|Imran Khan, Jemima and Diana.|
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Identity Crisis: Who is Pakistani and Who isn’t?
There are two contrasting styles of debating an issue: those who prefer normative arguments, and those who choose descriptive line of reasoning. Most pop intellectuals nowadays adopt the former approach, but the truth unfortunately is generally bitter.
Let me admit at the outset that I do understand that race relations are a sensitive issue in the modern world, particularly when millions of skilled and unskilled immigrants from the Third World countries flock to the economically prosperous developed countries every year to find a better future for themselves and their families.
However, instead of bending over backwards and demanding from the natives of their host countries to be more accommodating and totally non-communal, the immigrants need to understand that migration is not the natural order of societies.
In order to elaborate this paradox by way of an analogy, when we uproot a flowering plant from a garden and try to make it grow in a different environment, sometimes the plant blooms in the changed environment but at other times it doesn’t, depending on the adaptability of the plant and the compatibility of the environment. If you want to change the whole environment to suit the needs of that particular uprooted plant, such an unrealistic approach may not be conducive to native flora and fauna of those habitats.
The right way to tackle the immigration problem is to discourage it by reducing the incentive for the prospective immigrants to permanently abandon their homes, families and communities to find a better job in a foreign country and a radically different culture, where they could be materially better off but might find themselves socially isolated and emotionally desolate.
In order to minimize the incentive for immigration, we need to revamp the global economic order which makes the rich nations get richer and the poor poorer. Once the relative imbalance of wealth distribution between the developed and the developing world is narrowed down, then there will be no need for the people of one region and culture to relocate to another, except on a temporary basis for education, traveling and cultural exchange.
Notwithstanding, throughout our anthropological evolution, from our nomado-pastoral, hunting-gathering phase to the golden era of agriculture, the humans have never lived as individuals, but as social groups, clans and tribes. The ‘individual’ is only an artificial modern construct that has been conceived to suit the needs of urbanized, industrial economies.
There are no two views about the fact that individuals must have intellectual autonomy and freedom of investigation and information, but “individualism” as an ideology with complete disregard for the innate social nature of human beings only nurtures lost souls who sometimes find solace in existential acrobatics and sometimes in alcoholism and drug addictions.
More to the point, there is an obvious difference between a Chinese and an American: a Chinese speaks Mandarin while an American speaks English; they don’t understand each other, because they can hardly communicate with one another due to the difference of language.
Now, if the difference amongst people on the basis of language is duly accepted and appreciated with the naked eye, then we should try to understand that under the sociological microscope, the cultural ethos and social values of two or more radically different cultures don’t always blend seamlessly.
Humanism only implies that we should be just and fair in our approach: that we should try to understand that subaltern people and cultures also have their legitimate material, moral and social needs and aspirations; instead of imposing our Orientalist ‘vision’ on them, we should let them choose and facilitate and expedite their choice and vision.
The human mindsets, attitudes and behaviors are structured and conditioned by their respective cultures and environments. A person born and bred in Pakistan or India generally has more in common with the people of the subcontinent.
For instance: when the first generation Indo-Pakistani immigrants relocate to foreign countries, they find it hard to adjust in a radically different culture initially. It would be unwise to generalize, however, because it depends upon the disposition and inclination of immigrants, their level of education and the value system which they have internalized during their formative years.
There are many sub-cultures within cultures and numerous family cultures within those sub-cultures. Educated Indo-Pakistani liberals generally integrate well into the Western societies, but many conservative Pakistani and Indian immigrants, particularly from backward rural areas, find it hard to adjust in a radically different Western culture. On the other hand, such immigrants from underprivileged backgrounds find the conservative societies of the Gulf countries more conducive to their individual and familial integration and well-being.
In any case, the second generation immigrants, who are born and bred in the Western culture, seamlessly blend into their host environments; and they are likely to have more in common with the people and cultures where they have been brought up. Thus, a first generation Pakistani-American is predominantly a Pakistani, while a second generation Pakistani-American is predominantly an American, albeit with an exotic-sounding name and a naturally tanned complexion.
Notwithstanding, the rise of Trump in America, Brexit in the UK and anti-immigration protests all over Europe, North America and Australia are the manifestation of the underlying sentiment against the so-called globalists’ normative approach toward the issue of immigration, which generally goes against the interests of the working classes of developed countries.
Therefore, instead of offering band aid solutions, we need to revise the prevailing global economic order; and formulate prudent and far-reaching economic and trade policies that can reduce the imbalance of wealth distribution between the developed and the developing nations; hence, reducing the incentive for the immigrants to seek employment in developed countries.
Keeping this background of immigration, globalization and consequent identity crises in the modern world in mind, in the Pakistani socio-political milieu there are three important political forces: the dominant Islamic nationalists; the ethno-linguistic nationalists; and the Westernized liberals.
The Islamic nationalists are culturally much closer to the traditionalist, ethno-linguistic nationalists, but politically, the latter have been marginalized in Pakistan’s power structure. And as we know that politics is mostly about forming alliances, therefore the astute liberals wooed the naïve ethno-linguistic nationalists and struck a political alliance with them.
But this alliance is only a marriage of convenience because culturally, both these camps don’t have anything in common with each other. The Islamic nationalists and the ethno-linguistic nationalists belong to the same social stratum and they go through thick and thin together, while the comprador liberals, who are numerically insignificant but politically vocal, derive their inspiration from foreign sources.
Ostensibly, the liberal elites preach minority rights and take a less hostile approach towards the ethnic minorities’ cultures than they take towards the majority’s culture. At times, they are even generous enough to wear a Sindhi ajrak in a social gathering or listen to the folk music, but their purported “indigenousness” never goes beyond cuisines and music.
Pray tell us, which local traditions, customs and values you live by? You live in your quarantined suburbs, study in London and vacation in Hawaii, but when it comes to politics and getting the votes of the masses, you pretend that you are a native?
What do you have in common with the local cultures? You employ a Pathan chowkidar, a Punjabi cook and a Sindhi chauffeur; certainly quite a blend of local cultures you have in your household. So, spare us the lectures on minority rights and cultural diversity and preach the creed that you really believe in: that is, complete Westernization, liberal values and social Darwinism.
Fact of the matter is that liberalism in Islamic societies is only skin deep, it is restricted mostly to the privileged elites. The real flesh and bones of the Islamic societies is comprised of either the Islamic nationalists or the even more backward and traditional ethno-linguistic forces.
The latter’s Westernized leadership may sometimes employ inclusive, Gandhian rhetoric to create a political constituency for itself, but they have as much in common with the native cultures, whether Islamic or ethno-linguistic, as Nehru’s political dynasty has in common with the Indian masses.
Leadership is a two-way street: a judicious leader is supposed to guide the masses, but at the same time he is also supposed to represent the disenfranchised masses; the detached and insular leadership that lives in a fantasy world of outlandish theories and fails to understand the mindsets and inclinations of the masses tends to lose its mass appeal, sooner or later.