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State of the British Nation

New UK think tank British Future has a poll out looking at British attitudes towards society, race and the future.

Director Sunder Katwala writes on Open Democracy about their recent State of the Nation poll:

"There is widespread economic anxiety and worries about falling living standards, which is perfectly rational, but this is combined with a stubborn optimism about prospects, even in this year ahead. There are high and sustained levels of national pride; a strong sense of belonging to cities, towns and neighbourhoods; and a welcoming attitude to newcomers who wish to contribute to thinking and debates about being “us”.

This echoes something that Londonstani has seen growing up and later working in the UK's multicultural capital; young British people of whatever background commonly find it easier and more natural to declare loyalty their city or their neighbourhood than their country.

The point though is that belonging, pride and loyalty are complicated emotions. But still vital for the UK's long-term good. So, you'd think that its the kind of thing people in charge would pay it proper attention, instead of say... proposing a "curry college" as the centre piece of their integration strategy.

... Seriously, they weren't joking:

"He [Communities Secretary Eric Pickles] has a dream: namely to set up a curry college. It combines border control with foreign cooking. It would both help satisfy the apparently inexhaustible appetite for onion bhajis and prawn birianis while also providing justification for the squeeze on visas.".


Pakistan and India take it to TV

If you want to get people to listen to your message, you need to make it interesting. Many campaigns struggle to bridge the gap between imploring and entertaining.

This is particularly a problem in Pakistan, where, with the exception of music and political skulduggery, Pakistani media is pretty dull. Which is why most Pakistanis watch Indian films or US entertainment (no link since hard numbers are near impossible to come by).

Pakistan's largest media organisation, Jang Group, has been running a campaign for a couple of years called Amn Ka Asha, which aims to promote peace and better relations with India.

Much of the campaign has been about the usual; visits, articles etc etc. But recently, Geo (Jang's flagship television station) has announced two new Pakistan-India themed shows. They aren't branded after the campaign, but it very much works on the Amn Ka Asha ethos. Both will show on Geo and a major Indian channel.

The Independent reports that Foodistan will be a Pakistan vs India cook off.

"Neatly bringing together two national pastimes of eating and regional rivalry, the reality cooking show Foodistan will pitch a team of professional Pakistani chefs against a team from India."

The other, Sur Ki Bazi, sounds like an X-Factor type format pitting Pakistani and Indian hopefuls against each other in a singing duel.

Here's the poster:

Music, food and regional rivalry. It's a sure bet! Foodistan has already been recorded, but the music show just started auditioning. And, Londonstani is hearing that they have been swamped.

This is a genius campaign idea. On one hand it shows that there's much scope for useful engagement in Pakistan through media. On the other, it shows that it pays to work with what people actually want.

If you are into communications, media and foreign policy (like Londonstani), this is worth keeping an eye on.


How to Roll in London

Mastering some of the neighbourhoods of modern London takes the courage of a suicidal war correspondent and the guile of a cultural chameleon. Getting it wrong can mean (almost*) certain death.

If that sounds a little daunting, don't worry, up and coming UK comedian Mawaan Rizwan is doing a crash course:


* For absolute certain death you need to go to Glasgow


US Public Diplomacy and Islamists

US scholar of public diplomacy, Philip Seib, wrote on the Huffington Post a couple of days ago:

"Those designing U.S. public diplomacy must quickly recalibrate their work to better reach the newly empowered and assertive mass publics."

Seib suggests:

"A key element of U.S. public diplomacy is the reflection of American political values in outreach efforts. These values are not antithetical to the tenets of Islam, and so that is where public diplomacy programs should focus. Those designing cultural, educational, and business-related ventures should themselves be familiar with the Quran and other elements of Islam and should involve clerical and lay Muslims in the project creation process. This will help avoid the accidental cultural clashes that can be interpreted as purposeful assertion of anti-Islamic policy."

Londonstani agrees in principle with Seib on this, but would suggest digging a little deeper in the search for an approach. 

Often, Islamists (which encompasses many different trains of thought) are cut from a very similar cloth to their domestic opponents. Looking at Pakistan; the head of a network of madrassas is the theological equivalent of a feudal landlord or industrialist. All are looking to nurture a solid constituency based on patronage. Often the religious overlaps with the temporal. Sometimes the supporters of the most avowedly secular parties act like religious devotees. Egypt; Mubarak's cronies displayed the same xenophobic, small minded, despotic, socially conservative tendencies that their liberal opponents feared they might face from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Better than focusing immense effort on one particular area of study, (which might be axed at will in the next round of cuts) Londonstani feels that governments would be better served by looking at their bureaucratic structures and figuring out how to build up institutional knowledge of how Arab and Muslim societies work.


Weekend Reading - Cohen on Pakistan

Over the weekend, Pakistani English-language daily Express Tribune published an interview with scholar Stephen Cohen, who knows a thing or two about Pakistan.

Londonstani particularly likes Cohen (and quotes him in the background section of papers he's written) due to his dispassionate insight. It's rare when discussing Pakistan to find someone who combines deep knowledge with a cool, objective approach. Check out the whole article, otherwise here are the highlights (according to Londonstani).

"...the army can’t govern the country effectively but it won’t let others govern it either. This is the governance dilemma."

"... with the obvious breakdown of law and order, the decline of the economy, as well as a dysfunctional civilian-military relationship — change seems to be in the wind — but few of us can be precise about what that change will be. Pakistan is muddling through, but change and transformation are coming, I just don’t know when or how."

"...Weakness in governance, education, and the absence of land reform made Pakistan a victim of contemporary globalisation. It doesn’t make much that anyone wants to buy, and it is cut off from its natural regional trading partners."

"...the negative aspects of Islamist globalisation have hit Pakistan hard. Some of the weirdest ideas in the Islamic world have found rich soil in Pakistan, and the country is regarded as an epicentre of terrorism. Pakistan, which was once held up as the most moderate of the Islamic states, seems to be embracing extremists and their dysfunctional violent ideas."

(As a student and long-time resident of the Middle East, Londonstani would deeply concur with this. Everyday religiosity in Pakistan is very similar to the Middle East and some parts of Muslim Africa, but the religious-political public rhetoric is, as Cohen says, weird to behold if you are a non-Pakistani Muslim)

"The Indians tend to be bullying when it comes to their neighbours, but Pakistanis are capable of defending their interests. Many Indians are ready for a change now. India sees itself as a major rising Asian state and Pakistan is a drag on it."

"...their dilemma is that they cannot live with each other and they cannot live without each other. They need to cooperate along several dimensions, there is no military solution for the problems each has with the other."

"So, looking ahead at Pakistan’s future, we don’t know what is going to happen to Pakistan but we know something alarming is happening to it. Pakistan will remain, but its identity is changing."

"the US should have provided trade opportunities, instead of only military aid, to Pakistan after 9/11. There was a serious Pakistani interest in increasing trade, not just receiving military aid; the US did not respond to this."

"Pakistani governments have been cowardly in dealing with those who oppose modernity and try to push the country back to the seventh century. Perhaps the cowardice comes from the fact that the state uses some of these groups for its own strategic purposes, a fatal and self-defeating miscalculation."

"The long-term key to normalising Pakistan is India. The fear of India drives the Pakistan army and the army drives Pakistan. If India can normalise with Pakistan in one way or the other, then Pakistan can devote its resources and energy to becoming a more attractive and respected country."

"The US should provide aid to Pakistan but link it to more concrete reforms in education, administration, and democratisation."

Cohen makes two important points that deserve repeating:

1 - Pakistan's present status quo is unstable and unsustainable. There are two main views when it comes to Pakistan; "Oh my God, extremists are about to take over." And, "Nothing will really ever change." Cohen is saying extremists not about to militarily take over the country, but it plainly will not continue as it is. The question is, what form will that change take?

2 - Pakistan's identity is changing. There's an oft repeated factoid that Pakistan's population is 65 percent under 35. The people presently running the country are in a minority not due to their religion, race or even gender, but rather because of the generational outlook gap between them and the people they rule. Londonstani spends his non-blogging days working on Pakistani media, and one thing that comes up time and again is that young Pakistanis see the world through a different lens than their elders.

Keeping in mind Cohen's reputation as a clear-eyed, non-sensationalist academic, perhaps it's best to end with summing up of Pakistan's present predicament.

"Never in history have we seen a country so big with so many nuclear weapons in this kind of trouble."

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