Undermining our own
AS a nation badly in need of heroes, of role-models and of people to look up to, we do a terrible job of creating them. Instead, we deliberately knock them down and undermine their achievements, no matter how remarkable they are.
While the rest of the world applauds, we turn away in scorn, increasing our isolation and our determination to stand alone, unmindful of the fact that our loneliness makes us weaker and increasingly subjected to ridicule in the world. Today, our country - rated by world organisations in the 1960s as a nation with immense promise - is listed as a 'failed' state. We have contributed to this in many ways, over decades of poor governance. But we have also done everything we possibly can to undermine the successes we do achieve. Yes, the prime minister showed wisdom in screening Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's Oscar-award winning documentary on 'honour' killings and the laws that make it easier to commit such crime. From the expected channels, there were heartfelt and exuberant words of praise in social media and segments of the mainstream media.
But beneath the write-ups on the websites were the comments - the same comments that were made by people talking to each other - ungenerous, unappreciative and unwilling to recognise success. There were remarks about how the director had deliberately selected a 'negative' topic, aimed at 'maligning' the country. There were accusations that she had done so only to increase her winning potential, given that the jury would presumably be made up of Westerners seeking 'bad news' from Pakistan. There was very little celebration that a Pakistani filmmaker had once more walked down the red carpet to collect what is perhaps the world's most famous trophy. We see the same attempts to knock down people in other places.
The story of Malala is, of course, one example of this. The documentary about her was screened in many nations around the world, but it has not been exhibited on our television channels or at other public forums. People should at least be given an opportunity to make up their own minds about events and people. Yes, 'negative' reports about Pakistan come out when Sharmeen Obaid uses a camera or Malala her voice. But the struggle should be to tackle these problems, so that that tale can also be told, rather than lambast the people who are trying to highlight the issues that infringe upon the basic rights of millions in the country.
Little has been heard in the country about the astounding work carried out by another Pakistani woman, astrophysicist Dr Nergis Mavalvala, who was among a USbased team of scientists, which discovered gravitational waves in space for the first time. The discovery has been hailed around the world as one of the most important of our times and one that backs theories put forward by Einstein. The reasons for the failure to embrace Dr Malvalvala as one of the more notable high achievers of our country are that she is not from the mainstream Muslim majority and also because of the life she has chosen for herself.
These, of course, are petty matters; her contribution to science is far more significant, but we have locked ourselves in a world of pettiness, which prevents us from being more generous and embracing those from our country who succeed at the highest levels. The late Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam is perhaps the biggest victim of this neglect. He does not appear in history books and he seems to have been wiped out from our collective consciousness as a nation. We have obliterated other heroes too in a similar fashion, much as extremist groups wipe out images that they do not like by blackening billboards or by burning CDs and books.
Another problem is that we are making no effort to create or nurture potential. The vast majority of our schools have become places where active thinking or creativity is discouraged by teachers, who perhaps fear being asked questions that they cannot answer. To avoid this, the general norm is to crush curiosity and ensure that children remain restricted to rote learning and do not venture outside the limited content of their textbooks.
This content itself is disturbing in some cases, such as the comments about the Baloch people in books used in Punjab, which were pointed out recently in the Senate. Such negativity and racism do not help us become a more united or a more successful nation.
There are Pakistanis everywhere who are succeeding in other fields - in music, graphic design, dance and other areas. We make too little effort to highlight their achievements. Our people need to know more about them and also learn to acknowledge the acts of those who achieve major feats in life. Pulling them down or criticising them will do nothing to help. It will also not help to try and cover up the many flaws of our country. It is far more important that we attempt to remove these problems and end the discrimination, the violence and the divisions that have led us to this precarious point in our history.