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Posts Tagged Diversity

The Other Side of Pakistan is Modern and Moderate By Farhana Qazi

The Other Side of Pakistan is Modern and Moderate

Pakistan is misunderstood. It’s been called the ally from hell, a hard country,  and one of the worst places to be a woman. I’ve spent my entire life traveling back and forth to Pakistan, the country of my birth. To talk to people. To meet relatives. Most of all, I go to Pakistan to look beyond the headlines that defines Pakistan as a country ruled by the Taliban, thugs, and terrible politicians. Some of this is true. Most of it is not true.

There’s another side of Pakistan that is rarely covered by the mainstream news media in the West.

The other side of Pakistan is modern, moderate, and magical.

In spring 2014, I spent  months traveling through Pakistan, from the northern snow-clad mountains to the urban metro-cities. I found women who were dancing divas, decorated brides, and distinguished politicians. These women defy the Western branding that women are oppressed and obsolete. The opposite is true: the women I met are visible and vivacious. They counter the stereotype that Muslim women are second-class citizens.

Divas, dancers, and decorated brides

Divas, dancers, and decorated brides

Diversity & the Dress Code 

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As a former instructor for the U.S. military, I often used this slide to consider who is not a Muslim woman. I had a simple teaching point: Muslim women can be secular, spiritual, tribal, traditional, modern, and choose to cover or not cover with a hijab.

It comes as no surprise that many people mistakenly judge Muslim women by their attire. Her dress or what she wears is often a cultural identifiable marker and in some cases, her dress can determined her religiosity or lack thereof. For example, most women I know draped in a niqaab, an ankle-length dress that shields a woman’s body and her face, are ultra-conservative; some are tribal. Many of these women believe that covering their face is required in Islam and the greatest form of purity and modesty. Other women oppose the niqaab and the face veil altogether, arguing this so-called modest dress is reflected of cultural practice, not religious doctrine. Whatever the niqaab means, the reality is that there is no agreement among Muslim women on the rules of modesty.

A woman’s dress code should be a personal choice.

Returning to the earlier question, there are three women who are not Muslim: top center (the woman in a blue turban is Sikh); and the two images on the bottom left (the woman with the red dot or bindi on her forehead is a Hindu; the woman next to her in a white turban is Sikh).

Redefining Women’s Roles Within Society

For centuries, women in Islam have been redefining their roles and responsibilities. The same is true in Pakistan, a country on the edge of modernity. Nine months ago, I traveled through the country, meeting with women who are determined, destined, and dedicated to forging a new identity.

Women are finding new ways to empower themselves.

For some, empowerment equals a good education and/or equal opportunities in the workplace. In a patriarchal, patrilineal country like Pakistan, this hasn’t been easy. An interview with one of Pakistan’s female parliamentarian leader in the northern town of Mansehra told me, “We can get ahead if we work beside men, not against them.”

Screenshot 2015-02-18 21.17.15 I remember the late Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister at the age of 35, who set a new standard for women. I met her in Washington, D.C., before she returned to Pakistan after eleven years in exile.

Bhutto was banned from Pakistan during her second term in office on allegations of corruption. Her husband, Zardari, was thrown in jail and Bhutto fled the country for Dubai with her three children.

Bhutto’s return to Pakistan to participate in elections set for winter 2007 was an emotional stepping stone.

Tragically, the barbaric Pakistani Taliban shot Benazir in the back of her head during a political rally, killing her instantly on December 27, 2007. Like many Pakistanis, I can never forget that day. I appeared on CNN with other supporters. Everyone I knew grieved her death.

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Before Bhutto, a sophisticated, slender woman named Fatimah Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan’s founder, graced the new nation with her presence. She is featured prominently on billboards and in paintings and photographs, standing tall next to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s British-educated and secular leader. Coined the “Mother of the Nation,” Fatimah helped women like my women take part in political activism and join the Pakistan Army, albeit briefly. In the city of Aligarh, India (before the birth of Pakistan), Jinnah said:

No nation can rise to the height of glory without its women.

Before the birth of Pakistan, Fatimah Jinnah closed her dental practice to live with her brother after his wife’s death. She went with her brother on the political campaign trail and helped him raise his only daughter. Years before Benazir Bhutto would enter the political limelight, Fatimah became a role model for women. Fatimah made it possible for hundreds of Pakistani women to participate in general elections and protest in the civil disobedience movement of the late 1940s. When Jinnah died, Fatimah continued her political activism and stood against Pakistan’s military dictator, Ayub Khan, in an unfair contest. Had the election been fair, she would have won.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 18.06.28Pakistan Today: Complex and Controversial

The country of my birth is changing and rapidly. In the metropolitan cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, sprawling communities of elitist, educated, and empowered women are reshaping the country. Because they have access to money, power and status, these women can afford to be bold and brazen in their actions and activities.

Some are super models, fashion designers (including my own rising star cousin, Faiza Amjad with her brand, Meenakar), TV stars, savvy business women, stylish politicians (think Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the U.S.), twinkle-eyed talk show hosts, and singers.

Some appear in public cloaked in subtle colors; others prefer flirty crayon colored dresses and megaheels. No matter what their style, these women are classic beauties.

With their fashion and accessories, these women want to be visible. They demand attention. In her timeless charm, Bushra Gohar–the first female Vice President of a Pashtun (mostly male) political party called the Swami National Party–appears in public as convincing and confident.

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When I met Gohar in New York, at a conference on Pakistan, we talked about her struggles as woman growing up in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

I had to work hard to get to where I am today. I chose not to marry and devote my life to improving the lives of other women in the tribal belt, she said.

Of all the women from Pakistan, I admire my mother the most. In the 1960s, Mama joined a political party founded by Benazir’s father, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a man my mother nearly worshipped. Mama rallied behind his party’s axiom Roti, Kapra aur Makanor bread, clothing and housing.

Bhutto gained enormous public support for his party by appealing to the poor and agrarian masses of Pakistan. After a decade of failed military rule, Pakistanis welcomed the new face. Mama said:

After the 1965 war ended, I joined the party and became a PPP loyalist. My other mother didn’t like it but she couldn’t stop me.

Working for the party gave Mama freedom of mobility. She didn’t need her eldest brother to accompany her because the family supported the PPP. She didn’t need a bodyguard to look after her honor or ensure her safety. During the election year of 1971, Mama acted independently.

I enjoyed that time. I was part of something larger than myself, she said.

Mama was well prepared for political activism.  She had mastered public speaking by taking part in debate competitions. Once, when Mama was about twenty years old, she defeated my uncle, Tariq Mahmood, who later became Pakistan’s Minister of Interior and then Secretary of Communications, and has since retired from the Foreign Service. Mama also loved to perform. She danced to classic Indian songs. She played basketball, volleyball and enjoyed gymnastics. Mama laughed aloud when she remembered jumping through a ball of fire—a common theatrical stunt at her college.

Nargis Perveen, my mother

Nargis Perveen, my mother

Mama went door-to-door with her one-line slogan. Let the women vote! On the front page of a national newspaper, Mama raised her fist, her brown hair tied back in a braid. “I wanted women to vote for Bhutto because I believed he could change Pakistan. But first, women had to come out of their homes.” Mama knew men had power over women.

Everything in Pakistan begins with men. They control the country. A woman survives only because of men.

And therein lies the dark truth.

Despite what women have achieved in Pakistan, the country remains patriarchal and patrilineal.

Read More: http://farhanaqazi.com/

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Voices of Pakistan: Why do Pakistanis Have Such Mixed Opinions About America? – by Sobia Ali

Voices of Pakistan: Why do Pakistanis Have Such Mixed Opinions About America? – by Sobia Ali


I belong to the minority of people who actually know the correct pronunciation of “Abbottabad,” unlike President Obama, or Jon Stewart because I grew up there. While I have always taken interest in socio-political issues in Pakistan, this time it was a little surreal.

Walk into an average household in Pakistan in the late afternoon and its not unusual to find middle aged men gathered over tea and biscuits discussing politics with a healthy dose of lambasting America. Its also not uncommon to find them charmed by the likes of Angelina Jolie or the prospects of sending their children for higher education to America.

Why do Pakistanis have such mixed opinions about America? On the one hand, they love American pop culture, jeans, and Hollywood. On the other, the percentage of people that view the United States as favorable is lower in Pakistan than in Egypt, Lebanon, or in the Palestinian territories.

So it’s no wonder that the Western world struggles to understand Pakistanis. I sometimes wonder if we Pakistanis even understand ourselves. In this section, we will use the powerful combination of citizen journalism and social media to explore these questions, and others.

As a member of the HuffPost Tech Team, I approached the editorial side after the event in Abbottabad. I felt there was a strong need to explore the diversity of viewpoints among Pakistanis to make sense of the complex and vulnerable relationship between Americans and Pakistanis. I felt that an honest and open social dialogue was crucial.

We have been gathering opinions from Pakistanis on a range of issues via Skype, email, and personal interviews on the streets. This series, Voices of Pakistan, will pull together their responses to our questions, as well as commentaries from a diverse group of writers and bloggers.

The first thing to know about Pakistanis is that they are not a monolithic group, and questions like, “What do Pakistanis think?” will never have a single right answer.

Like any country with hundreds of millions of people, Pakistan is heterogeneous, varied, and complex, comprising multiple ethnicities, languages, and cultures. While the Islamic religion unites the majority of Pakistanis, it also divides them at the sectarian level, often violently.

There are too many people suffering in Pakistan because of extremism, illiteracy, and poverty. I worry about the country I grew up in. I would like to see a shift in the focus of the media from the stereotypes to the more positive aspects of Pakistanis that can be tapped and utilized as a tool to drive social change. We have developed this forum as a place where Pakistanis can be heard speaking for themselves. Resolution will come, but not without a diagnosis.

Below are some of the preliminary responses we have gathered to our questions:

The first question we asked Pakistanis was “What would you like America and the rest of the world to know about Pakistan that you feel they don’t right now?”

Azhar Ali, 65, retired professor believes that the US should have attempted to understand the dynamics of the Pakistani nation and its people instead of focusing on the Pakistan military.

“Ignoring the aspirations of throbbing nation of 180 million people for so long has wounded the Pakistani nation psyche irreparably and the military is no more all powerful due to self inflicted serious wounds.“

Arsalan believes that its the paradoxical nature of the nation that makes it hard to understand.

“Not all of us want to kill you or rob you but a few of us might. We’re a land of paradoxes in so many ways that its almost farcical, a land of rebels and conformists, philanthropists and con artists, murderers and poets.“

Unknown-8Many others who responded were concerned by Western media’s portrayal of Pakistan.

“I think Americans think that we are all stereotypes,” said Syed Harris Hassan, 22, a university student in Islamabad. “They think that all the people in Pakistan are extremists, intolerant, unaccepting and support terrorism.“

Hassan, like others, said that the majority of Pakistanis aren’t extremists and “we hate terrorists just like everyone else does.”

And some wanted the world to know that Pakistan has bigger problems than terrorists

“The people of Pakistan suffer hugely from illiteracy corruption violence and poverty. Most people do back breaking work all day just to put food on the table for their families.“ said Rabia Sultan, a 30-year-old cardiologist from Karachi who currently lives in New York.

We also heard responses like “Americans have done enough” and “Stay out of our country.”

“What Americans don’t understand about Pakistan is getting their way always through powerful Pakistan military is not the best approach. Whenever they were in a spot the military helped them in working out a quick fix while the nation looked on disinterestedly. Ignoring the aspirations of throbbing nation of 180 million people for so long has wounded the Pakistani nation psyche irreparably and the military is no more all powerful due to self inflicted serious wounds. The strategy would have worked well for the Americans, had it been an insignificant state geopolitical in the deep of Africa. But underrating a vibrant nation of sixty percent youth had been a capital sin. Now the Americans are running between the threatening pillar of Pakistani nation and threatened Pakistan Military post to get their nuts out of the fire. Result is not difficult to imagine.”

Azhar Ali, 65, lives in Islamabad and is a retired professor.

“Not all of us want to kill you or rob you but a few of us might. We’re a land of paradoxes in so many ways that its almost farcical, a land of rebels and conformists, philanthropists and con artists, murderers and poets. Pakistan is the best and worst of humanity existing side by side ripping apart everything in the middle Most of us live in remote and disconnected villages and wouldn’t know Osama Bin Laden from Justin Bieber and are too hungry to care.

Time is not money in Pakistan its time, we have plenty of time but no money We all live in a state of permanent confusion, anarchy and fear, terrible things happen around us every day. Yet strangely enough we seem to bundle along and miraculously and almost stubbornly manage to retain some hope.”

Arsalan Khan, 24, lives in Karachi and is a University Student.

“I think Americans think that we are all stereotypes. They think that all the people in Pakistan are extremists, intolerant, unaccepting and support terrorism. I want to let them know that the general people in Pakistan live their lives as do people in United States. We love peace, we like freedom, we are terrified when there is a suicide blast, and we hate terrorists just like everyone else does. There is a particular group which believes in extremism and is intolerant towards other religions and cultures, but they are not in the majority.”

Syed Harris Hassan, 22, lives in Islamabad and is a University Student.

“The people of Pakistan suffer hugely from illiteracy corruption violence and poverty. Most people do back breaking work all day just to put food on the table for their families. They often live incredibly sad lives with great dignity. In spite of this religious fanaticism and mass violence in Pakistan did not find roots till the soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I’d also like to remind people that a country that can barely feed its own people is the 5th largest army in the whole world . This is because for most of its existence Pakistan has been America’s military ally run by military dictators. If there hadn’t been this huge military collaboration then perhaps Pakistan would probably have a smaller military and better education and human rights today.”

Rabia Sultan, 30, was born in Karachi currently living in New York City, where she is a cardiologist in Brooklyn.

“Pakistanis have never voted for religious parties’ en masse at the most their vote bank is 4-6%, BUT 4-6% of 180 million are still a lot of people and when fraction of that segment turn up in streets to burn American flag, although it makes for good t.v, but it doesn’t really make the whole country nuts.

It’s a misnomer that Pakistan is an extremist country. It’s a country which has had the rule of one institution and one intuition only for the past 52 years. It has had facade of democratic governments but at NO POINT civilians made defense policy OR foreign policy or even economic policy. Whenever civilians have tried to take the reins, they have either been hanged, forced to exile or shot dead in broad-daylight.

Americans should also know that Pakistan doesn’t need to be an inherent beggar. It has enough agricultural growth, industrial infrastructure, natural resources and the human-material to stand on its own feet. Our tax to GDP ratio is at a meager 7%. Like the rest of the civilized world if its around 17-19%, it wont solve all our problems, but it will be a start. We currently don’t tax our biggest industry which is agriculture, if we start taxing just big farmers who are literally millionaires in American sense, PLUS we start taxing real estate (anything bigger than 1500 sq. yards), And bring the stock exchange earnings under tax bracket, we wont need IMF anymore. There is a corruption of at least a billion dollars every month at the top/governmental level. A big problem is economy and inflation which fans extremism. When people don’t have a job, no light at the end of the tunnel, brothers/sisters/parents blowing up in pieces either through a drone or by military gunship helicopter OR by a suicide bomber, world is a living hell, THEN paradise and 72 virgins sounds mighty fine. The rush is not to arrive in paradise; the rush is to check out from the hell that we have collectively created for them.

But here is the silver lining. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, majority of
Pakistanis (read punjabis) have come to this conclusion that there is no way forward for
Pakistan but civilian supremacy/democracy.”

Ahmer, 36, grew up in Karachi is now living in Pennsylvania and works as a Tech Consultant.


Source: HuffPost World

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