Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Daily Times: Abnormality syndrome in Pakistan — I

As a teenager, when I was supposed to be enjoying life, making friends, watching movies, playing games, socialising and talking about our little dreams, I was thinking of pleasing God and hating His perceived enemies

“The only abnormality is the incapacity to love” — Anais Nin.

According to Wikipedia, “Abnormality, in the vivid sense of something deviating from the normal or differing from the typical (such as an aberration), is a subjectively defined behavioural characteristic, assigned to those with rare or dysfunctional conditions.”

Some might call me judgmental, others label me as cynical and delusional while some associate me with a class that thinks nothing can go right in Pakistan but still fails to understand what actually is wrong with this country. To understand this abnormality, I have reflected on my own life here — a journey where I was growing up in a religiously conservative and culturally oppressive society.

I recall how Hindus and Jews were my sworn enemies, even though I had not seen any. Christians were there to work as sweepers and cleaners and we were told not to shake hands with them or take any food from them, thus making me believe, as a child, that all Christians were sweepers and dirty. I did not know of Ahmedis and Barelvis but I was told that they were not good people either. Shias were not Muslims; once a student asked our Islamic studies teacher why a section of the Islamic studies book was titled ‘for Shia students only’ for which he was beaten mercilessly because he did not know the difference between a ‘Musalmaan’ (Muslim) and ‘kaafir’ (non-believer) as taught by that teacher in my school.

All that I saw and experienced was religion and hatred. It felt like we were bowels that were constantly being filled with hatred. I was growing up with a negative and twisted personality like millions of others are today. I did not know how to love but I surely knew how to hate: to hate anyone who is not Muslim. As a teenager, when I was supposed to be enjoying life, making friends, watching movies, playing games, socialising and talking about our little dreams, I was thinking of pleasing God and hating His perceived enemies.

It took me years to come out of that abnormality and madness, and it is not easy to explain how it happened. It was not one event or a moment that shaped my life but years of reading and communicating with people who came from societies where such abnormality does not occur on such a wide scale. I felt this very strongly during an official trip to Germany when I visited a concentration camp, which was reminiscent of the mass level Nazi anti-Semitic indoctrination that resulted in the mass extermination of Jews; this mass level indoctrination was nothing when compared to the poison that has been indoctrinated into the minds of successive generations for the past decades in Pakistan, specifically and generally against anyone not following the Wahabi brand of Islam.

I am happy that I did not become the person that bigoted culture wanted me to become but it pains me to see young boys and girls when they talk of religion, politics, hatred, revenge and hatch conspiracy theories. Unlike normal people, they do not talk of culture, movies, dress, adventures, savings, dance, music and beauty. In fact, Islamabad is probably the only capital in the world without a cinema.

People who are not well aware of the dynamics of Pakistani society and the indoctrination carried out here based on the ideology of Pakistan think that education is the solution to our problems. When I was working for the British High Commission in Islamabad, a discussion was held to come up with ideas on how to democratise Pakistan. As usual, the suggestions that came up ranged from imparting education to strengthening parliament and civil society, but what was really lacking was an understanding of the nature of the institutions on which democracy is based. They were not willing to accept that our social fabric has collapsed, and the head of the family plays the part of a dictator. Truth and honesty have become victims and lies and cheating have become the norms of the day.

When it comes to education, it is like imparting hatred and prejudice. Education here at a national level is doing more harm than good as some contents of the national syllabus and teaching practices at state schools are discriminatory and religiously judgmental towards minorities belonging to other sects. Recently, a friend told me that Christian students in schools were being compelled to memorise kalmas, and yet everyone remains indifferent to such trends at schools.

The closed culture and excessive religiosity are pushing people towards extremism and, ultimately, terrorism. Growing up in the society where I was raised, you do not need to go to a madrassa to get the indoctrination needed to later become a terrorist — that job is done by the very institutions structured to safeguard the people. Children learn this from families, schools, mosques, the streets, TV channels and Urdu newspapers. They turn you into a walking time bomb full of hatred and revenge for everything you are brainwashed to hate, something a saner and conscientious mind cannot relate to.

(To be continued)

The writer can be reached at kaharzalmay@yahoo.com