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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pakistan: Who Owns the Next Generation?

In ‘The War Against Terror’ Pakistan stands shoulder to shoulder with the US, cooperating against a common foe. Yet whilst the battle rages outside Pakistan’s borders, a new battle has flared up from within. Those forces that the government sought to counter have found fertile ground in the hinterland that is the North West Frontier Province, and from this the seeds of civil war are now being sown.

Into this landscape comes a new crisis that some would say is even more deadly than any of the above. This crisis is the war being waged for the hearts and minds of Pakistan’s youth. It is commonly said that to judge a people one just needs to look at its next generation as it is from here that the hopes and aspirations of a country lie.

The British, although visibly a spent "Raj" power, still seem to have their finger on the pulse, as a recent British Council survey shows. It pulls no punches when it identifies the next generation of Pakistanis as the last chance for Western democracy to take hold in this region.

The ‘Next Generation Report’ published this week is an interview-based study of the views and opinions of 1500 Pakistanis aged from 18-29 years old. The age range of the report is particularly pertinent as half of Pakistan’s population is aged under 20 years old, with two-thirds still to reach their 30th birthday. The report terms this population bulge as Pakistan’s ‘demographic dividend’ and makes the claim that because of this Pakistan finds itself at a crossroads: harnessing this generation presents a great opportunity while ignoring it will lead to disaster.

One main finding that the majority of newspapers seem to have seized upon is the revelation that three-quarters of respondents identified themselves foremost as Muslims, with just 14% describing themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan. Only a third believes that democracy is the best system of governance, with one third supporting sharia law. When asked about which organisations they trust, 60% of those interviewed had faith in the military and around 50% had similar trust in madrassahs. To top this all off, only a mere 15% felt that Pakistan is headed in the right direction.

All this hardly seems surprising taking into account the state of affairs in Pakistan. With a continuous stream of double talking hypocrisy, the US speaks of ‘democratization’ and nation building whilst simultaneously breaching the borders of sovereign states with casual disregard and supporting fraudulent election results. Why then be surprised when this translates into disillusionment with democracy.

Similarly when one has grown up with a resigned acceptance that one’s elected officials will inevitably embezzle public funds and one only remembers those civil servants, police officers and state officials who aren’t corrupt; it is hardly astonishing when this translates into 60% of youth only trusting the military as the only federal organisation that works.

Indeed when one reflects on these and other widespread stories of government corruption, societal disintegration and senseless violence, one wonders why even 15% of the youth feel that Pakistan is ‘headed in the right direction’ – unless they didn’t understand the interviewer correctly or else feel that ‘the right direction’ is to become the most corrupt, dysfunctional nation on Earth.

However this is all just window dressing to cover up what the main ‘worrying’ finding of the report is – that the vast majority of Pakistani youth feel that they are Muslims first and Pakistanis second. Is this not reasonable when one faces the harshness of poverty and a complete lack of social justice with skyrocketing rates of suicide amongst poor farmers and the unemployed, families abandoning or even killing their children because they can’t bear watching them slowly starve to death. It is hardly astonishing that people would embrace a Creator that promises to mete out justice and reward faith with peace for eternity.

What is remarkable to me is that in spite of the crushing poverty, grinding injustice and lack of opportunity which characterize Pakistan, Allah has preserved the faith of the Pakistani youth to give them courage and succor in their moments of despair.

One would feel that this faith is something worth celebrating and preserving but this seems not to be the case and therein lies the nub of the issue. To the average Western foreign policy maker the combination of a Muslim country equipped with nuclear weapons, a majority population with an abiding trust in the military, and a predominantly Muslim identity is abhorrent to say the least.

So what to do to ‘contain’ the Muslim bogeyman slowly reaching maturity in Pakistan? There seems to be a feeling that the way to save Pakistan is a concurrent need for both ‘nation building’ and ‘Imaan destroying’.

One can see it in the choice of presenter that the British Council used to launch its report, namely Fasi Zaka a Pakistani journalist and Director of Media at the British Council in Pakistan. Zaka writes and hosts ‘The Fasi Zaka Show’ which is the most popular radio shows in Pakistan especially with 16 to 25 year olds. Zaka has stringently avoided any outward confrontation with Islam but when one hears his show it is imbued with innuendo and sly humour with Islam and Muslims being the butt of the joke more often than not.

Whilst Zaka slithers out of any direct quarrel with Islam, the same cannot be said of another hit Pakistani media personality Ali Saleem.

Ali Saleem is the first openly homosexual TV host in Pakistan’s history. His show was first aired in 2005 and features Saleem dressed as a woman interviewing celebrities with his dialogue peppered with smutty one liners and double entendre. The result is a hit show that government officials, celebrities and other famous people fight to get on to.

What’s the problem with that you may ask? A slightly risqué TV show is nothing to be perturbed by. Leaving aside any discussion of why one should definitely be perturbed by a coquettish cross dressing bisexual hosting a prime time TV show in a country built by the blood sacrifice of millions of Muslims, I would point out that once boundaries are pushed, it is inevitable that they will be pushed again...and again.

Read what Saleem says about his relaunched show that will screen from this autumn:

'What's happening in Pakistan is that society is becoming more polarised," he says. "There's one set of people inclined towards a hardline vision and another reacting to this madness by having raves on the beach and popping pills. I want to help people develop tolerance. We have revamped the entire show and it is now going to be more thematic and address issues of sexuality, Pakistani hunks, legalising alcohol and having pubs and bars.'

This push for a more decadent Pakistan is eerily analogous to the RAND corporation’s 2008 report titled ‘Civil Democratic Islam’ by Cheryl Benard. ‘Civil Democratic Islam’ should be compulsory reading for every Muslim (please reread this excellent Jumah Pulse by Husain Al-Qadi about the RAND corporation’s manifesto for Muslim Women.) As for its ideas about Muslim youth, the RAND document speaks specifically of the modernisation of Islam especially by harnessing the youth and has as one of its recommendations to,-

‘Position secularism and modernisation as a counterculture option for disaffected Islamic youth’

And this gem which seems particularly pertinent to Fasi Zaka,-

‘Use popular regional media, such as radio, to introduce the thoughts and practices of modernist Muslims to broaden the international view of what Islam means and can mean.’

There appears that in Pakistan there is a battle going on. Not the obvious one involving truck bombs, the army and terrified civilians but rather an insidious battle for the very heart of the youth.

When one reads the opinions of the abhorrent Ali Saleem as well as reports of the corrupt antics of government officials one can’t help but recall the image of millions of Muslims in pre-Partition India, attending demonstrations chanting: ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah’ (What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is none worthy of worship but Allah).

How disappointed they would be at this current state of affairs.


1 comment:

Asif said...

Dear Abu-Suleyman.

I just read your post because I have a google alert for the Next Generation Report as a PhD candidate, I am following it as a case example of how different media outlets choose to selectively report different aspects of it. Media selectivity is one of my research themes.

From your writing I realised you havent read the report, because in the report there is a severe critique of the west in it and of western institutions, also you would have known that the report is summation of the views of the Pakistani youth and written from open sourcing which is why there are 2500 authors of it. In fact one of the main points of the report is that the war on terror, the taliban are not Pakistan's problems, but the severe lack of justice in the country and the unwillingness of the rulers to spend money to help the poor as the real issue. You would have known that had you read it.

I also find it funny that you choose not to use the strict codes of Islamic evidence in addition to not doing your work with diligence (like reading the report). You literally slander someone like Fasi Zaka, who is a humourist and does make jokes about Muslims as he does everyone else, but is also a strict supporter of the Burqa as a matter of choice and opposes France's decision to ban it. When the Quran asks Muslims to read, that includes you Mr. Suleyman. Mr. Zaka is also on record for opposing the drone attacks in Pakistan, condemning the interference of the US and Britain in having the NRO promulgated so the corrupt can go scott free.

Then you bring in a known drug addict like Ali Saleem to support your point of view, someone whose programme has been cancelled and whose other ones have failed simply because Pakistani's no longer have an appetite for his entertainment.

I write to you because I am disappointed by people like yourself who claim to be moral and standing up for Islam yet do not have the will to apply their intellect with hard work and simply come up with random condemnations. Please, you are doing an important job, take it seriously. Forgive me if I have come across as harsh, but it is only because I believe that people like yourself who are committed enough to take the time out to do this must be well intentioned, but do not mistakenly become someone who is as bad as the western journalists whose lazy or agenda reporting also creates public awareness for incorrect facts. May peace be upon you brother.

Asif Yacub