Come back Nadeem F Paracha! We need you!

NFPNadeem F Paracha, or ‘NFP’ as he’s also known, has one of the sharpest wits in the country. For a long time I have looked forward to his writings and TV appearances because he has always had a way of cutting through the BS to show the absurdity of so much that was taken too seriously. He was never mean spirited, but always pointed out the ridiculousness of ‘serious’ topics, giving a necessary injection of humour and helping break up the tension. However, something in his satire has changed since the past few years, and the old NFP seems to be missing right when we need him most.
Let me give you an example. This video produced by some Indians is exactly the sort of satire that I would have expected from NFP a few years ago. It’s not point scoring, it’s showing the absurdity of the situation we find ourselves in.

Lately, though, we are getting posts like this:

And Tweets about pigeons.

And articles about pigeons.

pigeonMy god, man…so many posts about pigeons!

Don’t get me wrong. India’s bizarre paranoia about spying pigeons is funny, but you’ve done that joke to death, man! This is the problem, I think. The satire, it has become…well…lazy.

NFP, I understand that you love Gen Raheel. We ALL do. He is the best thing we’ve had in my lifetime. And Modi is an easy target. TOO easy, almost. But we need the old NFP back. The guy who wasn’t going after easy targets, and wasn’t worshiping holy cows. If blind patriotism was going to save this country, WE’D be the world’s biggest superpower. What our country needs is someone with wits sharp enough to cut through the fog of war and show us the way out of this mess.

I know you love this country. We all do. And I know these are tense times. But look: the civilians are finally making their move. NFP, we need you to come back now.

Where do you draw the line

A blog post at Express Tribune has been really bothering me. The post by Faiza Rahman is critical of the use of ‘personal choice’ as justification for certain behaviours like drinking alcohol. What bothers me is the question of whose ‘personal choice’ counts as being ‘selfish’.

Let’s apply the author’s thinking to her own situation. Faiza is an undergraduate student pursuing a major in political sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Certainly this will be quite upsetting to Taliban who do not believe that women belong in either schools or politics. In fact, these militants fundamentalists may well take significant violent acts in response to what they view as Faiza’s choice to violate the dictates of religion and social norms.

From the photo that accompanies her blog post, we can also see that Faiza does not cover her head in public. Taken a step further, she is not wearing niqab. Taken a step further still, why is she taking photos at all? Are not images of animate beings haram? Depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? In other words, to observe purdah or refuse photographs depends on ‘personal choice’.

Fazia asks a great question in her post: “The question is: where do we draw the line?” Fazia wants us to think about this from the perspective of how far can people exploit individualism, as if the country is under threat of anarchy in which every man and woman does whatever they want with no thought to consequences. But I believe we need to be asking the other side of the question: Who chooses what is demanded of religion? Who chooses what is a social norm that must be followed?

Fazia complains that her friend wore a sleeveless top and in response ‘the regular desi crowd behaving as expected’. Fazia tells her friend “she should have changed into something that showed less skin”. Why Fazia criticises her friend for wearing sleeveless kameez and not ‘the regular desi crowd’ for being immature jerks?

In Pakistan, drinking alcohol is officially banned. But it’s far from absent, and not just among the fashionable crowd. Even some very ‘pious’ uncles are known to sip a little whisky in private. Pressed on the issue they will explain that alcohol must stay banned because the less religious, more impressionable masses – sometimes called ‘the regular desi crowd’ – cannot handle it. Again it is clear that ‘personal choice’ in this case really means, ‘I will make your choices for you’. What should also be considered is that alcohol is the least of the problems facing the nation now.

Where do we draw the line is a question that is not asked enough, and it is not being asked the right way. People like Fazia Rahman want to draw the line for other people and they want to do so based on the reaction of the most conservative elements in society. According to her philosophy, whoever is the most fundamentalist their views should be respected. Whoever is the most tolerant, they should quietly conform to the conservative position so as not to upset the sensitive feelings of fundamentalists. This philosophy says that eve teasing is the fault of women, not men.

NFP had a great quote the other day that should be added to the national curriculum

‘My being or not being a Muslim begins and ends in my head. I am more concerned about the answers we Muslims are giving to those who are accusing us of violence and destruction. The state of Muslim intellectualism is the pits these days. We are collapsing inwards with outdated talk about  laws constructed hundreds of years ago by inflexible men and their followers who would like to see Muslim societies turn into static totalitarian societies! What is our intellectual response to all this? Is it science, philosophy and reason, or is the response only about nice, brightly smiling Muslims like you who are only obsessed about cramping as many Muslims in a mosque as possible? The intellectual and political space in Islam is being filled by theological dogma, self-righteous antics and mere ritual. Wake up!’

The fact is that complaining about drinking or sleeveless kameez is like complaining that the sofa does not match the chair while the entire house is on fire. The most severe problems in society are not the result of modern fashions or alcohol. They are the result of intolerant people who believe their own ‘personal choice’ should be the law for everyone else. There needs to be a line drawn, yes, but the people who need to be warned not to cross are not college students in sleeveless kameez but mullahs and militants who use threats and violence to force their own ‘personal choice’ onto other people.

Reclaiming Our National Honour

It is time we say goodbye to this hollow ghairat. We must find honour, dignity and respect through constructive work in the fields of economics, science and the arts, instead of looking for ghairat by crying out war chants, paranoid accusations and waving our skinny wrists and fists while pretending to ride our way to ghairatmand glory on our much cherished nuclear missiles.

The best analysis of the entire Raymond Davis drama comes from Nadeem F. Paracha, and in it he says almost nothing about the Raymond Davis case. This is wise because, as with all the manufactured controversies that play out on our TV screens each night, this too is but another in a long line of dramas that will continue to come and go.

Pakistan is not the only poor country in the world. We’re not the only country at war. We’re not the only country with tense relations with its neighbors. We’re not even the only country where all of these challenges come together at once. For too long we’ve looked for excuses in India, America, communism, secularism, the IMF, the World Bank. But every nation must deal with challenges coming from all sides.

We see in Japan that even the wealthiest nations of the world suffer natural disasters. On 9/11 we saw that even the mightiest nations of the world suffer terrorist attacks. There will be more disasters, and there will be more terrorist attacks, and the countries that succeed are those who do continue to keep their eyes looking forward, their energies dedicated to moving ahead.

Appearing before the Supreme Court on the matter of the Reko Diq mine earlier this year, Nuclear scientist and member of the Planning Commission, Dr Samar Mubarakmand, stated that Pakistan has the technical expertise and manpower to run the Reko Diq project, therefore the government should not give it to any foreign company. This is but one example of our professors and experts declaring that we have the expertise and manpower to manage our own affairs. It’s time we stop saying it and start proving it.

And proving it doesn’t require that we first close the American Embassy and put all Westerners on planes back to their home countries. It doesn’t require that we build a giant wall around the nation to keep out any and all foreign influence. We can start by improving our education system so that every Pakistani child has the opportunity to become the best – the best doctor, the best lawyer, the best businessman, the best journalist, the best scientist, the best teacher, the best driver, the best cook. Every Pakistani child should have the opportunity to be the best at whatever he or she chooses.

But taking responsibility for ourselves does not come without cost, and it is a cost that each and every one of us must bear together.

Who says we should not have honour or protect our sovereignty? We must, but it cannot be done with angry words alone or pointless demonstrations. We have to stand up for what we believe in. Particularly the full bellied, who are the most incensed.

The solution is not complicated, it is not molecular biology. Start paying your share to keep this nation afloat. No one is asking for outlandish sacrifices. No one is saying sell everything and give it to the nation. Just pay your reasonable share. If you have income, from whatever source, even if agriculture, pay a part of it to protect your honour and sovereignty.

Then, all your talk will have meaning. You will have a stake in this country, not just in an ideational sense but because you will be a partner in its upkeep. Then the notion of the collective will feel real and not just a mental construct that gives you a sense of identity. It is like building a house, not by watching from the wayside but brick by brick with your own hands. It is that sense of ownership which is needed, and over time will replace hollow patriotism.

Once we are able to pay our bills, then sovereignty will come too. No crash course would be needed. It is not a mythical concept that needs to be learnt. It is a state of being that comes from not being beholden to anyone. It is the confidence that standing by oneself gives. Alas, we have a long way to get there.

So stop telling me that the politicians and the Army are corrupt while you are doing corruption yourself. Stop asking me ‘who is the man of impeccable character to lead us for the next decade’. Stop telling me that you oppose increase in taxes out of concern for the poor while you run down rickshawalas in your shiny Pajeros and Prados.

We have created an economy of excuses that pays to put TV anchors in designer clothes, but has not a paisha to spare for a school or a hospital. We take lessons on morality from people who strap bombs onto children while dismiss as ‘sell outs’ those who speak of the same compassion and tolerance exhibited by the Prophet (PBUH).

We do this not because we are bad or immoral, but because the alternative is difficult. It means making a sacrifice. It means that maybe you can’t buy a new car or take a trip abroad. And we have discovered the convenience of blaming someone else. A ‘foreign hand’ is responsible, not us.

Imran Khan and Syed Munawar Hasan will organize street protests about Raymond Davis, but where is the street protest about a lack of education? They will march and chant demanding an end to drone attacks, but where are the chants demanding an end to tax evasion?

Enough. It’s time we take responsibility for our own nation. If we don’t want foreign agents running around the country, let’s get rid of the terrorists who they are coming here to find. If we don’t want our children joining militant groups, let’s build schools so that they will have a future to look forward to. Whether Dr Samar Mubarakmand is correct that we have the technical expertise and manpower to manage the Reko Diq project alone I cannot say. But I can say this: We have the pride, the intelligence, and the power to make Pakistan one of the greatest and most prosperous nations in the world. But for that to happen, we must stop looking for easy answers and easy excuses. The power to change is within us, if only we have the faith in ourselves to make it happen.

Pakistan Zindabad.