5 September 2013 Comments Off on Changing the World

Changing the World

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Changing the World
Asad Zaman

For too long, we have been content to accept foreign analyses of our problems, instead of doing our own thinking. The Eurocentric worldview defines deviation from European norms as a problem, and advances towards European ideals as progress. On this view, we must liberalize, modernize, industrialize, and acquire good governance and democracy. To accomplish this, we need to promote the English language as a medium for instruction in Science and Technology, as well as modern culture. We need to educate our superstitious, ignorant and backwards people, make Pakistan safe, attractive and profitable for Western investors, etc. In short, we must do everything that competent administrators working on behalf of the British Raj would do.

Thinking of problems of Pakistan in our own terms, instead of thinking about how to get Pakistan to resemble England or USA, leads to dramatically different views about development. How can we improve the quality of lives of the people of Pakistan, the majority of whom are poor, illiterate, and live in rural areas or urban slums? This question is not even on the agenda of planners. Widespread globally observed failures of World Bank and IMF prescribed Structural Adjustment Programs has led popular protests as well as changes in theorizing by professional economists. However, close analysis of newly developed and recommended policies reveals that the mention of poverty, jobs, environment etc. only provides a cover for public consumption. Like old wine in new bottles, strategies to be used for these noble goals continue to focus on enabling multinationals to be able to operate securely, enforce contracts, and repatriate profits.

Solutions to our problems lie in re-acquiring self-esteem and dignity shattered by colonization. The vast majority of Pakistanis are warm, hospitable, generous and charitable people of integrity and honor, trusting and trustworthy. This is a treasure beyond price in today’s worlds. Our natural resources lie not in the coal mines of Thar, but in our Pakistani youth, which is capable of doing whatever we ask them to do. The challenge facing us as a society is to inspire them with worthwhile and ambitious goals and provide them with the means to facilitate the achievement of these goals.

In meeting this challenge, a formidable enemy is the dominant message being spread by Hollywood, internet and other popular media. This glamorizes individualistic lifestyles, pursuit of pleasure, and teaches contempt for traditions and community. This is extremely attractive to our young, who are initially exhilarated at being freed from the stifling bonds of commitments and obligations to the entire community. It is only the long run that they come to realize the treasures that they have thrown away for this short run freedom. Instead of life-time commitments of marriage and family, one has relationships of uncertain duration and reliability even with the nearest and dearest. By the time we realize the value of permanent lifetime commitments which day-to-day events cannot shake, it is often too late to rebuild social relations. Islam places a tremendous emphasis on “Sila-Rahmi,” which is to do good to your relatives, even if they behave badly towards you.

All lasting change requires building communities which work together for change. Building communities requires concern, compassion, cooperation, caring for others, self-sacrifice and service. While not highlighted by popular media, these ideals are very much part of our traditions. The inspirational poetry of Iqbal, Rumi, Saadi and others provide effective tools to combat the pursuit of individual pleasure.

Revolution begins at home. The key is to act as a model for others, and to become agents of change. Instead of waiting for the world to become a better place, act to bring this about. Instead of talking about how bad things are, talk about how you and I can change things for the better. Instead of being spectators, become participants in the process of change. Given the abject poverty that exists in Pakistan, every reader of this column can easily change ten lives dramatically. Do it.

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