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.