Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Physically Illogical

-This was written in response to an article in Express Tribune on 4th January, 2010. It was an excerpt of one of Pervez Hoodbhoy's talks.

While reading the article published under Pervez Hoodbhoy’s name, entitled ‘Why do they pick on us Pakistanis?’ I was still trying to assess the arguments when I hit the second last paragraph.

“For example, Imran Khan — who speaks of the West as the fountainhead of evil — prefers to keep his family in London and New York, owes his fame to a game invented by British colonialists, and employs real doctors rather than hakeems for his cancer hospital.”

Now, I have never been to MIT, and do confess to having limited education, but clearly, logical thought is not part of their curriculum for physicists. Before I move on to the rest of the article, the mind-blowing absurdity of this statement has to be addressed. While criticising Imran Khan’s choice to keep his family abroad seems a reasonable argument in pointing out his hypocrisy (which it is not… but we’ll come to that), the good doctor has seen fit to point to his fame in a ‘colonial’ game, and his employment of medical professionals as signs of his closet western-ness.

So apparently, anyone who indulges in the most popular sport in the subcontinent automatically loses his license to criticise any action being conducted in the West (of course, it’s all one big area over there that invented the game among their other achievements). Anyone who has ever been to a doctor is also out. Unless you frequent hakeems or any other local forms of medical professionals, you too have no right to criticise the West. I’m assuming this is because ‘the West’ gave us modern medicine. Presumably, anyone who has ever used algebra in America has no right to criticise Arab policy either.

Let’s move on from this staggeringly illogical statement, with the assumption it was made in a moment of madness, and try to get to the core of the text. Firstly, the idea is presented that Pakistanis have a hard time at American Immigration because of a bad track record. While I can understand the frustration and humiliation of people subjected to ‘the special line’, the measure in itself is logical enough.

The second point, however, seems a little extreme. The only two options that presented themselves to Dr. Hoodbhoy during his inflamed rage towards the American bombing of Vietnam were either to bomb Harvard Square or to leave the country. Why was he not out there, protesting like everyone else? Why was he not withholding taxes or picketing the White House? Of course, his move in itself is commendable, he returned to Pakistan, and the impoverished country no doubt gained an eminent physicist. But his flight did little to pacify the Vietnamese. I don’t know, perhaps he did protest, but his return to Pakistan made the war go away, at least for him.

Then, in the soul-searching that ensued, Dr. Hoodbhoy came to another staggering conclusion. Since injustice against the weak has been practiced by every strong party in history, the weak should just accept it and get on with their lives. Quite brilliant!

The article then turns into an ode to Western liberalism. People are safer there to practice their religions, their rights are secure and so on and so forth. Critics of the US are not contending any of this. Even extremists like Faisal Shehzad never claimed they were protesting local American prejudice. The US comes under attack from the likes of Imran Khan because of their overbearing ‘bull in a China shop’ foreign policy. In the sentence where Dr. Hoodbhoy mentions the decency of Americans in protecting Muslims in their own country, he is also completely flippant about the two illegal wars that George W. Bush started which killed thousands of people. Of course, I forgot, it’s the way the world works.

US forces currently occupy bases all the way from Pakistan to North Africa, where they prop up despotic, repressive regimes. They have gone against UN policy time and time again, and bombed innocent civilians in almost every part of the globe. People in these areas do not have the option of going home and forgetting all about it.

Obviously, I am not endorsing terrorism, but surely the only other solution is not to lie down and accept the status quo as morally correct. Pervez Hoodbhoy seems as resigned to being a second rate citizen of the world community, tiptoeing around American whim, as he claims minorities are in Pakistan.

Finally, let’s make the distinction between Pakistani Americans, and Pakistani students in America. Pakistani-American’s who live in America, and have adopted the American way of life should of course be shunning radicalism and violence, but that’s not the entire story. They do also have a right, and perhaps to some extent, a responsibility to protest and criticise unjust actions by their own (or as Dr. Hoodbhoy would prefer ‘adopted’) government. They are not there to quietly and apologetically keep their heads down, and keep out of sight; they are there to live a normal life.

Pakistani students, on the other hand, could, and should be acting as ambassadors. They should obviously be shunning radicalism in their own country, but also educating common Americans about what makes the US so unpopular in the third world.

Perhaps, from a purely practical perspective, one could argue that immigrants should try to adapt to their host country, but surely commentators in Pakistan have the right to criticise Western policy they disagree with?

As this is an excerpt, I suspect (and hope) that there is a great deal that is incoherent and could possible be taken out of context, but by and large, the apologetic theme that is willing to fatalistically accept illegal wars, while criticising its blowback is troubling. Perhaps if eminent Pakistani intellectuals such as Pervez Hoodbhoy were able to make more of a fuss about the injustices of American foreign policy and its disastrous effect on Pakistan, misguided youths such as Faisal Shehzad would not feel the need to express their own discontent in such a violent way. Instead our leading minds tend to shirk away from any such responsibilities, perhaps for fear that the next time they won’t even have the opportunity to stand in the slow-moving line.

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