Celebrating Pakistan – Pakistan Zindabad

Today is the 65th Anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence Day, the day in 1947 that marked Pakistan’s entry into the world as an independent nation, separate from India and the British Raj.

Growing up the holiday was marked for us with a day off from school and a festive atmosphere. While today I sit in an office building that has little clue this holiday exists, the day is forever in my memory. With the emigration of many Pakistanis the holiday has expanded world-wide as people gather in places around the globe to celebrate their country, to hope for their country.

It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to Pakistan. Certainly it has a troubled history when it comes to leadership and, as in any place, it is crucial to separate people from politics. Pakistan is 95% Muslim with a population of over 190 million people. The literacy rate, defined as those over 15 who can read and write, is about 54 percent but drops to 40 percent when looking at women alone.

Pakistan’s median age is 22 years and 95 percent of the country is under 64 years of age. The “school life expectancy rate” (referring to the number of years the average person goes to school in the country) is 7 years.

Events like the flood in 2010, the capture of Osama Bin Laden, and frequent news alerts on and from the country can paint a bleak and depressing picture; a tattered photo of a country assaulted by everything from poverty to terrorism.

But it’s been through my personal experience, speaking to others who know Pakistan well, and through the blogging world that I feel privileged to see an image that goes beyond statistics and lets you feel more of the heart beat of this country.

The recent reunion I attended in Illinois brought together over 150 of us, connected to Pakistan in some way. Through conversations and speakers the picture painted of Pakistan was hopeful. It was a joy to be with people who love and care for Pakistan; those who know God is present and at work in the country.

In honor of the day and the country I have included a slide show “Faces of Pakistan”. As our media assaults us with stories and images that promote fear, it is ever important to remember that countries are made up of people, and people are created in the image of God.

Blogger’s note: One of my favorite bloggers from Pakistan is Zainab Khawaja, a student at NUST (National University of Sciences and Technology), a multi-campus university in Pakistan. Zainab takes her readers from Pakistan to pop culture and everything in between. Another favorite blogger, Khaula Mazhar has written some hilarious essays that can be found on both her blog and in Dawn Magazine. http://khaulamazhar.wordpress.com/. My favorite is called Immigrating Granny. 

Perspective of a Hyphenated Immigrant

Cartoon from Puck, August 9, 1899. Uncle Sam sees hyphenated voters and asks, “Why should I let these freaks cast whole ballots when they are only half Americans?”

One of my friends posted an article yesterday called “U.S. – Pakistan Relations: A Hyphenated Perspective”. It is a thoughtful piece written by a woman who was born in Pakistan, but raised by immigrant parents in the south, specifically Texas. Samreen Hooda has spent far more time in the United States than I have and far less time in Pakistan. She loves the dual heritage of both Pakistani and American traditions – her “dual identity”.  She states

“The commitment to community and family, the concern for the good of the whole and the notion of sacrifice and service are embedded within me from both cultures. There are values and traditions that each side can learn from the other to make their own culture even better.”

But Samreen is concerned and articulates that concern in the article. She tells the story of a co-worker apologizing to her for saying ‘they should bomb everyone in Pakistan for hiding Bin Laden” and goes on to say “but it was just a joke. I didn’t mean sane people like you, just the crazies.” She chose to brush off the comment and not take offense but couldn’t shake it during the day. She used it instead as a way to move her to a thoughtful response that could help others. What distinguished her from the ‘crazies’? Samreen recognizes that with her hyphenated status as Pakistani – American she is suspect. Growing up she didn’t even think to be a hyphenated American, she thought she was just American. She has realized in more recent years that what becomes more important to people is not where she was raised, but the fact that her parents immigrated from “a country too close to Bin Laden’s homeland.”

The term ‘Hyphenated American’ was used as a derogatory term and was descriptive of Americans who were born elsewhere and had an allegiance, not only to America but to a “foreign” land. It was used in the late 1800’s on into the early 1900’s and primarily referred to Irish or German Americans. Like many words, it is time to rewrite the meaning of this word and see it in the best sense as those who are truly bi-cultural and able to move between cultures with ease and understanding. The cartoon above was published in 1899 in Puck magazine to poke fun at the hyphenated American and their right to vote. Given the current political debate on immigration and “being American” it feels right to resurrect the picture.

People like Samreen are the bridge builders in our country. Their understanding of both sides of the world and ability to think critically through complex issues, able to articulate a solid analysis void of finger-pointing is a skill and gift. As Pakistan and the U.S. muddle their way through what Samreen calls the ‘winter of their relationship’, it is the hyphenated Americans like Samreen that can bring perspective to the table.

Ironically, and she points this out well toward the end of the article, we are all hyphenated Americans. Boston is full of proud Irish and Italian Americans. My street in Cambridge is full of Greek Americans, proudly Orthodox and growing grape leaves over vines in the summer. African-Americans, Mexican Americans, Hispanic Americans …about the only thing we don’t have is English Americans. If each of us remembered our heritage, it would be easier to come to the table with thoughtful dialogue, willing to hear the other side.

So, what’s your heritage and what do you think? Add to the discussion in the comment section and be sure to read the article linked below. It brings a great perspective to what we know is a complex issue.  

Related Articles:

Relief or Revelry?

At 11:28 last night I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was dead. Minutes later I was listening to a live feed from President Obama as he gave brief details confirming the news that Osama had been found and killed in a gun battle in a large compound in the city of Abbotabad, Pakistan. Abbotabad is not far from the capital of Islamabad and, like many other places in Pakistan, figures significantly into my past. My sister-in-law grew up a few miles from the city, a best friend from childhood often invited me to spend weekends at her home in Abbotabad, and our equivalent of ‘Junior Prom’ was held in a local hotel. At the time it was a lovely cantonment city with wide tree-lined streets and a feel of modernity as compared to some of the more remote locations in Pakistan.

News of his capture and demise brought me back to the hours following 9/11 when my daughter and I sat in a town outside of Boston watching television, praying that the day’s events hadn’t been orchestrated by Muslim extremists, only to discover moments after that Al Qaeda was claiming responsibility and the figure of Osama Bin Laden rose to world-wide notoriety. And it’s been a long road since then for victims of 9/11, victims of wars, moms and dads of victims, and tired citizens. One of my colleagues from a previous job lost her daughter on 9/11 – she was engaged to be married and had visited her parents, returning to her fiancée in New York that morning. My sense is that she is experiencing deep relief and perhaps closure as she takes in the news of last night.

Perhaps my personal feelings most resemble those I felt earlier in the evening while in a theater watching Hanna – a movie released only a couple of weeks ago. There are a couple of truly evil people in the movie and as I watched their ruthless actions and disregard for human life I wanted them dead. I felt relief when they died and could no longer hunt for a teenager who, seemingly through no will of her own, was trained to kill. I felt relief and satisfaction for justice served. In real life as I watched the news I was well aware that while a man, significant in orchestrating tragic events and becoming the face of evil, was now dead the problem of evil remained. Later as I watched reactions through pictures and video I was struck that there is a difference between relief and revelry, something of the frat party variety. Revelry makes this seem like cheap entertainment of the B-movie genre as opposed to a real act in a real world with real victims. Revelry seems to spit in the face of a creator God – not willing that any should perish. Relief as in pain taken away and distress relieved, particularly for those directly affected seems right and proper. And when I drill a little deeper, my relief is colored with sadness of lives wasted.

So relief or revelry? What’s right? A friend of mine dug deeper than I this morning and put her feelings into these words: “Pleased that justice is done. But it disturbs me to see rejoicing in the streets over the death of human life. How can we condemn others for rejoicing in the streets over death of Americans if we’re doing the same thing? She goes on to quote this: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?…..For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” Ezekiel 18:23, 32