Paris is a treasure chest for the historian, and for the artist, and for the gourmand, and for the aesthete, and even for the person ready to accept that they will appreciate beauty if they see it. The boulevards, the stony streets, the street lamps, the facades and windows of buildings, and the gardening across the city are a testimony to the immense beauty that has been created. Yes, has been created. It is not by accident, it is not a random result of things, it is the result of people creating something based on different reasons ranging from commercial gain, to political prestige, to artistic entrenchment, to many other sum totals of personal reasons. I have not travelled that far or wide, but it is by the far the most beautiful place that I have been to and it is a product of human effort and discipline.
While crossing the Pont des Arts with my wife during my honeymoon, when I reached the middle of the Seine I was overcome by a feeling of awe. Unbelievably strong. In front of me was the Institute de France, I was always in awe of the concept and the meaning of this collection of great minds; behind me was the Louvre, in addition to the absolutely breathtaking architecture it is now a repository of products of human genius from across time and space; and upriver I could see the Notre Dame, a building that represents the influence of religion on society and my first recognizable Parisian facade. To even grasp the magnitude of being in such a place was not possible. Later on I came upon the Wikipedia entry for the Pont des Arts, I came across an incredibly beautiful thing, Kenneth Clark wrote the following in his book Civilisation from 1969, “I am standing on the Pont des Arts in Paris. On the one side of the Seine is the harmonious, reasonable facade of the Institute of France, built as a college in about 1670. On the other bank is the Louvre, built continuously from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century: classical architecture at its most splendid and assured. Just visible upstream is the Cathedral of Notre Dame –not perhaps the most lovable of cathedrals, but the most rigorously intellectual façade in the whole of Gothic art. [...] What is civilisation? I do not know. I can’t define it in abstract terms –yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it: and I am looking at it now.”
All I wanted to do was to sit on the wooden bridge and soak in the aura of the worship of knowledge and education and learning at that spot. It was an incredibly humbling experience. And this was only because I had been at a focal point of what can only be called civilization.
So the question comes to mind about the effect on civilization and culture on a society? Going through a period of critical assessment of my relation with Pakistan I realized that I can divorce each and each bond except the one that I have with the high culture of Pakistan. I could not divorce Faiz and Faraz and Farida Khanum and Mehdi Hassan and Manto and Qasmi, I could not. So, even after we loose hope and trust and end our bonds and ties, all that is left is our bond to civilization, both our local version and the general human civilization. So, where did we go wrong? Where did we get derailed from our own jump towards the stars? When did we eventually start going in the wrong direction?
I was once harassed at an international political chat room on why Pakistanis do not take to the streets on issues such as democracy, corruption, terrorism, or other issues of social importance. At that time I had said that we just did not, it was not how be behaved. Thinking about it again, I realized that I was wrong. In reality it just did not matter enough for people to take to the streets. Because that is where we have gone wrong. Nothing is worthwhile for us. Nothing is important to us. Nothing is sacred to us. To us, the social or communal good and welfare and commonwealth are not important. It is only the self and the family group. In terms of sociologists, we have a hunter-gatherer tribal mentality, whilst we live in the post industrial age.
As Ahmed Ijaz said to me recently, it is all about symbols. The French symbols are Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite. Not just officially but all French men and women believe in and ascribe to these symbols of the state. The French are fiercely democratic and secular and along with the extremely important ingredient of a nation, the spirit of revolution, the have the most important one as well, the spirit of evolution. The Jazba e Tameer that Tahira Syed used to sing about. Add to this a penchant for struggling for perfection where people will iteratively increase their knowledge about obscure fields of education ad infinitum and you have a nation that is headed in the right direction based on both the right notions in their heads and the right passions in their hearts.
As opposed to this, our national motto is, Yaqeen e Muhkam, Ettihad, Tanzeem (Faith, Unity, Discipline). A great motto and a great direction for the nation indeed. Bhutto commission a monument of three swords at a major intersection. The choice of swords is itself questionable, but more on that later on. Each sword had Unity, Faith and Discipline respectively written on it. Each sword now has a multitude of Islamic messages and words and prayers written on it in Arabic. Since for years no one has deemed it fit to remove these, it can be safe to assume that as a nation we have accepted the new material as our national motto. Or even if we have not, we have pretty much ceased to accept the earlier motto.
So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, even with PhDs and liberal credentials, their opinion on the fact that our Constitution does not allow a non Muslim to be President. They will vociferously agree with this and say that this should not be the case. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is bigotry and inequality and a completely lack of fairness in the way this state is operated. So, equality or fairness or unity or brotherhood are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will not agree with my assertion that a non Muslim should theoretically be allowed to become president.
So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what will you do when you are stopped by a policeman for breaking a traffic light. They will unanimously say that they will pay the man off. This is the way things are done in this part of the world and there is nothing wrong with that. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is bribery, lack of civic sense and a complete disrespect for the rule of law. So, lawfulness or discipline or honesty or integrity are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will not agree with my assertion that I should get a ticket and not resort to bribery.
So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what their opinion is about the time they lived abroad and about Europeans and Americans in particular. They will unanimously say that Pakistan is a much better place to belong to and that Europeans and Americans are bigoted towards Muslims and Pakistanis. This is the opinion despite the fact that Pakistanis are elected to political offices there, are given cabinet positions and enjoy a much higher level of respect than the same communities get in Pakistan. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is disrespectful, disloyal, bigoted and hypocritical. So, loyalty, respect, and honour are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will have a negative opinion of the west despite the way they have accepted millions of Pakistanis into their fold.
So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what would they do if they were stopped by police asking to search their car and they had a friend who was the son of a senior police officer in the car. They will say that as a matter of fact the son of the policeman will use his authority in this situation to stop the car from being checked. This is how things are done in Pakistan. I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, who knows about the security situation in Pakistan, this is gross abuse of power conducted in a public place. The same is true of the dealings of all government officials and politicians who will abuse the power granted to them in broad daylight and no one else will consider it wrong because it is the way our society operates. So, trust or integrity or fairness or heroism are not our ideals because even most of the people reading this will abuse any form of power given to them.
So what is our motto? Ask any Pakistani, what would they do if their brother, who is an amazing painter, asks which field to stuffy further. They will say that he should become an engineer or a doctor or do an MBA, but not continue with art; it should be a hobby not a profession. How will be support himself in real life? I am sorry, but to any neutral and sane person, this is the murder of excellence and ambition. So, excellence, perfection, non monetary forms of personal development are not our ideals because even most the of the people reading this will only accept monetary gain as personal development to the detriment of ability, aptitude and education.
We are a tribal society. We are not secular in our ideals and the religion / beliefs of the majority are forced upon the rest because that is our best approximation of a perfect society. We are not honest in our dealings because we feel that the personal is much more superior to that of the group. We are not tolerant of differences both within and without because our lack of education and acceptance of excellence. We are very prone to abuse of power because of our historical association with adventurers and thieves who we idolize because they used raw power for personal gains. We are completely devoid of any interest in education and excellence and give importance to personal development solely as a means of financial gain.
So what is our motto? What are our ideals? What are our symbols? When asked to write five words, how will we describe our civilization? Can we, at the very least start to accept the concepts of tolerance, pluralism, equality, justice, fairplay, the rule of law, education, and excellence. Should we? Are these such good concepts? Should there be others?
Being Pakistanis we take great pride in our competition with India. And the Indians do the same. But we must compare ourselves with India in all honesty now. They have their share of problems which are similar to those of Pakistan: communal conflict, corruption, inefficiency, abuse of power, poverty and illiteracy. But what are their ideals? What direction did they strive towards. We, being tribals, could focus only on machismo, and power, and fighting, and winning in wars, bought tanks, they made schools. I am only talking about comparatives between the two here. Qudratullah Shahab in his Shahbnama writes that during one very viciously fought out allocation of cabinet seats the seat of the Education Ministry was forgotten till someone realized this during the oath taking ceremony. India has a direction towards secularism, there is communal conflict but somewhere down the line, maybe a century from now, they will achieve their goal, our goal is a state where non muslims can not become President, they might as well run away now and save themselves from what we might do to them next. India has a direction towards democracy, we, as we are all aware, are contemplating another military dictatorship because either we as a nation or our politicians are absolutely incapable of sailing a democratic ship.
Again, what is our direction. Our current direction is towards religious intervention in politics and laws which will continue to divide society into majority and minority, communal divisions based on beliefs and geography because the state will not acknowledge ground realities, mass illiteracy and jahalat because no importance is given to education and training.
And what should it be?