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A world without the West

Publication Date : 17-10-2012


A little over a week ago, Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The country, already bearing the burden of daily barbarities, stood stunned.

And then, the world found out — the Western world with its generalities and reductions, a world intent on insisting that all Pakistani women are hapless and miserable and all Pakistani men are brutes. There were paeans to Malala in the New York Times and in the Washington Post.

In Pakistan, this made some squirm, including those genuinely affected by Malala’s plight. What is Western, after all, is unequivocally bad. Some made excuses, saying that they didn’t agree with the mass outpouring of emotion; others made up conspiracies or pointed fingers.

Pakistanis, especially those of the urban educated middle class, are the most recent conscripts of the anti-Western rampage that was until recent years only a staple of Islamist politics on the Pakistani far right.

Many would argue they have good reason for joining the ranks. The decade after 9/11 has seen a slow, steady throttle — leaving Pakistan’s technical exports, its doctors, computer engineers, software programmers, without a route to the jobs abroad that sustained their educational aspirations.

The United States, for example, has denied visas to Pakistani doctors often even those with the highest scores possible on the US medical licence exams. The fate of those bound for Canada, the UK or Australia has not been markedly better.

As those degree-toting individuals, rejected by foreign consulates, will gladly tell you, the skilled Pakistani worker, the computer scientist from Karachi, the doctor from Lahore or the engineer from Quetta is not in demand in the world.

Labels have been indiscriminately, even cruelly, applied to those who never had even the barest sprinkling of terrorist sympathy and spent their lives condemning extremism but who have now been left suddenly with the burden of those whose acts condemn them to global isolation.

Understandably then, if the West rejected Pakistan without logic, so too must they reject the West with an equal irrationality.

The rejected workers are not the backbone of anti-Western sentiment in Pakistan but they add a crucial element to the argument of those with no hope of participation in a globalised world.

With their joining together, the illogicality of isolationism has burgeoned from something on the margins to a national fungus, its tentacles cast into a variety of issues, treating each with an alarming superficiality.

One of these has been the recent debate in parliament and the Supreme Court on the issue of dual nationality and political office. The avowed intent of restrictions on dual nationality is to ensure that only the most loyal, interpreted as those holding only a Pakistani citizenship, can have the opportunity to serve the country.

However, in the tradition of what is illogic, the mechanisms have been shoddy. At the core of the relevant constitutional provision’s failure is its blindness to the fact that the wealthiest Pakistanis, each holding more than US$2 million in foreign bank accounts, can easily purchase in a short time citizenship to a variety of Western nations through investor programmes.

In this way, the dual nationality provision would enable action only for the culprits easiest to catch.

Instead of including in this ambit those hiding their money abroad while merrily being patriotic Pakistanis with a single passport (for the moment) it would penalise those who may have run off with medical degrees, made a few pennies abroad and then returned to Pakistan under the misguided impression that their skills would be welcomed at home.

Because the logic of anti-Western sentiment targets those easiest to catch or those already hated, Pakistani women have borne an inordinate share of accusing fingers.

Whether they are gang-rape survivors like Mukhtaran Mai or Oscar winners such as Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy or now activists like Malala Yousufzai their patriotism, achievements and courage are all open to question once they are unfortunate enough to be the subject of global attention.

Those Pakistanis infected by the feverish irrationality of the most superficial anti-Westernism will judge them then not for their bravery, honesty or capacity for aspiring to a vision. Their words will be weighed not for their truth but always against some invisible standard of loyalty, one that crucifies every success and stubbornly demands the correction of centuries of each and every western wrong.

Sitting in the path of convoys for wars they did not start, dealing with debts taken by politicians they do not represent, plagued by poverty and terrorism and unemployment, an energy crisis and a revenue crisis, Pakistanis can certainly claim the position of the world’s most disgruntled nation.

Anti-Westernism is a useful panacea in this regard, allowing for vast stores of helpless hatred to be directed somewhere outward at those who have options or escapes.

Arguing for some doses of logic to break this fever of hating the West is much like trying to rehabilitate the most unwilling of addicts. Nevertheless, the distinction may be instructive for those who can take out a moment to consider its implications.

While redemptive for the moment, the all-consuming wish for a West-less world also represents a suspension of ethics and morality. In a Pakistan where acts of bravery and service are judged not on the basis of their own value, it is not religion or ideology that determines whether something is good or bad. What determines the latter is the single, crucial test of whether or not it is tainted by the corrosive, impure influence of the West.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.


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