Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pakistani Culture and Identity

If you read Chapter 14, culture and identity are important anthropological concepts that will come up again and again in the class. In this vein, I would like to recommend a recent Wall Street Journal article by Aatish Taseer that he wrote about his slain father Salman Taseer. The article, which attempts something like a psychoanalysis of a country and its people is does an excellent job of explaining the differences between India and Pakistan and why, in his opinion, Pakistan has suffered an identity crisis since its founding. Here is an excerpt:

To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge—its hysteria—it is necessary to understand the rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan. This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan's animus toward India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.

In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination. ...

Had this assertion of national identity meant the casting out of something alien or foreign in favor of an organic or homegrown identity, it might have had an empowering effect. What made it self-wounding, even nihilistic, was that Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabized Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture. In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself.

But there was one problem: India was just across the border, and it was still its composite, pluralistic self, a place where nearly as many Muslims lived as in Pakistan. It was a daily reminder of the past that Pakistan had tried to erase.
To read the whole article, click HERE.

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