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Of National Identity 

08 Desember 2011 08:00:22

Of National Identity by Muhammad Akbar Ali Malik

What is our national identity? We are a derivative of a post-colonial, Islamic state that has time and again put forward the cause of national interests before anything else, or that is what has been claimed by the policymakers, Supreme Court judges and public figures time and again. But who is to say what being a Pakistani means for the people? Our intelligentsia has long witnessed a slow degradation of national identity and this erosion has based itself in issues of development that we face today.

As a member of the youth, I feel more than excited and moved to support the Pakistani cricket team in any match and then also bicker about their performance in case they lose. At any given forum, I would consider it my duty to support Pakistan and my fellow citizens. Amongst all this I still wonder what being a true Pakistani entails.

This loss of identity finds its translation in many facets of everyday life; most important of which emerges as apathy towards issues of governance and national responsibility. The people of Pakistan have divided themselves amongst either being apathetic or reactionary towards poor governance mechanisms. These aspirants cannot alone be held responsible in being unable to decipher what being a Pakistani truly means. The persistent identity crisis can be traced back to our previous generation; the champions of a true Islamic State in the post Z.A Bhutto era. That meaning of an Islamic state is deconstructed by most academics and intellectuals today as being solely put forward to retain hold over governance mechanisms by a despotic government. Regardless of what gave rise to the propagation of aligning the people of Pakistan to the idea of an Islamic State, the truth is that the idea, marked by political or religious fervour, backfired. The previous generation was calling on the name of Islam but there was hardly anything Islamic in the escalation of drug and arms trade which was a direct result of being immersed in the Afghan War of 1980s. Increase in sectarian tensions, and then later on militant extremism can find its roots in these two illegal trades. Economically, these activities boosted the illegal economy especially in the regions bordering Afghanistan. Today between the secular state and an Islamic identity, the youth of Pakistan continue to oscillate between these two apparently mutually exclusive poles. The consequence of these dynamics has been the loss of an identity that defines the nation we call ‘Pakistani. But quite plainly, our previous generations which call us the future of this country have failed to pass on an identity with which a nation can be defined.

But the fault is ours if we still choose to escape these circumstances and try to settle in setting that we relate with more. And I am referring here to the westernized standards of my generations’ thinking. We act, think and speak like the youth of developed countries, well at least those of us who are fortunate enough to attain a college degree. We receive secular organization but we’re told that we are ‘Islamic.’ Religion is convenience; our default options will have become more secular.  Religion is convenience; our default options will have become more secular.  And this mode of thinking, these set of ideals and options fueled by modes of education feed our pride and becomes our identity.

In this society, my religion, my caste and my ethnicity was far more pronounced than my nationality when I was born. This however does not mean that any of the other identities should be discounted. My point is that amongst our many identities, the identity of a being part of a nation is mostly absent. If Pakistan was created to serve as an Islamic state and that definition has surely been misunderstood by the masses. I do not intend to attack personal religious tendencies but we are missing the social and political identity of an Islamic society; the identity which Iqbal so passionately spoke of. And as a result, today our nationalism rests merely on special occasions and ad hoc responses. We are Pakistanis when our politicians choose to initiate enmity against foreign interventions but we are not Pakistanis when it comes to cleaning our streets, abiding by traffic rules, stopping corruption or paying taxes and this list of when we aren’t Pakistanis is a long one. Our duties are primarily defined by the religion we follow, the tribe or caste we belong to, the social class we represent and in the least by which nation we belong to. The level of apathy amongst the society for fellow countrymen has reached alarming levels.

re: Of National Identity

13 Desember 2011 07:38:19 nm Sarah Chohan

Good job Akbar! I believe almost all our problems are rooted in the fact that we lack national identity. We are are everything but Pakistanis! But I believe the first step towards solving any problem is being aware about it and this article of yours tells me that we are there at least.


re: Of National Identity

08 Desember 2011 11:31:49 Shemrez Nauman Afzal

Extremely well written. This essay acutely deciphers the modern-day problems faced by citizens of a globalized world. It also reflects how human beings manage their multiple identities according to social obligations, circumstances, and affinities. There are also identities like class that some believe in while others say don't exist - which just goes to show the complex nature of human identity, and how every single one of us is constantly in a transformational state.

It is true that our forefathers have not passed on a proper national identity for us to inherit, and most of us still wonder whether we are more Pakistani than Muslim, or more Muslim than Pakistan, or an equal measure of both. But as the youth, and as the future of this country - two identities that nothing and nobody can take away from us - I personally believe it is not only our prerogative, but also our duty, to form a coherent and progressive national identity which includes all Pakistanis and excludes no-one; an identity which mainstreams those who have been marginalized and alienated. Extremists have only been successful in this country because they have occupied space ceded by the state as well as the ulema. This space must be reclaimed by any means necessary, because Pakistan will cease to exist if Pakistanis fail to identify themselves as Pakistanis and feel responsible for their country, their city, their environment, their surroundings, and their society.

Pakistan's society is indeed very apathetic today. But I have hope in the youth, and in our future. We must trudge forward to achieve the Pakistan that Jinnah and Iqbal envisioned, the Pakistan that our forefathers struggled for, and the Pakistan that we want it to be. Because it is better to live for something than to die for nothing...


re: Of National Identity

08 Desember 2011 11:21:44 S. K.

Identity - an issue that we, as a nation, are still trying to deal with. Our age as a nation? Sixty-four years old!

This issue becomes all the more complex when we bring 'religion' into the equation, as highlighted. Will we see that day when we are Pakistanis first, and Pakistanis, only? I hope. Let the change come from within.


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