Friday, August 20, 2010


Like most Pakistanis who read the newspaper every day, I cringed when I read that the UN has attributed the lack of flood relief funds coming in to the country's "image deficit". That is an extremely diplomatic, albeit irresponsible statement for them to make. What a nice way of saying nobody likes us enough to care if we drown! The irresponsibility, of course, lies in the fact that the UN should be making such claims based on entirely anecdotal evidence. Yes, we all know the country's popularity ratings may not be soaring globally, but assuming that UN officials are educated to at least the undergraduate level, it can reasonably be expected that they know never to use information that can't be cited.

My gripe with this statement is on several grounds. Firstly, as mentioned, the obvious inability of quantifying an image-or its "deficit". Secondly, shrouding the cold fact of a lack of humane sympathy with diplomacy, rather than exposing it for what it is. Thirdly, the fact that the response to it in Pakistan has been a shrugging-off and acceptance of the fact that the global attitude to the crisis is Pakistan be damned, it's full of terrorists anyway.

Since there is very little I can do to help the UN spokespeople recall Speaking and Writing 101 where they learned to make statements they can qualify to be true, I'm going to leave them alone for now. Pakistanis however, I am more capable of speaking to, and one thing is for sure: if we are ever to pull ourselves out of this permanent state of crisis, we can't do it without first shedding all our internalised doubts about our own worth as a people. We defend the plight of the flood victims (it's not their fault our country produces terrorists) in the same breath as we agree with those who point fingers at us (it's true that we are a nation of terrorists).

Rightly or wrongly, nationhood entails a feeling of belonging that elicits both national pride and embarrassment, depending on the instance. Both these feelings are completely nonsensical in their own way. Whether someone chooses to train as a suicide bomber and blow himself up on either the Pakistani or Afghani side of the border should be immaterial. Whether the crime rate soars in Karachi or Delhi should also not matter, except as far as concern for one's safety. Whether Zardari makes an ass of himself or not should be a non-issue. Nationhood and nationalism should only be relevant as far as our own understanding that the nation-state and its mechanisms influence outcomes. Beyond that, situations which are out of our reach and control should not be valid cause for embarrassment-the will to act should be borne out of our humanity, not our nationality.

I fail to understand why I should be personally embarrassed about our venal, eminently hateable government(s) or the terrorism this country spawns. I detest them on the grounds that they are unethical; not because they are unethical and Made in Pakistan. The flood victims and tireless aid workers should not have to live and die beneath the petty concerns of how pretty or progressive Pakistan looks to the foreign media, and neither should we. There is nothing pretty and nothing progressive about this nation, but we need to move past our favourite hobby of cringing over how ugly we look, as if we were a twelve year old pre-pubescent adolescent, and so should the rest of the world. Until then, people are drowning in the ugliness of sentiments such as national embarrassment. Literally.

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