Imran Khan on the politics of culture

Reading Imran Khan lay out his feelings towards Pakistan's history of colonialism in Jason Burke's article in the Observer today, Londonstani couldn't help wonder whether the dynamic he describes is felt as universally as he suggests.

"Khan says he first became aware of the effects of colonialism as a teenager. "My first shock was going from Aitchison to play for Lahore. The boys from the Urdu [local language] schools laughed at me… Then in England we had been trained to be English public schoolboys, which we were not. Hence the inferiority complex. Because we were not and could never be the thing we were trying to be."

Even the memory agitates him. "I saw the elite [in Pakistan] who were superior because they were more westernised. I used to hear that colonialism was about building roads, railways etc… but that's all bullshit. It kills your self-esteem. The elite become a cheap imitation of the coloniser."

Londonstani does agree that the feeling of inferiority is real and does propel people to attempt to exorcise themselves of the stigma in different ways. There was a time in South Asia when "aping" Western habits, dress and modes of living was seen as a way to be equal (As Londonstani has seen in his great grandfather's memoirs). When, as Imran suggests, the acquired habits didn't lead to acceptance on equal terms, later generations came to vilify those same Western habits and idolise the "indigenous".

It's always struck Londonstani as odd that its often the wealthy (or upper middle class) in post colonial countries in the Middle East and South Asia and Muslims in Western countries that almost fetishise an imagined sense of the "pure" and "original". In this world view, "Western" or "modern" norms, vices or "problems" include (but aren't limited to) dysfunctional families, drug or alcohol use, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, consumerism and greed. As if somehow none of these things existed in 1,400 years of Muslim civilisation from Morocco to Malaysia.

The result is that those from formerly colonialised countries either idolise or vilify their own society and the civilisation that used to rule them. Neither the West nor their own societies are seen for what they are; good and bad.

However, this unhealthy relationship is based on a power dynamic. The former coloniser needs to be seen as powerful and influential. Therefore, worthy of emulation or vilification. What happens when the goal posts change?

The reason Londonstani brings this up in the context of Jason's article is that he mentions Imran Khan turning 60. The former cricketer is seen as amongst Pakistan's "younger" politicians. In reality, Imran Khan's age means that his world view is fashioned by an experience most Pakistanis will not have lived through. 66 percent of Pakistanis are under 30. Colonialism definitely does not loom as large for them.

While it's true that Western fashion, language and habits are seen as status symbols across various levels of Pakistani society, no longer are they "English" cultural markers. What makes you "cool" in Pakistan is increasingly likely to be the trends of a globalised youth culture. Some of it might be Western in origin, but a lot of it is going to be filtered through Chinese, Indian, American or Arab tastes.

To get out of this nasty little vicious circle Imran Khan needs to figure out how in the future Pakistani youth culture will be contributing to the global mix. A plan to unleash Pakistani creativity on the world is what Londonstani wants to hear from a man who plans to be the country's future leader. What he doesn't want to hear is a man who courts the country's young sounding like the old guy at your grandmother's house on Eid that everyone avoids.