Ten Thoughts on Afridi’s Remarks about Indians

By Anjum Altaf

Shahid Afridi’s perceptions of Indians and India are now common knowledge. On the way out of the airport returning from Mohali, he said: “I can’t understand the approach of people, why we are against India? Why there is so much hate for India when we have Indian dramas played in every home, our marriage celebrations are done in Indian style, we watch all Indian movies then why to hate them?” A couple of days later, he said: “In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.”

Given the short half-life of such episodes much of the hullabaloo has disappeared. It is time now to move beyond scoring points and to see if some more interesting aspects can be uncovered. In that spirit we present ten thoughts for comments and discussion.

I. AFRIDI IS NOT ALONE

Afridi is not an aberration by any means. These views are heard often from a segment of the population whose precise size, spatial location and personal attributes remains to be mapped. While frequently encountered such views elicit little concern because they remain confined within overlapping supportive and self-reinforcing circles that include institutions of state and civil society like education and the media. Coming out of the mouth of Afridi, who sells everything from shampoo to soft-drinks, the views spilled over into a wider world causing mild embarrassment to some while providing hard ammunition to others.

II. THE SCHIZOPHRENIA IS NOT SURPRISING

Like everyone else, Pakistanis are subject to multiple inputs. At one level is the lived reality that can be seen and felt, the one dominated by a fondness for what are considered Indian cultural influences. At another is the reiteration of the relentless message that forms the ideological underpinning of the Pakistani public school curriculum reinforced by the ideological bent of the Pakistani media. This has to be taken on faith since no can see the size of hearts or assess their state of purity. When the two push in opposite directions, cognitive dissonance is a natural outcome – as Groucho Marx famously said: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” It is understandable that Afridi’s immediate favorable impressions were overwhelmed on reflection as the entrenched messages flooded back.

III. AFRIDI IS NOT TO BLAME

Afridi is not to blame for holding the views he does. He is repeating verbatim what is included in the public school curriculum. It was not Afridi who put in place the curriculum that ‘educates’ succeeding generations. Nor is Afridi in a position to influence the freedom with which the free media ‘informs’ the citizens of the country. Afridi is among the many helpless citizens at the receiving end of education and information that remain unchallenged by those who represent him politically or are otherwise responsible for protecting his interests.

IV. REPRIMANDING AFRIDI IS NOT THE ANSWER

Even the brave can get it wrong. A forceful editorial (Afridi’s political no-ball) in the Express Tribune missed the point when it recommended that Afridi be reprimanded for unsportsmanlike conduct by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and that the latter should educate the players in the decorum of the game. This is not a case of individual failure and blaming the victim is not the answer. It is a good guess that most of the players and a good many of the office-bearers of the PCB subscribe to the same views given that they are the products of the same system of indoctrination that passes for education.

V. BELIEF NOT DIPLOMACY IS WHAT MATTERS

It is not enough to argue that people can hold any views they wish as long as they are diplomatic and do not express them openly. When there is little doubt that a set of beliefs is being deliberately fostered by the state and the media, the validity of the set of beliefs needs to be openly challenged. Hypocrisy is not a healthy recommendation – one should say what one believes and believe what one says. That honest position ought to be the point of departure for an open argument about the logical and moral validity of the sets of competing beliefs.

VI. THE UNEDUCATED MAY BE LESS BIASED THAN THE EDUCATED

It is a major handicap to be uneducated, the unlamented and unquestioned fate of almost half the citizens of Pakistan after over sixty years of freedom. Yet, it is ironic that the uneducated may be less biased than the educated.  In the context of India, the social scientist Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer asked why the educated middle class was more bigoted than the uneducated masses. His answer was profound: “Because they are educated.” What goes in comes out. And when what goes in is a deliberately controlled message of distortion, the outcome is not left to chance. As Bertrand Russell is reputed to have said in another context, very few survive a high school education.

VII. THIS MISEDUCATION IS EASY TO REVERSE

I tested this premise on an uneducated individual and read out to him Afridi’s comments about the relatively bigger and purer hearts of Pakistanis. His response: “If they had bigger hearts why didn’t they win the game?” That doesn’t necessarily follow but the point to note is that the premise was immediately challenged with a question. I added another asking why those with pure hearts were involved in throwing matches and this opened the floodgates. My interlocutor picked up on many more instances where pure hearts were nowhere on display; the entire premise dissolved in about a couple of minutes.

VIII. WHY CRITICAL THINKING IS MISSING IN OUR SCHOOLS

Of course, those who have designed the curriculum are also aware how fragile is the foundation on which it rests. It is no surprise that the first victim of the enterprise is critical thinking that has been banished from educational institutions and the media employed as an ally for constant reiteration of certainties. Critical thinking is never unreservedly welcome in any society – Socrates was put to death for asking too many questions and for not stopping when ordered. As a general rule, societies tolerate only as much critical thinking as is necessary for them to remain competitive in the world. In Pakistan that level is very low; the status quo is maintained by the production of technocrats who are not encouraged to pursue questions to their logical conclusions. Simple answers suffice for most – we are doing poorly because of overpopulation or corruption or lack of morality, etc.

IX. INDIA IS NOT IMMUNE TO THE SAME MALADY

The struggle over the curriculum exists in India as well. So does the commercialization of the job market that puts a premium on hard skills versus the acquisition of knowledge that promotes critical thinking. The evolving nature of corporate globalization is such that it is no longer necessary to convince the majority of students or parents that it is pointless to study history or psychology or literature, the kinds of subjects that have multiple answers to most questions. It is the engagement with such questions that nurtures respect for different opinions, the ability to think of alternative explanations, and the art of argumentation to determine the robustness of the various propositions. It is the good fortune of India that there are many more countervailing forces in the country so that it is not possible for any one view to completely steamroller all others.

X. INDIA CAN HELP PAKISTAN AND ITSELF BY REACTING SMARTLY

Any response from Indians that restricts itself to scoring points over the Afridi remarks would miss the wood for the trees. Proving that all Pakistanis are bigoted and anti-India, even if true, does not offer a strategy that ensures a neighborhood in which India can prosper. There is diversity in every society and there are many in Pakistan who share the desire for a peaceful and prosperous region. This needs an Indian strategy that empowers the latter and reverses the designs of the Pakistani state. Allowing more Pakistanis to encounter India first-hand would be a key element of a smart strategy to strengthen the influence on perceptions of lived reality. In cricket, allowing Pakistanis to participate in the IPL would enable the articulation of views by other players that challenge those of every Afridi. Beyond cricket, scholarships for talented Pakistanis and exchange opportunities for academics would begin to turn the tide of opinion. There is need to catalyze a debate in Pakistani society about the differences and similarities with India and Indians. The Pakistani state has succeeded in stifling such a discussion and a mechanical tit-for-tat response from India has played along to the loss of the region. Reflecting on the Afridi episode and crafting a smart response can offer a win-win path for South Asia.

A description and analysis of the public school curriculum in Pakistan can be accessed here.

 

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9 Responses to “Ten Thoughts on Afridi’s Remarks about Indians”

  1. Ten thoughts on Afridi’s remarks about Indians « Asian Window Says:

    [...] More here [...]

  2. Nithyanand Says:

    Very well said. It’s also true that here in India, we have to be vigilant about changes in the school curriculum.

    You said,”…history or psychology or literature, the kinds of subjects that have multiple answers to most questions.” While I agree with the general bent of that statement, I must disagree. I’m not a humanities student. Even in science, it’s possible, indeed, inevitable, that there are multiple answers to most questions. It is the very nature of science, not just the humanities. But I get your point about parents devaluing humanities and the social sciences. But the fact that one is a “technocrat” doesn’t have to mean that one’s thoughts are one-dimensional.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Nithyanand: I agree that there are also multiple answers in science but that is at the level of research. I was referring to teaching in high school. Most of the time the assignments comprise of numerical questions in math and the sciences and these have one correct answer that is found at the end of the book. This is not the case in the social sciences and humanities. If one is given an essay to write on the causes of poverty there is no one correct answer at the end of the book. The value of the answer depends upon the coherence and logic of the argument and its persuasiveness compared to competing answers – it’s like a debate which teaches the skill of listening carefully and thinking critically.

      The thought process of a technocrat does not need to be one-dimensional; it depends upon the nature of the education. That is the reason universities in the West have a core requirement of courses that develop critical thinking. This essential part of education has declined considerably in South Asia.

      There has been quite a discussion about these issues on the blog. Some of the posts you would find of interest are the following:

      http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/education-humanities-and-science/

      http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/education-a-critique-of-mark-slouka/

      http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2008/07/15/milton-and-ghalib/

      The Ghalib Project on the blog was initiated as a response to these arguments:

      http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/ghalib/

  3. Vijay Says:

    Agree with most of the points except the allowing of Pakis to make money from India. Come here for tourism…no problems. Come here to ply your trade…forget it! The thing is, we are sick of Pakistani obsession over India. We have moved on yet Pakis are trying to pull us back. Pakis and Indians are not the same people immaterial of how many wrongly-informed ppl may claim. If a pakistani was to feel that he and the Indians are the same peoples then it would totally invalidate the existence of Pakistan as a nation. But yes we can live together even without being the same people. However, right now Pakistan is beyond help. It needs a revolution and an assertion from inside…let it boil over. It cannot be repaired. It needs an overhaul…a whole new design…a whole new nation. Pakistan needs to be reborn in a way. And as an Indian it is not even in the top 10 list of priorities for me as a citizen of my country to bother about Pakistan…sorry but that’s the lived reality. Pakistan is a non-issue for most of us…we couldn’t care less.
    All the terrorist attention grabbing exercises and reacting to those is just adding fuel to those elements in Pakistan. Enough is enough…sometimes you just cannot reason with a bigot. Individuals within both countries are bigots and sane but the country as a whole, I am afraid India has earned its status as a ‘sane’ nation and Pakistan has earned its bigot label.
    I don’t see a point in engaging with Pakistan. I’d rather wait for Pakistan to be reborn than engage them.
    And truth be told, I want Pakis to miss out hugely on all the money they could have made in India. No Paki players in IPL, no Paki artisans selling stuff in India, no filmi fellows here to earn a buck. Please feel free to come here and visit the place as tourists but no we are fed up of allowing you to eat from our country and shit here.
    Two days after that remark Afridi starts crying that Pakis need to be allowed in the IPL. I am more than happy he feels the pinch…I want the Pakis to know this fully well: you don’t come to my country and find this easy meat for your taqqaiyya crap. Enough is enough. Keep crying that you can’t participate in the IPL. When you have cried enough ask yourselves why the Indians have put their foot down. When you analyze and get to the root cause then make the necessary changes to your attitudes and then come to us and insha allah we will embrace you

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vijay: This is a popular attitude but it has a few loose ends that need to be tied. Pakistan is a non-issue for most Indians who would rather not engage with it but it remains a fact that what happens in Pakistan imposes a cost on India. Therefore, like it or not, the issue cannot be ignored. If that is so, is it good strategy to wait for Pakistan to be reborn because it might be reborn as a bigger problem? Would it not be better to help shape that rebirth in a way that is beneficial for India?

      I can see the emotional pull of not wanting Pakis to make money off India. The difficult decisions arise only when emotion and reason point in different directions. Suppose whoever you put your faith in, a consulting group or an astrologer, were to tell you that the best strategy for India is to let Pakis make money off India. How would you respond?

  4. Vijay Says:

    Sorry, you either are too naive to understand the realities or are living in a utopian world, or expect a Utopian existence. No matter how much you try to convince yourself, what happens in Pakistan is not even the tenth news item for me living in India…and for the majority of Indians.

    When you say “with it but it remains a fact that what happens in Pakistan imposes a cost on India”, you are mistaken. It is a cost on India only in some places like Kashmir. And the occasional terrorist attack. Yes life is lost and lots more stuff is lost thru such attacks but we Indians have realized that it is our reaction to these acts that is giving Paki terrorists the motivation to continue. We have become smarter and we care a damn for Pak. Even the regular bigot on the street is looking for a ‘new enemy’. Pakistan is a non-issue for 95% of India and the sooner you guys get this into your heads the better for yourselves.

    You argue, “be reborn because it might be reborn as a bigger problem?”. That is upto the Pakis to decide…do you wanna be reborn as a peace loving people or bigots. If the latter is the answer then India need not bother about you, the rest of the world will send you the Afghan/Iraq way. And if required, we will not hesitate to chop you off. After all as world citizens it is better to amputate a people than letting their virus spread to other parts of the body.

    You, as general day-to-day Pakis need to be more clear as to where you wanna go and stop your ISI and Military’s obsession with India. Go earn a living, find a way to build the nation instead of hoping that the padosis will become as miserable as you. That is what you have been doing for decades and its high time you realize that’s not the way to go.

    You argue, “The difficult decisions arise only when emotion and reason point in different directions.” You are not understanding that this is not an emotional decision…an emotional decision will be to react and go to war. This is a cold, calculate, rational decision…suffocate you off any economic goodies from our side but make you see how much there is for the common man to embrace. One generation will pass with grudge in their hearts, the second will question the grudge and the third will embrace the new peaceful mindset. If the current generation is like you, rational and willing to change, then I see the whole process advancing by a generation and a half…which is good, right?

    Here’s the thing…it is by design…well thought out rational decision by Indians who have had enough of your taqqaiyya politics. The way to fight a bigot who uses taqqaiyya tactics is to use similar tactics against him. I dont mind becoming a temporary bigot and use such tactics when the long term goal can be achieved.

    To me our current stance is a very well thought out stance: allow you to experience our hospitality, our culture, our traditions, we will smile and welcome you as guests. But oh no, nothing beyond that…think about earning buck from India, out you go!

    Afridi is not the first instance. Two years back Sohail Tanvir did the same. People in the BCCI are also as human as me and you and will definitely feel hurt when someone does things like that. And I hope that they are doing this consciously and that this boycott is not just by chance.

    More than anything, this boycott has been orchestrated by the corporate honchos who own IPL teams. These are the same honchos who convinced Vajpayee against a full fledged war with Pakistan in 99. The same fellows who pleaded and argued with Vajpayee that war in 99 would disrupt our nation’s growth. Now that we are in a position to stand by ourselves we will fight our war, but we will fight it with thousand times more taqqaiyya than you can imagine. We’ve had enough of this stuff.

    Here’s what I suggest…instead of hoping for understanding from India, please direct your energies to making your people see that their obsession with India is rather cheap…I mean how cheap can your country’s folks get? They are obsessed about an entity that couldn’t care less whether you live or die. Drill this into their heads and make them see that progress comes through peace. Once you make moves towards peace then expect us to accept your extended arms of understanding. Till then, we will smile at you, welcome you to visit the mainland, enjoy your stuff, but ah…dont go further than that.

    Sorry I am so cynical about Pak right now. But as such I am a very tolerant individual and I do have good friends in Pakistan too (Sialkot…a chap I met in Manila). I am just a lil too tired arguing exactly from the perspective that you are doing for years and finding not many takers in Pak for it. So I’d rather go by results for now and measure my own involvement with Pakistani stuff based on that…results.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vijay: I don’t have a problem with this if you believe this is the most effective strategy for India but opinions can differ. Some things are not measured the way you are measuring them. Iraq was not even the tenth news item for people living in the US or for the majority of Americans; still there was some reason that made the US go in there. Geo-political calculations have little to do with popular opinion.

  5. Vijay Says:

    Luckily Indian politicos are not as bigoted as the Americans to go raping other countries. We are not a war mongering nation like USA. For their polity war is a business (otherwise how will the multi-trillion dollar weapons industry survive?). For us it is very different.

    So pls dont compare us with the US…in fact the very comparison stems from the indoctrination you have had through your life. Against whom has India ever gone to war against? Pakistan and no one else. We are not USA to have an “enemy” every season.

    You may believe what you want to but as an Indian I can tell you that you are not even in the top 10 list of priorities in my country simply because we have lost trust in you and now we know we can progress even while ignoring you.

    Using the US as analogous to India is the worst thing you could have done… the worst really

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vijay: The point was not to compare the moral stature of the US and India. It was to say that decisions on foreign policy, good or bad, do not appear to be determined by the ten things that are most important to citizens.

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