Thursday, December 22, 2005

Talking to a Neighbour

Someone from the same neighbourhood as the one I live in posted a comment on a news story I posted a link to. Here's a reply. Thought others might be interested, too.

Well, hello, neighbour!

"true roots"? "Hindu India"? "Muslim Pakistan". Are you saying that only what is today the Union of India is the homeland of Hindus and Hinduism? Weren't a large part of the empires that are the pride of history in that area and its people based in what is today Pakistan and even Afghanistan? Gandhara? Taxila? Moenjodaro/Mohanjodaro?

Personally, I'd like to not restrict more profound concepts--like that what is a South Asian Muslim, or what is a Hindu and what is the homeland for Hindus--to modern geo-political entities. Political borders come and go--and very often cut across human, cultural, and genetic affinities. We often discuss Europe as a parallel for our region, especially to point that the global trend is of coming together. And personally, I think that South Asia in general and just the Union of India in particular have more diversity (and certainly a larger population) than all of Europe. And if you look at Europe, you have Germans in Austria (Oster Reich, or "Western Country" in German), Germany, Switzerland, and historicly in other countries. But does that mean that a person of German ancestry in Switzerland is necessarily to be treated with more suspicion than others if they apply for citizenship in Germany? Or an American of German ancestry whose grandparents fled during one of the world wars?

I would like to believe that people can hold warm patriotic feelings for their own country without being necessarily hostile to a neighbouring country, whatever the history has been.

And it has now been two generations since the "partition"/independence--the people applying for citizenship are by no stretch of the imagination the same as the ones that chose to live in one or the other country at that time.

As for the historical bases for the existence and shape of one country or the other. I am, I like to think, a self-confidently patriotic Pakistani who is married to a proudly patriotic Indian and who works in the movement for peace between the two countries, but I believe that if we as individuals and as national communities are comfortable in who we are, we should have the self-confidence to compete in the marketplace of ideas and ideologies without the kind of insecurity and pettiness that this kind of policy seems to reflect. Pakistan, particularly, claims to have an ideology. And I am not talking about "just Islam". In fact, what passes today for "Islamism" and "Islamic politics" in today's news and opinion is very far from what I was brought up to believe my community's ideology is or what the founders' intent was; the idea of a country where people can live as who they are and not have to be second class citizens. And all people. I might not know all the history, but your assertion that Pakistan did not say that Hindus who wanted to stay could strikes me as rather inaccurate. What was Jinnah's speech, so oft-quoted, where he said that as of independence, all citizens of Pakistan are Pakistanis and free to worship as they wanted and live as they wanted. Now the bloodbath that followed (and it happened on both sides) did not live up to either Jinnah's words or the dreams and aspirations of Gandhi; that's a separate story.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mean to pick on India exclusively--Pakistanis, both in and out of government, too often display symptoms of the same kind of underlying insecurities and the same pettiness. I mean this as a critique of all sides, and a call to everybody to aspire towards the moral high ground. We live in separate geo-political entities, but we have a lot in common--history, culture, religions, music, cuisine, you name it--and others with far less in common work together across boundaries. Let us try to build a positive atmosphere for ourselves, our nations and our children; that would be best for all of us.

Some come on over (within Ardenwood and across the border--whether you have an Indian or a Pakistani background, visit "the other side") and let's have some chai.
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