to do with this norm, injected into individuals by the society from a very early age.
24. We Live In Sectarian Harmony
I grew up in 12 cities of Pakistan and my name instigated the following questions from my class fellows,
“Do you mix blood with rice?”
“Do you turn off lights on Shaam-e-Ghareeban for sexual pleasures?”
“Do you spit in tea before serving?”
And so on and so forth.
I am sure such sectarian hatred exists in all sects, with every sect claiming to possess the absolute truth and the rest are simply Kafirs, Mushriks (infidels). We live in a very sectarian minded society, from politics to cultural acceptance. Although I realise this is a way to make sure the other sect looks unappealing to the listener, a lot needs to be done to challenge the absurd myths people may make up about sects other than their own.
Once firmly established, a norm becomes a part of operational power structures and hence, becomes difficult to change.
Our society is rife with absurd norms, such as these, that halt intellectual and collective progress. While all groups within Pakistan do not endorse these norms, the conversation to challenge them has to start from us. NOW.