Pride and the Pakistani Diaspora
The Pakistani diaspora is significant, around 7 million people, and contributed almost US$8 billion into the economy last year. It is composed by and large of people who only retain a connection to
One of the principal identity-markers that Pakistanis abroad have turned to is to re-define themselves as `Muslim`. This has been especially true after 9/11, but pre-dates that event as well. It has been disturbing to watch and experience because no other diaspora from a Muslim majority country makes their national identity subservient to their religion – not even the stateless Palestinians. While everyone else seems to take pride in their particular national histories – even when there isnt much to be proud of – people in the Pakistani diaspora seem to run away from being associated with their countrys past. As a result, Pakistanis exceed all others in becoming attracted to romanticist readings of the past – the sort extremist religious teachers are more than happy to offer up.
Another popular trend among second-generation Pakistanis in the West is the denouncing of Partition as a mistake. These people live in a fantasy world where 60 years of conflict with another state can be overcome in a singular moment of sublimation. Whats illuminating is that Bangladeshis never talk about re-joining
Indeed, the Pakistani diaspora is in a difficult place. It cannot actively participate in the discussion about Pakistani identity, but it also cannot progress until this issue is resolved. Guidance must come from
This ministers attempt to include the diaspora is worthwhile, however, the entire scheme is built upon preferential treatment, which only further enhances class differences and hierarchy between Pakistanis. It also assumes, wrongly, that simply because they have money, Pakistanis in the diaspora have a good idea about how to improve
A political or legislative solution is neither sufficient, nor, given rampant cronyism, ideal. It also creates the danger of politicizing the overseas communities and splintering them based on political preferences.
The focus at the moment has to be on culture and identity. The promotion of Pakistani arts, music, literature, cinema, poetry, and fashion is of the essence. And the answer does not lie with the venal fashion shows that are put on at sumptuous diplomatic residences, inviting only a few elite expats. Outreach has to be done within expat communities –
Instead of becoming a censor-state,
The few successful diaspora activists that I have met have either been motivated through national emergencies such as the earthquake, or they have emerged from a cultural awareness group that was ready to do more. The first time I met Bilaal Ahmed, the founder of IMPAK
Most people think `diaspora` only when they run into a Pakistani on foreign soil and want to ask about the nearest place to find chicken tikka. Diaspora is, actually, the barometer by which one can judge the health of a nation. The feeble state of the Pakistani diaspora speaks volumes.
Ali Eteraz is a writer and freelance journalist. He has studied philosophy and practiced law in the United States. His website is www.alieteraz.com