< < <
Date Index
> > >
My home is not the place you see on TV !!
by Saima Alvi
25 May 2002 22:14 UTC
< < <
Thread Index
> > >
Posted from THE GUARDIAN


P.S. slightly dated, but equally relevant! saima

My home is not the place you see on TV!
Kamila Shamsie

Last week, I returned to Pakistan for the first time since September 11. As 
I walked through the doors of Jinnah Airport's international terminal in 
Karachi, I was jolted by a shock of revulsion: a vast McDonald's had sprung 
up right across from the terminal, ensuring that the golden arches would 
henceforth dominate all visitors' first glimpse of the city. But all else 
seemed much as ever: no added security, no riots on the periphery of my 
vision, no stones being hurled my way because I was in trousers and a T-
shirt. In short, McDonald's aside, Karachi seemed exactly as I had expected 
it to when I left London the day before. How nice, I thought, to finally be 
home where I won't have to spend every day telling people not to believe 
what they hear in the news about Pakistan being closer than ever to an 
Islamic revolution. (Pakistan may be closer than ever to an Islamic 
revolution; but since it's never been close to any such revolution, that 
relative term "closer" carries little urgency.) 

Here, there is much anger about what everyone else in the world hears in 
the news about Pakistan. Almost everyone I have spoken to has mentioned the 
slanted coverage of the BBC and CNN, which get beamed via satellite to a 
great many households in Pakistan. It was partly to counter this partial 
reporting that a rally under the banner "Voices of the silent majority" was 
organised the day I returned. According to first-hand reports, about 200 
people showed up, with placards saying "No to Extremism", "Pakistan 
First", "Yes to Jihad against Illiteracy". Speeches were made, doves were 
released (actually, they were pigeons, but let's not get bogged down by 
details). The whole event had acquired a slightly farcical sheen before it 
started, due to the fact that many of the people who were most fired up 
about the rally are better known for their fashion sense than their 
political sense. The march of the trendies, one of my friends dubbed it, 
while another predicted the placards would read: "The well-dressed women of 
Pakistan oppose terrorism". In the end, though, it was journalists and 
educators rather than models and beauty consultants who spoke. Neither the 
BBC nor CNN covered the event. And why should they? After all, it was just 
200 people representing a tiny portion of society. 

Well, when 200 protesters who represent a tiny portion of society start 
throwing stones at policemen and burning effigies of George Bush, the 
cameras can't stop rolling. Every day, the media teaches us lessons best 
left unlearned about the power of violence to capture people's attention. 

The truth of the matter is that, in this country which is often divided 
along so many lines - sectarian, ethnic, economic, political - there does 
seem to be something approaching a general consensus on two matters: the 
destruction of the World Trade Centre was sickeningly awful; the bombing of 
Afghanistan is sickeningly awful. Pakistanis were asked in a recent poll if 
they support the US or the Taliban in the war. More than 80% answered in 
favour of the Taliban. But - putting aside the question of how, exactly, 
the data was compiled - the question itself reflects an absurd "you're 
either with us or with them" reasoning which quite overlooks the complexity 
of Pak-Afghan-US relations. The poll didn't bother to ask if Pakistanis 
believe the Taliban are in any way responsible for what happened on 
September 11. It seems a fair guess that more than 80% would answer "no". 
Nor did it ask if the deaths of hundreds of Afghan civilians and the mass 
influx of refugees into Pakistan, a country already straining to cope with 
the million plus refugees that were here prior to September 11, was 
acceptable "collateral damage". Again, the answer would be an 
overwhelming "no". Looked at in this light, the opposition to US bombing in 
no way translates to a support for the terrorist attacks in the US. From 
here, this seems a self-evident truth. 

There are frequent, non-violent rallies throughout Pakistan opposing the 
bombing. Most of these are rallies for peace, not for holy war. This is not 
to deny that the extremists who are calling for the overthrow of General 
Musharraf's government are a well-armed and dangerous minority - but the 
belief in most sections of Pakistan is still strong that the president has 
much cause to be concerned about an assassin's bullet and little reason to 
fear a popular revolution that will topple his government. This is not a 
nation of extremists. But it is not an unconflicted nation either - it says 
much for the difficult position Pakistan finds itself in that the people 
who show up at rallies to declare solidarity with the government which 
promised "unstinted support" to the US are often the same people at the 
rallies demanding an end to the bombing. 

It seems I have been repeating all of this endlessly to friends in the UK 
and the US. All of them have listened with understanding, intelligence and 
compassion. In Karachi, I encounter somewhat surprised reactions when I say 
that of the many American friends I gathered in my years at university on 
the east coast, none of those who have written to me in the last two months 
hold views that are substantially different to mine when it comes to the 
bombing of Afghanistan. Just as Pakistan looks like an extremist monolith 
if you watch news reports in the US, so the US looks like an arrogant 
nation baying for blood and willing to bypass due process if you watch news 
reports here. The interesting point is this: the same news channels which 
broadcast images of Pakistan to the US also broadcast images of the US to 
Pakistan. That is, we watch CNN and we think it's showing us a complete 
picture of America. But having lived in the US, having spoken to friends 
who've written articles criticising US policy for the print media in the US 
and found those pieces "edited" or not published, I know that there is a 
voice of opposition within America which finds itself completely shut out 
by the mainstream media. Paradoxically, if the US media allowed those 
voices to come through to the rest of the world there might be less anger 
towards the US in places such as Pakistan. 

I'm told that any criticism of US policy these days is seen by some as a 
justification for the terrorism of September 11. Let me make one thing 
perfectly clear: September 11 has long been a national holiday in Pakistan. 
It marks the death of Mohommed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, a man 
who used his inaugural address to the nation to speak of the need for 
tolerance and freedom. September 11 is a day of mourning in Pakistan. It 
will continue to be a day of mourning in Pakistan. 

 Kamila Shamsie is the author of Salt and Saffron (Bloomsbury, 6.99). 

< < <
Date Index
> > >
World Systems Network List Archives
at CSF
Subscribe to World Systems Network < < <
Thread Index
> > >