by Maniza Naqvi
I called this essay “Owning our Stories” when it was published as a paper for a conference on sustainable development held in Islamabad in 2003. At the time I wrote this I was becoming increasingly anxious and worried about one of the greatest dangers facing the world: the justification of terror and war through the dangerous revival of a singular and value laden narrative and image of good and evil with its time released poison of hate.
At the end of October 2012 we are all aware of the results of this narrative: there are at least four wars underway that are justified through this narrative. There is the surveillance of Muslims in the US (here). There is the Supreme Court of the United States decision in 2010 in the case the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which ruled that under the First Amendment corporations are people and can not be prohibited in election spending (here). Private militaries and security corporations, are participating in the prosecution of wars in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (here,here,here, here and here). There is the National Defense Authorization Act which allows the indefinite detention of anyone in the world including Americans citizens without trial (hereand here); Under the provisions of the Military Commission Act of 2006 the President can declare anyone an enemy combatant and order their execution or assassination (here and here); the President of the United States has a kill list and can and does order extra judicial killings including with drone attacks. (here, here,here,here, here, here).
I was invited to the conference in December 2003 in Islamabad as an artist, as a writer:
All Our Stories: Stories, I think do not reveal the truth, they do however expose untruths. A multitude of narratives, all versions of perceived reality prevent the rise and tyranny of a singular narrative. And in this way, through a multitude of stories, a balance is maintained and truth whether it exists or not is safeguarded by not being singled out. In receiving these narratives we are able to reason that all versions matter; all must be given consideration; that all opinions must be questioned and that all perceptions have validity. All truths are untruths all untruths are true. In the absence of a multitude of narratives, reason remains ruined.
I see reason ruined every day in newspapers, in images on TV channels and in the stacks of books, the so called literature of experts on all things Muslim, Pakistani and Middle Eastern. One of the greatest dangers facing the world today is the dangerous revival of a singular and value laden narrative of good and evil with its time released poison of hate. This view perceives the world in terms of fenced in real estate not as Earth and in terms of corporate interests not cooperation. These story-tellers with their narratives of antipathy are given credence branded as secular as they view the world through an optic of fear and control while weaving stories full of hate: Stories that justify the existing divisions in our world geographical, social and economic. Language today continues to be used as a weapon with representations of whole peoples in dangerous ways instead of building understanding.
A dangerous narrative of good and evil is steadily being crafted. I remember viewing a painting that had halted me in my tracks this year in April at the Neue Museum. It was of a middle aged man, who looked very much like an uncle of mine: balding, overweight, clearly distraught and under stress, his hands wrung together, his eyes bloodshot and worried, seated on a wooden chair outdoors in winter, looking up as though at someone. The crumbling wall behind him through a gaping hole in it showed a gray city building in snow. The subject has been stripped of his comfortable context and seemed isolated or being interrogated. The portrait had been commissioned by a wealthy well connected lawyer who upon seeing it, was so angry that he refused to accept it. He was insulted at the insinuation. The artist was Otto Dix the subject of the portrait, was a Jewish lawyer, Dr. Fritz Glaser, the city was Dresden, the year was 1921 (here, here, and here). In 1921 amongst the other lone voices this artist, Otto Dix, had warned of the times to come given all the hatred in the literature of the day in the Weimar Republic. And at the time the victim had felt insulted.
Ignorance of each others stories leads us to assume that we know them. It allows us to maintain our perceptions of differences based on our own pre-conceived notions. When we do understand each others stories, we are transformed. We find that we don’t know ourselves and we grow and gain.
These stories and their usage of language nurtures violence. Violence requires the other. Violence requires a lack of narrative of the other. It requires that the other remain silent or be articulated through a single voice. Violence, its organization and place in our societies; its place within us; its control and rule over us; and our own stakes in its enterprise demands that no one speaks the truth without consequences. Whether, truths about an individual, a family, a community or a country the only way left to speak it, write about it and be heard is to call it fiction.
From where I view the world what do I see? First, I see that there is no difference of feelings, emotions and values amongst people everywhere. Everywhere people want to send their kids to school, everywhere people want to be able to walk without fear in their streets and parks. Everywhere people want to be able to earn their livelihoods.
Everywhere people do not want to receive handouts. Everywhere people want a fair hearing. Everywhere people want a fair and equitable justice system. I see a lot of people with common notions of kindness, peace, generosity, community. I see a lot of people who want to do the right thing and who are searching for what that means. I see a lot of dedicated people who are asking the important questions and making the irrefutable case for changing the current trade regimes. I also see that the anti-globalization protest has been joined by parents and grand parents in growing numbers that coalesced in the anti war demonstrations. This growing number is asking the fundamental structural questions of why the world is organized the way it is. In the places I go to for work I meet people who were willing to kill each other not too long ago are slowly moving back towards each other in peace. People who were willing to kill each other to partition themselves from each other and create divisions and lines, are ignoring those borders that they helped create. I see that I cannot as a foreigner, tell the difference between a Palestinian or an Israeli unless they are wearing a military uniform. This holds for Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. It holds for Pakistanis and Indians.
Everywhere I see boys at risk. Being pushed into violence and presumed guilty before they even know the definition of innocence. I see that I cannot tell the difference between the motivations of a young American soldier who joined the army to find a way out of poverty and a child in a madrassa in Pakistan. From where I am, I cannot see the reasons for closed borders and boundaries. The colleagues that I work with come from all the nations of the world, yet I find that we are one citizenship, that of the earth. It works for us, why can’t it work for all?
Albert Camus considered art and writing the novel an act of rebellion because the artist and the novelist perceives and creates a different reality. But this rebellion, this powerful peaceful expression of questioning and expressing old and new truths is denied to more than half of Pakistan’s population who are locked out of an education. They will never read a novel, let alone write one. They will never read or write. Meanwhile others will take it upon themselves to describe and define Pakistan as they see convenient with very little else to provide a balance. The way the world is organized today limits our stories, the terms and conditions that influence our abilities to access opportunities and articulate our aspirations and translate those into action truncate our streams of thoughts and so only a few selective stories get the opportunity to be widely read and only a few ever get written.
All our stories matter, all are valid. Isn’t it time we did something about that? Our stories should speak about the possibilities of a different world where if there is evil it should be termed as that power that denies people access, equity, accountability and democracy. These are the themes of my two novels Mass Transit and On Air. My third novel Stay with Me is set in the context of a secret interrogation and incarceration.
These are without doubt challenging times for the entire world. It seems as though in Pakistan all of the difficulties imposed upon us and tolerated by us in the last fifty years and those with which we continue to struggle have become the way of the entire world (here, here, here, here, here) It is as though all that plagued us——–now plagues the world. Pakistan’s many realities have become the new world order.
In this paper I outline the thoughts that occupy my mind when I think of poverty, democracy, justice, peace and development in the context of war, occupation, trade, corporations, development assistance and the international court of justice. The implications of the way the world is chalked out today has a profound impact on our abilities to speak, to write, to be heard. South Asia has an enormous role to play in redefining our roles as story tellers.
The world is indeed shrinking, but not the way we wanted it to become smaller. Its not a global village the way we might have wanted it to be, that of cooperating harmonious integrated communities and cooperatives sharing common lands, objectives and values. It is not the world which would settle differences through arbitration. Its more like a feudal village with one powerful landlord while the rest are landless tenants: the mazaras and the haris.
The only way forward is through education. What impact would there be on our stories if there was 100 percent literacy and enrollment of children in school? Where everyone has enough to eat and where people were not indebted to others for the sake of being able to provide a meal for their families. What would be our stories if policy makers realized and acted upon the realization that the best and only homeland security and defense is education for the people. Here at home 24 million Pakistani children are not in school. Not even in primary school, so they are lost into silence, unable to participate and connect with the world and unable to access information. They are about 17% of Pakistan’s population; and 20% of the world’s population of illiterates. Pakistan therefore has a large share of the world’s illiterate population. 90 million Pakistanis cannot read or write. If we are interested in the defense of Pakistan, their education is our defense.
Perspective of a different place/Locating ourselves: I’ll begin by outlining a world different from the one we are grid-locked in today. When we look at the images of earth taken from outer space we see our planet differently from the way it appears in maps. We see it without the lines that crisscross and divide it in the maps of the world.
The context of almost all of the world’s policy arenas today is the protection and enforcement of these lines. The policy arena of today is trying to shift from this context as can be seen by the various debates and discussions on trade regimes but is for the most part guided by and indeed controlled by the need to justify these lines. Lines that keep people in and lines that keep people out. Bottom lines that keep most people out. Lines of exclusion; lines that stop goods from being traded freely; lines that stop the movement of people: a gridlock of lines. And in between all these lines live people. People trapped by their circumstances. And it is these lines and their protection which has influenced and shaped the nature of political processes around the globe and spawned new lines. Refugee lines: Lines of desperate frightened people waiting to flee, waiting to return, waiting for work, for food, for water, for medicine at border crossings and boundaries. And there are the other lines of blindfolded men incarcerated without trials; protest lines, police lines, supply lines, headlines, frontlines.
People are angry, people are displaced, people are locked out and despite the availability of tremendous information people cannot take advantage of it. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase. The gap between the rich and the middle income is increasing.
Today these lines are the reasons why 10 million refugees seek refuge from war and hunger in the world. A total of 30 million people are displaced. There are people seeking jobs and a better life, fleeing war, violence and hunger and finding themselves incarcerated and subjected to further violence in the countries were they are fleeing too. We should discuss the possibility of a world where everyone would have a home, feel at home and the rights of the landless would be secure. A world, in which, no one would be displaced or homeless. Where people seeking homelands, safety, refuge and a better life would not be trapped at border crossings and locked up instead in concentration camps. Where, militaries would not patrol borders and water ways, hunting down the poor who are seeking jobs. The world to the hunted is a place of barbed wire and barricades and secret camps (here). Internment camps for illegal immigrants and whole populations living under occupation. We should discuss a world where secret camps, concentration camps called holding centers and off shore holding centers for refugees such as Baxter which replaced the notorious Wormarea would not exist (here). world were 3 million people would not be locked up in their own homeland in a virtual jail of barbed wire closures and would instead be free in a home land called Palestine. A world, in which, extra judicial killings would cease to occur.
These lines are the reasons for why so called democracy flourishes in one country while dictator after dictator rules another. We should discuss a world where stability would not be defined by the absence of political agitation and activism. A world where stability would not be defined by the presence of military forces or MacDonald franchises but instead by the diversity and cacophony of political discourse, the riot of voices and the rough and tumble of forward moving action for cooperation and creativity. We should discuss a world where political solutions are the first and the last solutions. We should discuss a world where people and their discourse are the safe guards and guardians of democracy not military might.
These lines are very significant, in creating lies, myths and untruths about our human common bond. In creating conflict these lines are very significant. The enforcement of these lines, these 19th and 20thcentury borders influence culture, class and politics of the world and will continue to have a profound effect on democracy and peace in the 21stcentury.
South Asia’s Stories: And today these lines, these border conflicts have the potential to end our planet. Pakistan and India are a case in point. We the citizens of Pakistan and India bear the amazing responsibility and burden for the wellbeing of our planet. More than 1.5 billion people or 1/6th of the world’s population lives here. The world’s largest democracy is here and one of its potentially great democracies in waiting, playing the part of the worst dictatorship is here too. The rapid changes that have occurred on the sub-continent, in the creation of states, changes in ideology, ideas and languages over centuries and in the last fifty-six years, make this region a breathtaking example of modernity. Yet approximately 40% of the world’s poverty sits here. Geography has been our selling point, and our curse. We sit in the heart of Asia, in fact to me, the very shape of the subcontinent resembles the shape of the heart.
One of the first English novels I was given to read when I was a kid was “The Heart Divided” by Mumtaz Shahnawaz, one of the first Pakistani English novel, if not the first, to be published. English is a language that has come to belong to this gorgeous and variegated sub-continent where more than a hundred languages are spoken. It is our second language. And a significant number speak it. Combined with all the other factors and our ability to communicate between ourselves and the rest of the world in English, we the people of South Asia will have a significant influence on shaping world opinion and in shaping the world’s story. But first we must learn to rely on and respect each others opinions. There must be a reliance and respect between Indians and Pakistanis. Our strongest ally in the world forums can only be and should only be our neighbors.
Imagine what our stories would be if the sub-continent was a common economic space, a common cultural space not constrained by its borders. Think about the myths we would have to give up before we can do that. Imagine the influence we could have in changing the terms and conditions of interaction in the world. Fifty-six years ago we were left divided as a result of confronting empire. Is there a chance now perhaps that we may join forces to confront it as it rears its ugly head again? Are we to write our story about the end of empire, or one about its short recess and continuation? Are we not to rise beyond that? In a world where power is defined by weapons, we must choose words. In a world where the use of weapons is justified by words and the word of the powerful is English, we must choose to win the battle for ourselves. In English therefore, we articulate and formulate the argument and counter argument, reorient opinion and the optic through which the world is viewed, and views us. It is in this second language of ours that we reach those who are disoriented, to reorient them to a story about ourselves told by us. We reorient ourselves as well. Where, news about us, is written by us and definitions of us are by us. Analysis of what we are and what we are not, by us. We must take back the space that has been taken from us. Is English the language of imperialism? It belongs to us, it is ours. It allows us to articulate our story ourselves to an audience beyond ourselves, it shifts the balance of power if not in weapons then in words and that alone is the greatest fight and the greatest battle to be won.
Let’s talk about a world where value laden definitions cease to exist because of our influence. Where all things good are not considered as “western” where secular does not mean European in its roots, where democracy does not have a definition embedded in the model followed by one country; where war is terrorism; and where the concept of progressive is not considered as“western”. Where, no definition is unique to just one country, race or religion. A world where what holds true for one must hold true for all.
What are our definitions? Our human indicators show us as being socially and humanely rich. Our story is of strong families and our values for human relationships make us a people of peace, love and care. Our story is of social informal systems delivering on peace and equity. Our story is one of peace and social justice. Our story is one that values social equity and well being over, financial dominance. Our story is of being socially and spiritually rich. Our story is of our investments in social and spiritual well being. Our story is of our people being socially and spiritually highly developed of placing a higher value on humanity. And this is borne out by indicators and statistics. There are more than 1.5 billion people living in South Asia and yet on a day to day basis the least amount of strife and violence occurs in South Asia compared to elsewhere. Industrialized countries have the highest amount of violence, strife and crime. The Subcontinent, both India and Pakistan are oft painted and represented to the world as violent and lawless. Much has been written about the most dangerous place on earth. Is that what we are? No doubt that with such a large population of over 1.5 billion people and population density we have our share of violence. But are the people, the ordinary citizens violent or lawless? Are they more violent than elsewhere? That’s what the stories seem to say in the news each day. Statistics interestingly enough say otherwise. Take for example Scandinavian countries, always held up as examples of the highest standards of living. Per 100,000 persons there are 13,000 incidents of crime. In Bangladesh per 100,000 there are 89 incidents of crime. In India and Pakistan per 100,000 the number is around 600. In the US per 100,000 the number is 4000. The US spends US$150 billion on its criminal justice system. There are 2 million people incarcerated in the US and this goes up to 6 million if you count everyone in the system in jail, in probation in half way houses and so on. That’s 2.1 percent of the US population incarcerated. And 2 million people are employed in the industry of keeping people jailed. The prison industrial complex in the US is a significant industry.
We are defined by justice, human rights, idealism, passion, poetry, inspiration, the power of persuasion, the power of words, the defense of the human spirit. This was our story, this should be Our-story and it will be ours. The world refers to this way as secular, we call it desi. Our way. We protect the space required for freedom of speech, we can only do so if we are educated. We can lead in the world forums because we can speak English. If we want Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi, Pushto, Dari, Bengali, Kashmiri and all the other languages to flourish freely and fearlessly we must be educated. Only and only if we focus on a solid world class education for our children, can we have the most powerful defense. We must be articulate and eloquent, we must demonstrate that Pakistan and its people want to be understood by the world, want to engage the world and they want to do it on their own terms, peacefully.
Recently, while I was in Bosnia for work a colleague’s bad heart condition was explained to me using the metaphor of the entity lines dividing Bosnia. The metaphor resonated deeply with me of divisions as illness, and the homeland as the heart. In July a Pakistani child went to have her heart repaired in India. Pakistan’s Noor, protected by Indian doctors. Would this story have had any poignancy at all for us, if it had been England or the US that Noor had gone to for her medical treatment? I wonder. I don’t think so. Because I think this story, of little Noor, is our story, in all its ironies, tragedies and joys and therefore it has the capacity to touch us deeply and indeed break our hearts. To quote from On Air “If it doesn’t have the capacity to break your heart, it can’t be love.” Naz replies “Everyone wants a guarantee for the unbreakable”. The caller replies “There’s no way to do that.” And Naz asks.“So nothing ever gets broken?” And the caller reassures her, “Divided, yes, parted, yes, separated, yes. But whole. All outcomes are predictable. Just solve for X where X=1. X being unity. Unity implies whole.”
The ability to speak in English or write it should not be equated with modernity or moderation or secularism. That has been part of the problem. All definitions of us spewed out to us in English by others have been accepted as truths. To consider the ability to speak in English in that way would be a grave injustice to the diversity of languages and cultures of this land. We are a people of ideas and words and should be unwilling to be defined. We are as a region that much stronger, that much more vibrant that much more multi-dimensional, that much more enriched, that much more resilient and English, is our common denominator amongst ourselves in the entire region of over one hundred different languages from Baluchi to Malyalam. English is one of our languages. It is the language of today of sciences, of research and of businesses and of stock markets. The Russians, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Chinese concede to this. To enter into the international arena of any debate, to hold sway, to be a force of persuasion, requires that English be spoken and understood.
Pakistan’s Stories: Pakistan is running on the dedication, commitment, dynamism, and creativity, of its thoroughly modern citizens who are also aggressively and quite humorously outwardly and upwardly mobile. Their stories are largely untold. They neither smoke designer cigarettes, nor drink European or American made liquor, or recline on period or post modern furniture in their well air conditioned homes. They are farmers, engineers, factory workers, lawyers, trade unionists, home-makers, doctors, shopkeepers, students, day laborers, street vendors, architects, urban planners, masons, journalists, bankers, micro finance specialists, writers, painters, dancers, musicians, machinists, mechanics, dock workers, weavers, film makers, tailors, tanners, teachers, traders, , taxi, truck and rickshaw drivers, carpenters, money lenders, dalals and hundreds of others. This is from where Pakistan’s leadership is emerging. They are completely comfortable in their identity and location. This leadership is home-grown, answerable to the residents in their neighborhoods. Pakistan is organized and run by these leaders who are responsible for providing services and access to people in everything from jobs, to land, to finance, to water, to transport, to electricity. Pakistan is not being run by its government. The Government is strangling these leaders.
There is nothing anti modern in Pakistan except those who will not give up power and their control over all of Pakistan’s wealth. The vast majority of Pakistanis are modern though they would blush to admit it or at the very least be surprised to know it. Modernity is defined in the Webster Dictionary as that which breaks with the past and is new; a self-conscious break with the past, and a search for new ways of expression. Pakistan by definition then is modern. It is only 56 years old. Those who live in Pakistan, willingly or unwillingly, broke with the past when Pakistan was created: for better or for worse. For the better part of these 56 years Pakistanis have been stopped on that natural course of moving forward, and have been forced to take the worst course of modernity. That is the story of the mullahs, monarchies and militaries developed during the cold war period all over the world.
Furthermore, almost 42% of Pakistan is now urban. Rural-urban migration has been intense. The context of cities, the terms of engagement required in city life force people into new ways of thinking. City life is based on a mentality of modernity which breaks away from traditional ways of life. In fact for one purpose or the other the population of Pakistan has been in constant flux, in constant movement. Begin five thousand years ago or begin a hundred years ago the story in one of constant influx and outward movement. Begin only sixty years ago then from partition till present day, the migrations, immigrations and movement internally have been immense. Rural to urban, and then outward, look at the number of Pakistanis working overseas. Traveling back, and forth from their places of work, to their family homes, in Pakistan. This change requires breaking from existing norms and traditions, adapting to new ways. This region is a mass of people constantly in transition. Constantly reinventing themselves. The people of this region are thoroughly modern.
By modernity I mean new and breaking from the past, this does not necessarily have a positive or negative meaning. The hijab in Pakistan is an indicator of modernity. As in my mother’s generation the burqa symbolized modernity, because it indicated that a woman had to step out of her home, the hijab today too indicates a higher mobility of women. As long as it is a matter of choice, the hijab remains modern. The moment it is worn or taken off at gun point or other threats it becomes something quite different. Look around you, what a large number of hijabs one sees, in offices, on buses, on the streets, in schools, in colleges, at hospitals. Don’t look at the head dress, count the heads. So many women, in the public space! A very different group that before had little access is making its way now into the forums of jobs and decision making. This is good!
The visibility of women in public spaces is higher than ever before. There are more women going to work, at schools, banks, hospitals, business offices and factories then ever before. There are more women in parliament then ever before. Look at the number of women in the parliament in Peshawer. Incredible! The hijab in Pakistan is a westernization coming from France, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey it is a process— not permanence. It has assured and eased women’s mobility in the middle income groups and allows a culturally acceptable route to working in public spaces. As a fashion issue, it allows women coming from culturally conservative backgrounds a bridge for mobility, linking rural and urban sensibilities and east and west. And perhaps it allows women familiar with the west a way of experimenting and defining their melded identity. Who knows? The Human Development Report in July 2003 may offer up an economic explanation. It indicates that women in cities must work in order to make ends meet in household expenditures. The hijab perhaps allows urban women to work in a culturally acceptable way. As people adapt to women working there will be changes in what they consider as acceptable behavior. As long as this is a choice and not an imposition, it doesn’t matter. No condition is static. South Asia has always been a cross-roads a land of rivers and a flow of people, it has no room for stasis. That is the way of South Asia, this is the way of Pakistan and its modernity.
Pakistan has grown much more than other low-income countries, but has failed to achieve social progress commensurate with its economic growth. While infant mortality and female illiteracy rates declined by 73 and 60 percent, respectively, from 1960 to 1998 for countries that grew at about the same rate in Pakistan the declines were of the order of 43 and 20 percent, correspondingly.
Clearly, Pakistan is not the State of education, with 65% men and 70% of the women being illiterate. There are also significant gender gaps in both literacy and health status in Pakistan. While the male population completes an average of five years of schooling, the female population in Pakistan completes only two and a half years. The enrollment rate for boys is 77 percent as opposed to 60 percent for girls. 40% of Pakistan is literate compared to 64% for countries with similar per capita incomes. Why is that so? For starters, the State commits less than 3% of GNP as its expenditure on education per year. The private sector is taking up where the State absconds from doing. In Pakistan today an estimated 23% of primary enrollments 17% of secondary education enrollments are in private sector schools. These numbers exclude madrassas. The reality remains that the State has failed in its responsibility to its people.
In Pakistan, we have a dysfunctional and discriminating system of rule which is enabled and held together because of illiteracy. We must reverse the rule of illiteracy. Today, about 90 million of our fellow Pakistanis can’t read at all. Today, 24.5 million Pakistani children, don’t go to school at all in Pakistan. This is the situation now; today. Here is how much it costs to send a child to school in Pakistan per year: Six thousand rupees Rs. 6000. For those earning abroad, that’s about US$100. Included in this are the costs of text books; a snack at school; clothes; cost of the teacher; class room maintenance; and transportation. These are costs which are a composite of costs put together from estimates by leading NGOs in the field of education in this country. US$100 to send a kid to school! The good news is that NGOs and the private sector have been fighting the good fight against illiteracy and making in roads and we can strengthen their hand.
Imagine being able to open the world with knowledge for her and for him for only Rs. 6000 per year or US$100 per year. We could do this, one child each. That’s the cost of one cotton outfit at any boutique in Pakistan. That’s the cost of air conditioning a room for one month. Or a cell phone monthly bill. If you drive a car, that’s about the cost of your petrol for two months. If you drive one of those SUVs probably that’s the cost of petrol per month. The pair of gold earrings, you absolutely couldn’t resist. Or, a pack of cigarettes? Or one night out on the town with a couple of friends. And if you’re someone living and earning abroad, say in the USA, here’s how much you probably spend on your de cafe Mocca latte per day US$5. If you drink that every day, then for the amount of latte you drink you could have put 20 kids through school for a year in Pakistan! Can you imagine? If you give up one movie a month, you could put a kid through school in Pakistan. Give up two restaurant meals or one restaurant meal in a restaurant in London, or Dubai or Toronto, or DC or New York or San Francisco or LA or in Karachi or Lahore and you’ve got one kid in school for a year. Sending those 24 million kids to school is the responsibility of those of us who have an education.. Why? The answer is simple. We’ve had an education, (and possibly at the cost of others not getting educated) and 24 million kids won’t. All the resources of this country, were spent on us. Surely, it’s payback time? This is a fight we can afford and we can win. This is a fight we cannot afford not to afford.
Look into the faces of girls and boys—especially the boys condemned to an education of memorizing lines that they do not understand. These creators, builders, healers, sportsmen, planners, savers, our hope, our future are all locked out of realizing their potential. They are locked out of saving themselves and saving us. We owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves.
Almost 42% of Pakistan is now urban, where the formal and informal private sectors thrive in all sorts of things, from finance to fish and an education in English. While formal literacy rates, which are based on a measurement of government school enrollments, are very low, I would wager that the informal literacy rates are very high, thanks to the burgeoning private sector schools in the urban areas. And these numbers and trends, of private schools, of enrollments, of computer centers, of satellite dishes and TVs are growing every day. Good for them! Good for the country. Good for words, good for discourse. Good for business. Good for sales and circulations, say of an English novel.
Our stories: A World With a Different Context: As a writer, I believe in a world that can have a different context then the one we are living in today. I share with millions, with the majority of the world a fervent desire for a world where fear and war are no longer the context. A different world, where war would be a thing of the past and it would be defined as terrorism.
I share with billions of people a desire for a world where the terms of engagement that affect all our lives are in a framework of cooperation and not conflict. A world where every discussion on issues that affect us all would not be dismissive, disingenuous, reductionist, self-serving and bullying statements backed by military might for the sole purpose of profiteering, extraction of minerals, oil, arms sales, foisting bio-genetically modified foods on the world, or occupation and invasion, or the destruction of the environment, and threats of endless war. A world, where discourse is about protecting our planet, not real estate. We need cooperation instead of coercion and cooperatives instead of corporations. A world in which definitions of words like occupation, repression, liberation, invasion, war, terrorism, resistance would reflect the context, condition and stories of the majority of the people’s of the world. We should talk of a world where one country could not unilaterally impose definitions that it does not abide by itself. Where one country because of its military might cannot expect compliance from the world when itself it usually finds no need to comply with the world. Where one power cannot demand that the world comply when it has vetoed most of what the world wants to comply with. Where one power cannot refuse to sign on to the leading human rights treaties, such as women’s rights, children’s rights, economic rights, social and cultural rights.
What impact would there be on our story if arms sales and defense budgets would not dwarf the resources spent on education or on saving and improving human lives and the environment? There is a powerful narrative in these numbers: Trade subsidies and tariffs that bar the import of agricultural goods into developed countries amount to US$300 billion dollars annually; The US defense budget is US$400 billion annually and the developed world spends a total of 600 billion on defense annually ; Total monthly cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is approximately US$100 billion annually. Total development assistance to developing countries is US$56 billion annually (here).
What impact would there be on our story if free trade and privatization were to be qualified and defined as to what these terms mean. We should talk about a world where the discourse and actions for increasing trade and competition would mean that instead of lectures to low income countries on reform and privatization there would be a removal of trade subsidies and tariffs by the wealthiest countries who bar the entry of goods from low income countries into their markets. A world, in which, all countries compete on an equal footing. Then the development assistance transfers of today would be meaningless because countries could trade and earn revenues far exceeding the current total development assistance. Trade subsidies that bar goods and services from the developing world into the developed world amount toUS$300 billion in agriculture subsidies in 2003. We know that 70 percent of the poorest in the world rely on agriculture for their incomes. Total Development assistance over the past decade has been in the range of US$50-60 billion per year. If trade subsidies from OECD countries are removed then the gains for developing countries are enormous US$75 billion annually by 2015 in real income and if developing countries remove subsidies as well then the gains are US$120 billion per year. This is far greater than the total development assistance. It is estimated that consumers in OECD and in developing countries stand to gain if subsidies are removed (here). Then the question becomes, if consumers stand to gain, then who benefits from subsidies not being removed?
What impact would there be on our stories if our world was not controlled by those entities which are not governed by people’s will and peoples politics. Corporations are that one entity that have no problems whatsoever creating lines and crossing them. The 21st Century Corporation have more rights, resources and mobility then any individual or State, functioning very much like the colonizers of the 18th and 19th century. Indeed the Corporation has the world’s military might at its disposal. This entity is the only thing that can cross these lines, cross borders without hindrance without questions. This is the only entity that is never an illegal immigrant, never has to wait till the cover of darkness to hurry across a border, or cross a river, never dies or drowns, or gets shot at or lives in fear. It is this entity, the corporation, that has redefined the map of the world. It maps the world according to its jurisdiction: according to its airwaves, networks, satellite frequencies, patents, copyrights, markets, distribution systems, its supply sources, supercede the lines recognized by Government’s and States. Corporate entities and their cultures are at counter purposes with local political processes and development of democracy. Not only, in the developing world, but in the developed world, as well.
What impact would there be on our stories if the world as a community of humans focused on social equity rather than a strident ideological focus on economic growth and privatization defined by stock market rises and job-less economic recoveries. Much has been written about the roots of terrorism lying in poverty. Why does the world insult the poor, why does it hate the poor so much? The facts are that much of the roots of the world’s poverty lie in terrorism. The terrorism of centuries of empire and its arbitrary drawing of borders, occupation, genocide, rape, loot, war and indiscriminate plundering of the world’s wealth for the benefit of a few. That is terrorism. That is terrorism past and present.
The world is poor because the rich will not share. We always focus on the US$1.0 per day scenario. How the poor do with so little. We should increase our questioning of why the rich are not satisfied with so much and continue to waste the world’s finite resources. The per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in high income countries are 12.4 tons, while in the low income countries it is 1.0 ton. The rich generate most of the world’s pollution and the depletion of the environment and the poor bear the brunt of it since they are the most susceptible to the smallest changes in the climate, remember 70 percent of the poor rely on agriculture for their livelihoods (here). The world’s wealth is concentrated and embedded in the essentialness of discontent. And the rich everywhere, no matter what the country, seem to be a nationality apart.
More than 50 countries of the world grew poorer over the last decade (here). In a world of 6 billion people in which access to basic services such as water, shelter, education and health are constrained and limited; and in the case of health and water are diminishing; more than 90 percent of the wealth and resources of the earth are in the hands of less than 2 percent of the world’s population, and even this is increasingly in the hands of entities called corporations. And this imbalance is based on the enforcement of these lines. And yet, while people cannot cross borders to seek jobs, there is little or no enforcement of checks or regulations on corporations crossing borders.
The UNDP HDR for Pakistan’s reports that not only 65.1 percent of the extremely poor respondents were sick at the time of the survey but that they had on average suffered from their current sickness for the last 95 days. Can it be possible that 30 million Pakistanis on average are sick for 95 days out of the year?
Of the world’s population living in poverty, half live in South Asia. India has 40% of the world’s poor. And in Pakistan 33 percent of the population lives in poverty. And yet the Governments of both countries have focused on military spending and nuclear build up. They talk of war before they talk of life. This is criminal.
Poverty remains a serious concern in Pakistan with a per capita gross national income (GNI) of US$440. According to the latest figures (for 1998-1999), as measured by Pakistan's poverty line, 33 percent of the population is poor Pakistan is at a crucial point in its development where it could either face social and economic disaster or make a comprehensive strategy that addresses the problems of the poor, according to the National Human Development Report 2003 (here).
We should talk about a world where a price is not attached to human life. Where, a human life is not measured in dollars and cents, in rupees and annas. Any human being’s life is at all costs the most valuable. We should talk about a world where we get rid of the term human capital and ensure that we do not see human beings as property. We are not capital. We are not property, we are not an input, we are not to be judged as useful or obsolete, productive or unproductive. We are not a line item in the category of productive assets.
We should think about a world with common institutions where all the nations would be involved and have an equal voice in the decisions which affect all of us and where there would be a strong General Assembly with one vote per country and without a coterie or club of veto powers.
We should talk of a world where food and medical assistance would be easily accessible to those in need, instead of rotting in warehouses because of inadequate or ruined distribution systems. Where children, all children would go to school, live in a safe environment and have access to health care. We should talk about a world where everyone would have access to resources including financial services.
We should talk about a world in which legitimacy of actions are judged by the rule of law: a world where the greatest ability to inflict violence does not have legitimacy. A world where might is not right and where technological supremacy, does not mean ultimate legitimacy over ethics, morality or principles. A world, in which profit and technology, do not trump humanity and democracy. We should talk about a world where governments should serve the people and not be replaced by the surveillance of people.
We should discuss the urgency for a world where everyone would be assured of justice, where there would be justice for all and no one would be above the law. We should discuss a world where a strong International Criminal Court would prevail and where truth and reconciliation would be the order of the day.
We should work towards and write about a world where our collective experience would be referred to as Our-story. Where the definitions and terms for the human condition are agreed upon by all of us and are not laden with the value judgments of those in power. A world which would face up to this collective story and forgive and reconcile and where instead of debt relief there would be moral reparations for crimes against humanity. A world where borders would cease to matter and there would be a free flow of people.
In Pakistan we need to recognize how far away we have moved from the ideals envisioned by Pakistan’s founding leaders: the ideals for peaceful co-existence. We must move towards these ideals in unison for cooperative co-existence, respecting each others differences and recognizing that those differences are not greater than our commonality of being human beings. We have strayed dangerously far from the ideals. As Pakistanis, as good neighbors as good citizens we need to understand and re- dedicate ourselves to common principals that range from co-operation, co-existence, common economic space, sharing of resources, justice and the safeguarding of everyone institutions of faith and learning.
Ideals, no matter how lofty which speak only through or adhere to a religious or racial identity will go horribly and terribly wrong because they begin to unravel the idealism of social justice in the logic of exclusivity of religion and race. This holds true for other countries as well.
The Reality: The world is locked in an embrace with death, hate and injustice. It is urgent now to end this process of hate and break the cycle by establishing the international court of criminal justice. We need to do this as a world community. We need to embrace forgiveness, sympathy and understanding. We need to embrace the very powerful notions of fragility and vulnerability. Our world is as fragile as are our limbs and emotions. How long can this fragile and intricately intertwined earth endure the ravages and disdains of business interests that cause the wastage of oil resources, dangerous fuel emissions, use of uranium depleted ammunitions, bombings, depletion of water resources and the destruction of forests, animal species, humans and erosion of our skies and our soil? How long will the world believe the myth that technology can fix everything, that technology can replace everything?
But the context of today is not one that embraces peace or mutually beneficial cooperation and understanding. Instead the world and its citizens are locked in a very different and deadly embrace. And war-mongers are calling themselves peacemakers. Principals are being shunned for profit and personal gains. Predators roam the skies. And fear stalks the earth.
What ever else one can say for September 11th, it is as though the hideous attack was embraced by all those wishing to control, rule, occupy, plunder, profit, beg and borrow. Every pundit and pontificator had an explanation for it. All of us had an explanation for it. Every greed and profit making motive on earth whether it was for denying peoples’ rights to land or self determinations or putting into print deeply held notions and preposterous ideas of hate embraced it. And every greedy power hungry politician and business who could do so, embraced it for the purpose of swallowing up land, or aid, or guns, or power. Power and greed embraced it closest of all. All information has been reduced to the ridiculous. The population of the world has been reduced to being termed as a focus group. A media term, an advertising term, a marketing tool used by businesses.
And no one seemed to embrace or even allow for the thought that violence is a senseless act. That violence is without reason. That violence occurs when reason fails. It seemed that this idea of treating murder as senseless could not be sold, there was no profit in it, and therefore it was worthless.
And in all the causes and the reasons given, for September 11, no one can say with certainty which one was the real cause, because all are conjectures. But all this conjecturing and finger pointing spoke volumes about us what we are and what is the state of the world. All the reasons provided were centered around hate; religious fanaticism; revenge, poverty. And those who have embraced it most have done it for the insatiable need for fear, profit, greed, opportunism and war. And, in doing so, we have in a way anesthetized ourselves from feeling anything.
And with the vanishing of innocent people, vanished the future of thousands upon thousands more, vanished a moment to feel our own vulnerability, vanished the opportunity to realize in this our collective fragility and our collective strength. The moon must have hid her face in pain, as we collectively gouged out our third eye.
And even the voices raised against war and retribution, seemed to be saying that war was wrong because it would spawn more terrorism. They seemed to be arguing that the victims would rise to seek revenge. So in a way, many of the voices against war were not saying lets not harm them because they are human and like us but let’s not harm them because they will harm us.
We should discuss the possibility of a world where the following definition of terrorism would apply: Violence by states, individuals or groups, directly or against unarmed civilians with the purpose of instigating fear, murder, coercion, repression, subjugation, resulting in psychological and physical injury including the deaths and displacement of civilian men, women and children. A definition is required for terrorism, if the world is to be spared the past and move peacefully, humanely and progressively forward.
We are now in the closing month of a horrific year, 2003, for peace. And language is being used as weapon. Another year, in which, the message is clear: Might is right. All, power to the violently powerful. All, power to the violently wealthy. And yet, most, refuse to accept this and are horrified and disgusted by it. And all the signs so far are that we’ll continue to be horrified. The world is back to a blatant age of empire and occupation.
The world is a place of lines, barricades, and password like never before. Either you’re in or you’re out. That’s the bad news. The good news is that 6 billion of us are out. And a very few people are in. There’s a lot more of us. And you can’t blame the kid wearing the military uniform of the invading forces in Iraq. Chances are he or she isn’t even a citizen, or if they are, they’re trying to make their way out of a ghetto or a Reservation through the opportunities for an education and income that the military provides them with. Look at their honest faces, their innocent bright eyed faces to see the truth of their circumstances and the choices they’ve had to make. Just like the faces of the children in the madrassas of Pakistan. Innocent, deprived, looking for a way out to a better life, thinking they’re going places. They are all part of the 6 billion who are occupied.
I want to believe that the world is not uni-polar and that there are checks on this unquestionable might. I want to believe that the most powerful force of all is the one that stands in the streets and avenues of the world to protest unchecked power. Millions of voices are not a focus group to be ignored and disdained.
The essence of democracy is in the asking of questions and the posing of questions. Democracy is essential for development and for a mutually sympathetic and kind world. Democracy is essential for social justice and equity.
And finally, we should discuss a world where the right to question is not conditional. There are no conditions for democracy, it is or it isn’t. There is no need for lead up time, no bench marks. Democracy is a human right. The telling of one’s own story and having it heard is a human right. This notion, that democracy requires some pre conditions is false. We should discuss a world where this notion that historical, cultural, and political circumstances in certain parts of the world make some people or societies more able then others to be democratic is deemed self serving for those in power who will not share it. A peaceful and democratic environment cannot exist without politics. In fact, in the absence of politics and debate, there can be no sustainable development.
If the world was such where there was democracy and accountability what would be the stories we’d tell and in the absence of all this, what are the stories we continue to tell and who tells them?
Other Writings by Maniza Naqvi (here).