Sunday, January 9, 2011


The faculty of critical thinking is one that expired long ago in Pakistan. While the country may be peppered with individuals who attempt to question everything, they remain individuals and not representatives of a greater movement. In some ways, this is true of all societies; if critical thinking were encouraged on a mass level anywhere, the mechanisms of the nation-state would fail. However, no society can be as intellectually impoverished as one that forgets its history and ours is such a society: one that lacks the ability to put anything in context.
The study of history, I have been told many times, is among other things, a waste of time, redundant, irrelevant, useless, self-indulgent and-this is my favourite-"ladylike". For the macho stalwarts of progress, the custodians of religious law and flag-waving urbanites, remembering where we have come from is unimportant, because being Pakistani means rising above history. Being Pakistani means letting go of our shackled past. Being Pakistani means forgetting.
Those who advocate questioning the framework of our nation-state or the shaky foundation upon which it was built are treated as starry-eyed, soft-hearted "liberals" who need to cultivate some true patriotism. At worst, they are considered heretics. The conflation of religion and nationalism is disturbing on so many levels that it amazes me that it is still allowed to occur. As our country goes up in flames, nothing could possibly be more important than understanding how and why this is happening. It is like trying to hear sound in a vacuum, or analysing a language without having studied linguistics.
I have recently begun teaching at low-income schools and can attest to the fact that some of the most disturbing trends in Pakistani thought are the products of our national snobbery towards the subject of history. Students who advocate murdering Shias because Jinnah intended Pakistan to be a true Muslim state are unaware that Jinnah himself was a Shia. Students who believe their mother tongues will never be official languages have no knowledge of the language movement in the 1950s. Students who believe that Mohammed bin Qasim’s arrival in Sindh centuries ago was somehow directly linked to the creation of Pakistan have no knowledge of how the European construct of the nation-state was invented in the twentieth century.
In an ideal Pakistan, we would study, understand, criticize and accept our history-even those bits that wound our school textbook sanctioned national pride. We would move forward with the knowledge and understanding that our country needs to be defended not because we desperately need to justify its existence, but because safeguarding human lives and property is intrinsically worthy. Only then could be abandon our collective myopia, moral bankruptcy and downward spiral. For the love of our country, for the love of sanity, we need to crack open history books more often.