Thursday, 11 August 2011

How will YOU celebrate this Independence Day?

As 14th of August (Pakistan's Independence Day) draws near, I see people from all walks of life in my country preparing for the "big day" in their own ways. Cars start appearing with the national flag perched on them, stalls selling flags, badges and everything green imaginable show up on road sides, profile pictures on the internet suddenly change to depict the flag or the Quaid, and of course, who can miss the rehearsels for bike stunts! It is definitely a day of great national pride for us and the feeling is shared by every Pakistani no matter which part of the world they live in. Yet amidst all this hype to celebrate can we at least stop and think what we're celebrating here?

Why is it that the moment someone starts to question anything in Pakistan, either their loyalty to this country or their faith starts getting questioned? Being Pakistani or independent is not just about flaunting the national flag and calling yourself "Pakistani and proud". We are all well aware of the circumstances that we are living in and they are definitely not getting any better with every passing day. Whatever few achievments we have had are mostly limited to the hard work of some individuals. There is hardly anything that we can be collectively proud of as a nation. Have we ever stopped to question ourselves why that is so? Is America or India or any other country really responsible for our troubles? Is it fair to pin everything on our government or the military when they actually came from amongst us? 

This is not an attempt to dampen our joy in celebrating this day, but a reminder to stop, think and question - something we have forgotten to do of late. Only by attaining self-acceptance will we truly be able to solve our problems and take out our beloved nation from the rut it is stuck in. What I also find baffling are visions of Pakistanis across the world who probably have never set foot in this country suddenly overcome by a wave of patriotism come August 14th or a Pakistan cricket match. True, Pakistanis abroad tend to feel more strongly about the country as they're away from home, but for once can we burst out of our idealistic bubbles and accept the reality we are living in? The residents of Pakistan may have their fair share of sarcastic humour and cynicism but it all stems from the circumstances we are living in and witnessing day in and day out. 

Coming back to the subject, how would putting up lights and singing national anthems on one day help this country? Is that all the Independence Day is about? Instead of flaunting our patriotism with words, why not prove it by putting the proverbial money where our mouths are? In order to celebrate the Independence Day in the true sense of the word, the least we can do is take the first step towards building a sustainable Pakistan so that the future generations would actually have something to celebrate. There are countless people struggling with very worthwhile projects based on education and sustainability. I say, let's celebrate this Independence Day by contributing our resources, monetary or otherwise, in helping these projects attain their goal towards a better Pakistan. It's the least we can do if we can't make any similar initiatives of our own. We need to especially inculcate the spirit of volunteerism in our youth which comprise such a major part of the population so that they bring their spare time to constructive use, instead of whiling it away in front of TV screens, video games or the internet. If we look at it this way, if every single educated Pakistani would take upon him/herself the responsibility to educate one disadvantaged child, imagine the difference that could make! 

So, how will you celebrate this Independence Day? 

The author is an Anti-Drug Ambassador for the Ministry of Narcotics Control. The Anti-Drug Ambassadors are a group of young people from diverse backgrounds dedicated to the cause of eradicating or reducing significantly the impact of illicit drug use amongst the youth of Pakistan.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Viewer discretion advised

As I flipped through the channels while watching TV, I stopped at one which had a bold message across the screen.

As the show in question started, my mind drifted off to other terrains. All I need to do is switch to one of our news channels and, lo and behold! Images of violence and gore grace our screens day in and day out. Heck, you don’t even need to switch channels. If you’re living in Karachi, walk out on the street. No one will come to you with a sign that says, “Discretion advised, things are going to get messy here”, before a bout of target killing ensues at the whim of a group of lunatics who believe only a certain sect/class/race of people have the right to live. 

The impact of violence on our country can be seen by the fact that when you enter “violence” in the search bar on the internet, the fifth result on the Google page is Major incidents of terrorist violence in Pakistan, 2011”. (Missed taking a screen-shot and even though the result page is different now, Pakistan still features on the top somewhere.) There was a time when hearing of a bomb blast used to make us exclaim in horror. Now, we’re surprised if we hear of only one. Why is Pakistan thus gripped by this never-ending cycle of terrorism and violence? If you were to ask us this question, you would get varying responses depending on which school of thought that person belongs to. The “liberals” will tell you it’s due to the “extremists”. The religious “fundamentalists” will say it’s an American conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan (meaning we were actually stable at some point?). Your random Taxi driver will say it’s a Jewish conspiracy or India is behind it. You will hardly hear anyone say, “The problem lies within us. Intolerance, suspicion and hatred has been so deeply ingrained within us over the years that its inevitable outcome is the violence that has now gripped the entire country”. Why you won’t hear anyone saying that is because “self-acceptance” is a trait we lack amongst others. 

Pakistan, however, is not just all negative adjectives. If there’s any good that I see in my country, it’s potential – lots of it. In the form of our youth that constitutes a staggering 63% of the entire population. If you were to ask me the solution to the many problems in our country, I would say channelize this colossal potential in the right direction, and the best way of doing that is by education. The “education” I’m referring to is not a catch-phrase that is thrown about by NGOs or a statistic to show that we are meeting the Millennium Development Goals. It is very aptly put by John Dewey as, 

“Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not a preparation for life but is life itself.” 

If we were to consider it as Dewey puts it, our education system needs some serious revision.
  1. Knowledge imparted needs to be accompanied by examples of practice in the real world. Knowledge is incomplete without implementation. Our national education system mostly relies on the rote system and our students leave school without any clue as to how they should apply what they learnt in their lives. 
  2. As a nation we are physically extremely inactive. Some members of the elite class have started frequenting gyms on a regular basis but our middle class hardly engages in any form of physical exercise in their daily routine. Schools also don’t give importance to sports as part of the curriculum any more. Exercise and sports are a great way of venting the negative energy within us, necessary in the times we’re living in. 
  3. Religious education needs to focus more on the individual’s character building. Along with teaching the Arabic text, effort needs to be made to understand the content of the Quran and its implementation in our daily lives. Islam, in essence, is an extremely tolerant religion and the text should not be misused to make our youth think otherwise. 
  4. Wisdom passed down over centuries in the form of storytelling should not be replaced by a completely Westernized approach to education. We need to stay true to our values to retain our identity. 
  5. Give the true version of history. Everyone has the right to know.
All in all, we need to focus on nurturing well-rounded individuals and we need to also understand that this process will take time. No one, especially not the government, can wave a magic wand and change this nation for the better overnight, because unfortunately, in real life you can’t change the channel to what you want.