Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pakistan's Civil Society Shines

One of the rays of hope in the crisis in Pakistan at this time--and I am not just talking about the Earthquake-- is that Pakistan's "Civil Society", our silent majority, is showing what metal it is made of

I hate to sound like a broken record, tooting the same horn again and again, but readers of this blog will be familiar with WikiPakistan's documentation of the Quake and relief efforts, which is at:

http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Earthquake_10-05

People following that story will have seen how a nation, torn apart by ethnic animosities and sectarian conflict; the media coverage from where seemed to be all of "religious parties" holding rallies to burn international leaders in effigy (including their own--and never mind the religious proscription on making craven images); the way this nation just dropped all the noise and fury and focused on helping its own was a wonder to look at. And the "religious parties"? I have been trying to run an informational site on the crisis and it was on the 11th day that I saw anything from them that any Pakistanis paid attention to--and even then mainly to shake our heads in bemusement. I covered some of this in a previous blog entry.

But this past week came some positive feedback from two other sources--both, in a manner of speaking, from just over the border. (And I mean this not in an gloating way, but in a "It is good to be thought well of by the most thoughtful of neighbours" spirit.) If you get a chance, listen to what Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has to say on Talk of the Nation (a US radio program put out by National Public Radio) about the Human Rights community in Pakistan:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4957424&ft=1&f=5

He says that Pakistan, in terms of Civil Society, has made major progress. Pointing to the Human Rights Commission, an NGO that "under visionary leadership of Asma Jehangir and IA Rehman" (his words) has done great work. He goes on to point out that our newspapers play a very big role, and give opportunity to different points of view. "I don't feel as hopeless about it...Pakistan will move towards democracy."

Then a few days ago, a friend in India pointed out what Pankaj Mishra has to say about our Press in the 10th anniversary issue of Outlook, a major, well-regarded journal:

http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20051017&fname=ANPankaj&sid=1
(skip to page 2 and look for "Pakistan" if you are in a hurry--Note: The page requires login and the archives might not be available; Qalandar has been nice enough to reproduce the paragraph I am talk about in the comments section for this blog post.)

It is almost a throw-away line on page 2, and I feel that in his frustration with it, he's giving short shrift to India's very robust English language press, but it it does make the point that Dr Sen makes: that contrary to what you might have heard in most of the media in the West and elsewhere (and not just on FOX), this Muslim nation at least (the second largest, by the way) has a very strong tradition of an independent press, independent thinking, and independent speech--and not just "Islamist" rhetoric, neither.

So please, if you're not a Pakistani, in this moment when the world's kleiglights are trained on it, take a moment to explore Pakistan's society. You can start at WikiPakistan, or any of several sites that index Pakistani websites and information; or any of the Newspapers: The Daily Times, said to be the most independent; Dawn, our very own "paper of record", with all that that status entails; The News, our largest circulation English paper. Or explore the blogosphere at Karachi's Metroblog, or Lahore's; read Danial's blog; or tech maven TM's...write to me for more.

And if you are a Pakistani or have roots in that region. Well, ditto. Take a look at Pakistan. Not the Pakistan we whine about or the Pakistan your parents or you left a decade or five ago. Follow the disaster relief effort: notice the strength of our spirit and the beauty of our hearts once the silent majority wakes up and engages with an issue. We need to keep this alive beyond this month, this year. We need to come out of this a stronger, more engaged, more caring nation, playing the role that our founders envisioned--that of a modern nation and a democratic republic that stands for the best, most--to use the dreaded word--enlightened model of how Muslims can engage with the world of today; any day.
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