Accepted Selective Prejudice, Identity Crisis and the Threat of Arabianization

Source: camaare.com

Source: camaare.com

I encountered a hilarious article on my facebook feed, which was so pointless, I could hardly believe it found space in print. But then again, it was Daily Mail.

Nevertheless, it is blurted out of a columnist attempting to propagate one of the greatest fallacies in the popular secular-liberal, but not-so-secular-liberal viewpoint. The fallacy being that Persianization of an already Persianized Urdu culture is something secular and that Arabianization of it could threaten its secularism. When it can be safely said that there is hardly any difference linguistically as long as you are looking at the secular aspects, unless it is a choice of aesthetics.

This brings you to the contentious Ramadan Kareem greeting, Ramadan being the more widely recognized transliteration of the fasting month, known in the Indian sub-continent as Ramzan. As the Arabic “dwaad” is pronounded as “zwaad” in Persian and Urdu, which sadly makes Ramadan technically correct if you are speaking Arabic.

It is indeed a borrowed novelty for the natives of the sub-continent which is widely used in English and Arabic media outside Pakistan, qualifying it to be immediately considered a threat to the “Persian” roots of our Urdu speaking population in the sub-continent. As for the myriad of other happily adopted novelties, well let us choose to ignore at the moment.

This is kind of hilarious because it is the educated English speaking urban population which uses it anyway instead of the more religious and conservative circles. Therefore, those adopting the rather alien greeting immediately become a target for ridicule. Ridiculed for adopting something foreign to their usual culture, mind you.

However, the joke is also on the people making fun of it in the first place because their complain is one about Arabian and especially Saudi imperialism and its adverse effects on the sub-continent culture. This is so as apparently, they are perfectly fine with the Persian and Western imperialist influences. So apparently, it is a political matter rather than merely linguistic and semantic. And of course it is also about which cultural invasions you open your arms to and accept.

Are we not supposed to be Indians when we are threatened by the ills of the foreign culture and become defensive of our own? So when Muhammad Bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh is condemned, it would only make sense to hold the Delhi Sultanate invaders, the Afghan and Persian raiders and the Central Asian Turkic Moguls in contempt as well. Likewise, it would also make sense to have little respect for the oppressive Muslim nobles and their culture and language. Why embrace their culture when rejecting that of another?

I understand most of our liberals’ racism against anything and everything Arabic. Its closest analogy is the hatred of Muslim population of Jews for political reasons concerning Israel, as Saudi Arabia is the primary source of this emotion. And there are number of reasons to hate Saudi Arabia, such as their brand of the destructively extremist Wahabi Islam and its malicious infiltration in India, as well as the alleged funding of the Taliban and the alarmingly growing anti-Shia terrorism. All valid reasons.

Perhaps, it is a Sunni-Shia thing after all. And I do share their frustrations about the growing religiosity, which only means violent trouble in Pakistan’s case, but the sort of proposals that are put forth in the article, and are widely endorsed among our enlightened crowd, are simply stupid to an audience which has already not committed to condemn or root for any one side for whatever reasons. To me as an Indian, both Saudi and Persian cultures, are foreign. However, I do not find a reason to hate either of them, except for their equally oppressive political regimes.

What is so good about Persian, Turkish, or Urdu even, I would go on to say, while acknowledging the rejection of Arabic? Urdu being the language developed in the times of the Persian speaking Mogul emperors, heavily borrowing from Persian and Turkish. Is racism of the more enlightened members of our society only reserved for Arabs?

But while I could consider their objections on Arabs (how cruelly and unjustly synonymized with Saudi Arabian) pretty valid, I’d have equal contempt for our Persian and Turkish invaders, and therefore, their culture. Personally I don’t have problem with any one of them though. But it is not about individuals, right?

And what in the world is so secular about “Khuda Hafiz”? Even when the greeting does not involve the Muslim Allah, as your fanatic conservative Muslim would insist on including anyway, it still involves some sort of God. That is not secular last time I checked what secular things are supposed to be. While using the word reason here is an insult to its very spirit, but all of this really shows some twisted reasoning.

But here is the real problem which many native Indian Muslims, who are proud of their motherland culture, forget. Why are they following an imperialistic, oppressive Arabian religion, if they were not to take its cultural dictation? I say this because Islam precisely requires you to do so, at least if you are practicing and religious. It is not just a religion, it requires you to change your lifestyle with a variety of soft and hard threats. It requires you to become a pseudo-Arab.

But of course there are things we still could have amended over the centuries, especially the more “secular” of rulers in Indian history. Why do we offer the namaz, oh wait, salah in Arabic? Even the most devout of Christians in the American South say their prayers in English. Surely. we could have at least done this much. Ideally speaking, had we not accepted Hinduism as our religious heritage, we should have at least come up with our own version of Islam. Oh wait, we have. That branch of Islam is a condemned cult now. Good effort though.

Let’s admit. Indian Muslims, yes especially the secular Pakistani ones, are culturally and even intellectually bankrupt. And it is nothing more than their cultural bankruptcy and badly confused identity, which makes them propagate these absurdities and to end up looking ridiculous. No matter how politically enlightened and self-sufficient they appear to be, they have hardly anything to call their own.

Let it be their faith, their language, whatever ideology they claim to follow, their high claims of ancestry or hilariously even their names. Many of the folks would actually go to great lengths to find a genetic connection outside the sub-continent, especially when it coincides with the Prophet’s lineage. They have a history of worshiping foreign cultures. What a painful identity crisis. 

I have much greater respect for the Hindus who at least pray to their own deities in their own language, despite their tendency of worshiping anyone from outside India too, and who name their children after the adjectives in Ramayana, Vedas and Gita instead of some Arabian book, or after some Persian or Turkic warlord.

The complains of cultural insecurity by our enlightened are not only conceding they have an inferior culture, but also makes them look like the very people they criticize. They remind me of the insecure Pakistani conservatives who would complain of cultural invasions from India and other foreign cultures corrupting their society. Honestly, I hardly see any difference between the two. Both idiots of the highest order.

You know, I would like to propose to the religious-conservatives, the secular-conservatives, the religious-liberals and the secular-liberals among the Muslims of India a better option. Drop all the Arabian and Persian and Sunni and Shia crap, and adopt English as their language of choice. At least, it is completely secular in the context of regional history and has no sectarian politics associated with it.

Considering that the British and the Americans have been and still are our most recent and current masters, let us free ourselves of these hassles by adopting a language which is recognized the world over. And while there is no harm in making fun of each other’s accents, coming up with new dialects is a great way of celebrating diversity. Down with Arabianization and Persianization, let us Anglicize our culture.

Ramzan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, the sub continent is not under the threat of Arabic cultural invasion. It is merely under the threat of the cultural and intellectual bankruptcy of Indian Muslims. As it has always been.

And by Indians, I mean the natives of the sub-continent, especially Pakistanis, the self-hating Indians.

Day 2: Kissa Khwani by The Citizens Archive of Pakistan – “PTV & Radio Pakistan”

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

Source: Kuch Khaas/Muhammad Waheed Photography

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan, a platform dedicated to documenting oral history, organized a three day event called “Kissa Khwani” in Islamabad, named after the famous Kissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar, which was meant to promote the tradition of preserving oral historical accounts and storytelling. On June 21, 2013, the second episode of the three day event, “PTV and Radio Pakistan” was held in Islamabad.

The panelists included Agha Nasir, veteran broadcaster and producer, the pioneering director of Radio Pakistan and the former Managing Director of PTV, Muhammad Zubair, the former Director International Affairs of PTV and the first director of PTV Academy, and playwright, screenwriter and former columnist Ahmed Saleem, who created plays like “Amaawas” and “Kaala Pul“. Kanwal Naseer was also supposed to speak at the event but did not show up for some reason. The event was moderated by journalist, columnist and news anchor Farrukh Khan Pitafi.

A sister event was held in Lahore in which the panelists included Seemi Raheel, Salman Shahid, Naveed Shahzad and director and producer Ayub Khawar and was moderated by Adeel Hashmi and Alizeh Khalid. I really wish I were in Lahore to hear these brilliant speakers. The headline from the more interesting Lahore event was “Zia dictatorship ruined it all“, which was also discussed in Islamabad and immediately brought to mind the hazards of state-imposed censorship.

The Islamabad event kicked off with Agha Nasir presenting a historical account of the formative years of All India Radio. He was actually the only panelist in the entire three day event that mentioned the tragic Kissa Khwani Bazaar massacre, an Amritsar massacre like carnage, at the hands of the soldiers of the British Raj. Nasir mentioned that All India Radio was modeled after the BBC itself and was launched in 1935.

Remarkable pioneers such as Z. A. Bokhari, A. S. Bokhari and Patras Bokhari were engaged for establishing the state radio. Radio stations in present day Pakistan were established in Lahore at the YMCA on the Mall and in Peshawar. According to him, the Peshawar station was donated radio apparatus by Marconi himself. The monthly budget of a radio station used to be Rs. 1,500 per month and its main purpose used to be educational programming.

Agha Nasir expressed great satisfaction over his work at the Radio, despite the fact that it offered low income. According to him, the satisfaction of the work was the greatest factor why great names such as Saadat Hassan Manto and Z. A. Bokhari , apart from many prominent actors and stars, were attracted to the medium.

Muhammad Zubair lamented that the present day media is directionless and has become excessively moralistic and sardonic in its approach. He observed that radio was a medium that empowered him with the faculty of visualization during storytelling. He mourned that television was a medium which actually took that ability away from him.

He complained that the mandate of Pakistan Television of “education, information and entertainment” has eroded over time. He expressed his concern over the degeneration of the media and criticized the growing sensationalism and commercialism. He also expressed his concerns over the lack of censorship.

Playwright Ahmed Saleem mentioned producers and writers who pushed the frontiers of tolerance. He mentioned Dr. Anver Sajjad, Agha Nasir and Iqbal Ansari to be some of the most important names in this regard.

He recalled how his play “Amaawas” became a landmark in pushing the limits of tolerance on state television. The play was directed by Iqbal Ansari which portrayed the female lead played by Bushra Ansari demanding a divorce from the male lead played by Asif Raza Mir. The play stirred a great controversy at the time.

He recalled that people wrote to them objecting to the content of the play, worrying that it could corrupt the minds of women. He also recalled that they received threats from religious groups and clerics for airing such a play. However, he paid a tribute to director Ansari for encouraging him to express himself in the play as he pleased, even though the daring director had to offer an explanation and an apology once the play ended.

He also recalled working for the documentation of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of PTV. However, he left disgusted when many producers started claiming credits for things that were obviously were not their contributions. However, he said that he was proud to write scripts for Shireen Pasha’s landmark documentary on Cholistan.

He recalled that government interventions started plaguing PTV during Yahya’s regime when Tagore and Nazar-ul-Islam were banned in East Pakistan while adding more Urdu content, alienating the Bengali population.

Saleem recalled joining the newspaper “Aman” in the 80s as a television critic and used to interview TV stars. His interviews were criticized for being politically loaded such as the one involving actress Marina Khan in which he quoted her of criticizing the construction of Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. She said that many schools could have been built with that money.

Questions and answers session saw someone asking for a direction for the media. Mr. Zubair said that Pakistan was not prepared for freedom of media in its years of infancy and needed stability instead. He also insisted on the importance of following religious guidelines.

Agha Nasir recalled that PTV was issued one directive per week during Zia’s regime. Directives were about things like how the dopatta should be worn on air, that female singer should not gyrate while singing and that duets should be banned. Nazia and Zohaib Hassan’s duet also came under fire, despite the fact that they were siblings. The puritanical disciplinarians responded that not everybody was aware of that.

Moderator Farrukh Pitafi conceded that the media is rightfully criticized by the audience for sensationalizing reporting, distorting facts and commercializing and trivializing information, as well desensitizing audiences. He said that Pakistan was a classical example wherein space was expanding and quality was diminishing.

He said that poetic license of freedom was being used in news in Pakistan instead and that anchors have been guilty of such excesses. However, he also made a point that educated audiences would demand better content from the media and that the population explosion has been making things worse.

Almost unanimously, the panelists agreed that excessive freedom of expression is inappropriate. Ahmed Saleem gave a similar reply to my question why people were so fond of censorship in Pakistan. I found that rather disappointing coming from a writer.

He narrated how a news anchor misrepresented CM Shahbaz Sharif’s medical aid to him for undergoing a liver transplant as an act of corruption. He noticed that it came as a surprise to him since he was a political critic of the Sharif brothers. Yet the generous and praiseworthy deed of the leader was painted as a vile act by a news anchor with a political agenda.

But this story made me doubt his understanding of freedom of speech, which he later mentioned to be a positive tool if used properly. He recalled how they used to wonder what they should play and write about after the death of dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. But they frequently followed their heroic struggle for freedom of speech with the warnings of the need for discipline and order.

Revolutionaries of yesterday, with the exception of Mr. Zubair of course, have become the conservatives of our times.

But it is hardly a surprise.

Note: This is not a paid post.

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