Our Public Relations Failure

Over the weekend, an adviser to the British Queen was sacked after emails were leaked in which he was found to be insulting British Pakistanis. The adviser, Paul Sabapathy, wrote that Pakistanis need to be taught “basic common courtesy and civility”. This kind of insult is obviously beyond the pale and sacking him for such poor “advise” was the right result. However, there is an important lesson in this story, not only for those who wish to go around insulting respected communities, but for our own community as well.

According to reports in British media, the offending email was sent after the Queen’s representative attended a Pakistan Independence Day event at the Pakistan consulate in Birmingham. Here is what was said in the email:

“Pakistanis are lovely people individually but there is a lot of work to do to teach them basic common courtesy and civility.”

He went on: “They talk to themselves and do not engage with the wider community. They are living in the UK not Pakistan. Whilst being rightly proud of their Pakistani culture and heritage they need to explain better and engage more with their non-Pakistani brothers and sisters if they want their children to succeed as British Pakistani citizens.”

Suggesting that Pakistanis need to be taught ‘basic common courtesy and civility’ is supremely ironic, especially writing it after you were invited to be a guest at our own Independence Day celebration! But despite this bizarre statement, there is something in the second part of his statement that is worth thinking about.

One great thing about being Pakistani is the strength of our overseas community. The first time I went to visit the UK, I was nervous. As much as I was excited to see what it was like there after hearing so much about it, I was also anxious about how I would fit in…or not. It turned out I didn’t have much to be nervous about, and there was always a way to find a little ‘home away from home’ that made things easier, keeping connected and not feeling like a stranger in a strange land. For some, like one of my uncles, though, this has become more than home comforts. He has tried to create an entire ‘home away from home’ where he interacts with anyone not Pakistani as little as possible. By doing so, though, he actually doesn’t make his life easier, he  makes it harder.

It is often said that overseas Pakistanis are our best diplomats. Their social and business interactions with non-Pakistanis are what gives an impression about what Pakistan really is like. They can explain better than anyone the reality, and they are also our cultural ambassadors. We can get angry at Westerners for having wrong impressions of Pakistan and our culture, but we should first be angry at ourselves. America might be hated for its foreign policies, but it is also very much loved for its culture. Even if we don’t know any Americans, we know their clothes and music and food and films. We are proud of our own culture and heritage, and we should be trying to share it and expose more non-Pakistanis in a way that makes them see it as we see it.

I am glad that the Queen sacked this man. She has done her part, but now it is time for us to do ours. The best response would be a global campaign where our Embassies and Consulates work with overseas Pakistanis to invite non-Pakistanis to share food, music, and conversation. We want the respect of the world, and we deserve it. To get it, though, we have to do a better job of showing them what they are missing.

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