Pakistani Youth Activists Featured in New Al Jazeera Documentary

Pakistan is under attack from within. An estimated 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in extremist violence since 2001. Bombings are a constant threat and journalists, politicians and activists, along with anyone who speaks out against intolerance, risks their lives.

Twenty-five-year-old activist Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi has dedicated his life to challenging the complex religious, economic and social divisions which threaten to strangulate Pakistan.

This documentary follows Ali and the Pakistan Youth Alliance on their anti-extremist mission across Pakistan, from café culture in Islamabad to Taliban rehabilitation in Swat. Will his passion be enough to change entrenched attitudes and beliefs?

Dignity, Integrity & Self Respect

In a debate on Twitter recently, Dr Awab Alvi wrote that “Pakistan needs a position of dignity, integrity & self respect vs being run by Foreign nations”. I agree completely. Actually, I suspect Dr Awab and I would agree on a lot of things. Where we diverge, though, is on the path to get there. Some in Pakistan who are jokingly called as the Ghairat Brigade (they call themselves PTI among other things) believe that these traits of dignity, integrity & self respect are found through intransigence, deception and denial.

Intransigence vs Integrity

Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. But having strong moral principles does not mean refusing to admit when you are wrong. Anytime some criticism is made of Pakistan, we immediately point fingers in the face of our critics. This is especially the case when any criticism is made of the military. But our military is made of men, not angels, and like all men they make mistakes. This is only natural, and not a humiliation. Even the mightiest armies of history are known to make miscalculations. Oh how Napoleon would take back his invasion of Russia! The Japanese their attack on Pearl Harbor! The Americans their Vietnam! It is the true friend who warns you when you are taking the wrong path. It is your enemy who quietly lets you go astray. Integrity is gained by honesty and responsibility, not stubborn refusal to admit mistakes.

Self Respect vs Deception

To listen to the Ghairat Brigade, we can never have self respect so long as we accept foreign aid. We must stand on our own feet. But standing on your own feet doesn’t meant that you refuse help. Should students refuse scholarships? Should the poor refuse zakat? Actually, the student who humbly accepts his scholarship, just as the poor man who humbly accepts zakat to feed his family are able to stand tall with self respect even though they are accepting help because they are using it to improve their opportunities, to make something of themselves. They are taking responsibility for improving their lives and not blaming others as their excuse to not improve.

The Ghairat Brigades say that all our problems are caused by someone else. If we just cut ties with the Americans, there will be no poverty, no corruption, no violence. Just this week LeJ killed dozens of innocent Pakistanis, and the same day I saw the Keyboard Commandoes of Lashkar-e-Ghairat telling people that there is no such thing as LeJ – it is a RAW conspiracy! As long as we are lying to ourselves, how can we ever hope to respect ourselves?

Dignity vs Denial

In his latest piece for Express Tribune Raza Rumi makes clear the problem with denial.

The anti-Americanism paranoia about India, imagined plots to steal our nuclear weapons and the ultimate ‘terrorists-cannot-be-Muslims’ mantra have entered the popular imagination of Pakistanis. These days, there is an overt attempt by several analysts, opinion-makers and even academics to rationalise conspiracy theories. Reportedly, a UK-based Pakistani academic delivered a talk at a Karachi seminar, rationalising the conspiracy theory that the infamous Blackwater (a US contractor) was responsible for attacks on mosques and shrines in Pakistan.

This is no longer a laughing matter. It is a serious state of collective denial that needs to be unpacked and rectified for our long-term stability and survival. This will lead us nowhere: we deny that there is violence against women, we deny that there is rampant child abuse; and we reject that we have allowed for a large section of society to get radicalised in the recent decades. We deny that our textbooks are poisonous for young minds, for the hate they spread, and we refute that sermons given in the name of a peaceful religion actually talk about killing non-Muslims. Above all, there is a widespread denial that minorities of Pakistan are increasingly under attack, including the Shias, Ahmadis, Zikris, and not just non-Muslims.

Denying our problems doesn’t give us dignity, it gives us problems. Dignity is something you get when you admit your mistakes, admit your problems, and work sincerely towards solving them. When you refuse to admit reality, even in the face of all evidence, you cannot have dignity. Rather you become a laughing stock to the world. Every nation has problems. It is those who admit them and face them that hold their heads high on the world stage. It is tyrants and dictators who try to hide in the shadows so that people can’t see their true face.

The Right Path

Pakistan needs a position of dignity, integrity & self respect, but it’s not going to get this via a programme of intransigence, deception and denial. Dignity, integrity and self respect are the products of honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Most of my friends can recite a hundred year’s worth of mistakes and misdeeds by the Americans. But if asked about certain black marks in our own history, they look totally confused and say that they’ve never heard this before. And why? Because for generations the Ghairat Brigades have been editing history books, inventing conspiracies, and blaming everyone in the world for all of our problems. They have tried for decades to improve the nation by intransigence, deception and denial, and look where it has taken us. Enough.

If we truly want to try the ‘untested’, we should not repeat the same mistakes of the past by basing our hopes in intransigence, deception and denial. We need to take the path of honesty, sincerity and responsibility. Only then we will find ourselves in a position of dignity, integrity & self respect.

Waseem Badami weighs in on PML(N) allegations

Waseem Badami in his show 11th hour tries to find out reasons for the PML (N) and PPP tensions. He invites guests Sheila Raza (PPP) and Senator Mushahid Ullah PML (N) to discuss reasons behind the escalating political tensions between the two parties. He further tries to find out if the alleged PPP war with the judiciary is really an issue, or if PML (N) is just using judiciary as a political card for its own agendas.