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FOR THOSE TIMES WHEN "DURKA DURKA MOHAMMAD JIHAD" JUST WON'T CUT IT

 

Entries in society (5)

Friday
Jan272012

Pakistani media, society and the pussycat vigil-aunties

Londonstani did not intend this blog to be dominated by crap in the Pakistani media. But, hey, sometimes the crap in the Pakistani media is just too amusing to ignore (eg. Mansoor Ijaz, Pakistan's own Austin Powers). And then, sometimes, something that seems frivolous and silly allows you a sneaky peak into the dynamics beneath the surface.

About a week ago, a Karachi television show host decided to spice up her regular format by descending on a public park to camera-ambush couples (who didn't seem to be doing much other than chatting or walking arm-in-arm) and demanding to see their marriage certificates.

So far so (sadly) predictable. However, what happened next says more about the direction of Pakistani society than any much of the social science research you are likely to come across.

Best to let Declan Walsh of the New York Times explain:

"This hourlong spectacle, broadcast live on Samaa TV on Jan. 17, set off a furious reaction in parts of Pakistan. Outrage sprang from the Internet and percolated into the national newspapers, where writers slammed Ms. [Maya] Khan's tactics as a "witch hunt...

"Now, the protests are headed to court. On Friday, four local nongovernment organizations will file a civil suit against Samaa TV in Pakistan's Supreme Court, hoping to galvanize the country's top judges into action."

In a country where estimates say that only about 10 percent of the population has access to the internet, it's interesting to see a protest that started on social media platforms amongst a wealthy minority (who are seen as detached and culturally unattuned to the "masses") trickled down to mainstream media and from there it made its way to the legal process. (Seasoned Pakistan watchers might not see this as surprising at all, but Londonstani suspects it would be news to many).

Declan balances this with the observation that the uproar against Maya Khan's intrusion is limited to the English press and has hardly been mentioned in the Urdu newspapers, which are far more widely read.  As for Maya Khan, she says that her critics are "an elite class that don't even watch my show".

But there's more to this than a cultural tussle (as central as that is to many of the currents that belie Pakistani society and politics). It's also about media and society in a country where most people are under 30.

Back to Declan:

"The controversy has rekindled a debate about the direction of Pakistan's TV industry. Since liberalization in 2000, the sector has exploded from one channel - the state-controlled one - to more than 80 today, 37 of which carry national or local current affairs.

"The media revolution has transformed social and political boundaries: in 2007, feisty coverage played a central role in pushing Pervez Musharraf toward the exit; in recent weeks it helped guard against a possible military coup.

"But television is also a lucrative business controlled by powerful, largely unaccountable tycoons. Last year Pakistan's television stations had advertising revenues of more than $200 million, according to Aurora, an industry journal - 28 percent more than the previous year.

"Amid stiff competition for viewers, channels have relied on populist measures - rowdy political talks shows and, in recent times, vigilante-style "investigative" shows modeled on programs in neighboring India."

Obviously, Pakistani media and the political and financial context it operates in is subject to the same pressures that you'd expect to find in many countries. Money needs to be made, the right (or wrong) people need to be placated and costs need to be kept down. The result is that what is presented as daring and edgy, is in fact very safe territory - in financial and political terms (ie. it's cheap and doesn't annoy the wrong people).

One of the people Declan spoke to called Maya Khan and her cohort of "crusading" reporters, "pussycat vigilantes" because they "avoided challenging rich or powerful Pakistanis, whose Western-style lifestyles go unexamined."

"They only go after the people they know will not bite back," said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture writer.

For those looking to see how not to do television on the cheap, here's Maya on her one-woman mission to fix Pakistan.

Thursday
Jan192012

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.".

Monday
Jan162012

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."

Tuesday
Jan102012

Diane Abbot, twitter and.... really?

UK political types were transfixed last week by a story about a black MP who apparently said something racist on twitter. From the Guardian:

"The row began when [Diane] Abbott, who has more than 26,000 Twitter followers, became involved in a discussion with Bim Adewunmi, triggered by the Stephen Lawrence case, on Wednesday.

Adewunmi said she objected to the way in which the term the "black community" was used as a generalisation.

Abbott responded with a series of messages. "I understand the cultural point you are making. But you are playing into a 'divide and rule' agenda," she said. Then she added: "White people love playing 'divide & rule' We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism."

After which, everyone got very worked up and lots of articles and blog posts etc were written while important people called on her to resign.

You might have missed it there, but apparently, someone lost their life in a racist murder. The only point that Londonstani can see as mattering in all this is the one made by Harmit Athwal at Open Democracy:

"Stephen Lawrence was a young black student stabbed to death in an unprovoked racist attack by five or six white youths in south London in April 1993. That his murderers have gone unpunished for so long, and that three or four still remain free, was not for lack of evidence but due to a police investigation hobbled by institutional racism and corruption...

"...the hideous fact is that since Stephen Lawrence's death, at least ninety-six people have lost their lives to racial violence — an average of five per year."

Saturday
Jan072012

Pakistan's youth solution

Common sense suggests that Pakistan's problem's are not about to solved by a saviour who gathers them all up squashes them into a little (cricket?) ball shape and hurls them into the sun. Making things better is going to take groups of people with new ideas and approaches, supported by similarly minded people with the resources, taking legitimacy from an even bigger group of people who support what they are doing.

Huma Yusuf does a great job on the IHT's Latitude blog of illustrating that the best bet for change in Pakistan is the country's young.

"An exciting shift is now under way in Pakistan: the young are becoming politically engaged. In coffee shops, beauty salons and workplaces, instead of gossiping or deconstructing the latest televised drama, youngsters are arguing about the merits of various politicians. As a journalist, I can’t walk into a social gathering without getting grilled by my peers and their younger siblings about this policy or that. Older Pakistanis who have long bemoaned the apathy of the country’s educated, middle-class youth are sighing in relief at this newfound activism. As one elderly family friend put it, “Your lot has finally woken up.”"

Huma makes the point that Imran Khan has benefited from (or perhaps sparked) this awakening of interest among the young, but this is part of a bigger trend.

"Several social media sites have hosted online voter-registration drives for the 2013 general elections. Many of these are not affiliated with any political party; they are simply seeking to boost youth participation at the polls. Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (P.P.P.) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (P.M.L.N.), are launching youth-oriented campaigns and showcasing a new generation of politicians. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, of the P.P.P., is encouraging private media outlets to emphasize youth-oriented programming. The opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who heads the P.M.L.N., recently drafted a new strategy to revamp his party’s Facebook presence and, in a bid to entice young voters, promised to distribute 300,000 laptops to students if he is elected."

Pakistan is a young country with a tumultuous history, and as such the era you were born into has a big impact on your outlook to life, culture, your view of the outside world and politics.

What Londonstani finds really interesting about all this is that there is evidence to suggest Pakistan's under 35 year old majority approach life in a very different way to their elders. The impact of social media, mass communication and migrations all have their place, but there is an even more elemental level to this. For examle, someone who grew up being told to fear a Hindu-dominated Alll-India government will approach things differently to someone who's lived their whole life secure in the "Muslimness" of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Londonstani's work recently involved researching the views of Pakistani young people. The picture that emerged was of a huge body of people who are more confident in their identities as Pakistanis, less interested in ethnic backgrounds, more questioning of received logic, less fearful of India and much more keen on travel and engagement with the outside world. The study was limited and much more work should be done looking at this area, but, for Londonstani, it was well summed up by one of the interviewees:

"The most influential person in my life? Well, I should say my father. But, he often talks very forcefully about a subject and then I look online or ask my friends and find out he doesn't have that much information."

The reality is that life in Pakistan at all levels is dominated by men who are typically over 45 (this, of course, includes Imran). Whether military, religious ideologues, feudal landlords, business moguls or media magnates, they do things in very similar, patriarchal ways. The political parties' scramble to get young people involved is an effort to direct the inevitable trend. (The young generation the parties are promoting are often sons and daughters of the leaders).

Huma makes the point that she is not talking about a Pakistani version of the Arab Spring; "Unlike their counterparts in the Arab world, young Pakistanis are less inspired by revolutionary rhetoric than in producing results through the existing system. They are demanding issue-based politics."

This in itself is a revolution.

If you want to see what sort of people Huma is talking about, watch Al Jazeera's documentary on Ali Abbas Zaidi:

And while you're at it, check out rapper Adil Omar:

Oh, and of course Co-Ven

 

** oops, I wrongly cited the writer of the original piece as Huma Imtiaz when it was in fact Huma Yusuf. This has been fixed apols to both Humas.