Our international image

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Countries are inevitably affected by developments in next-door neighbours. Afghanistan’s problems have permeated into our social and political fabric. Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation, is following in the footsteps of its neighbour Malaysia. Indonesians are not a mob like us, but is becoming a nation.


Like Malaysia, Indonesian society reflects a beautiful mix of religion and worldly matter. Whether university graduates or madressah-educated, Westernised or religious-oriented, the majority of them live side by side without threatening each other. Women clad in skirts or scarves work side by side in offices and factories. Except for preaching in a non-intrusive manner, nobody is allowed to force others to change their lifestyles. Christians and Hindus make up 8 per cent and 2 per cent of the population respectively. However, Muslims and these minorities don’t hate each other. Unlike Pakistan, this country does not harbour hate against foreigners. People from various parts of the world come here as visitors. I write these lines from Jakarta with the hope that Pakistanis may at least bother to learn some lessons from the most populous country in the Islamic.


The University of Indonesia, in collaboration with Oslo University, had organised a conference on “Terrorism, freedom of expression and the media,” in which a number of journalists and university professors were invited from Norway, Bangladesh and Indonesia, including five journalists and three professors from Pakistan. During the proceedings, the conference turned into an accountability forum for Pakistanis. We Pakistanis were bombarded with questions from invitees of a non-Muslim country (Norway) and two Muslim countries (Bangladesh and Indonesia). All of them were united in blaming us for spreading terrorism and threatening other countries’ harmony. Yet others blamed us for exporting religious extremism.


Indonesia is encouraging tourists from across the globe. Therefore, it issues visas to guests on arrival at the airports. All visitors from the West, the Arab world or India are treated with hospitability. But here too Pakistanis are singled out for discriminatory treatment in security checking. Two well-known persons in our group were even fingerprinted.


Our religious bigots, mercurial protesters, effigy burners or institutions that have actually turned Pakistan into a lawless land in the name of strategic and institutional interests, are unaware of this country’s international image. Even Bangladeshi journalists and professors were raising questions about the viability of Pakistan which they thought was fast becoming a failed state. When these concerns crossed a limit, some of our friends got sentimental and gave befitting answers to the Bangladeshi participants to shut their mouths.


But the question remains: can rude answers allay the concerns that our actions have created in the minds of people from all parts of the world. A measure of these concerns may be gauged from the fact that when we tried to answer questions about the presence of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, others raised the issues of Swat and Waziristan. When we were trying hard to search for answers to these questions, the questioners turned to the assassination of the late Salmaan Taseer. When we were still struggling to find satisfactory answers to this issue, they turned to the exodus of experts, professionals and intellectuals from this land. We responded that Pakistan was a responsible state. But they are not convinced and changed the subject to the situations in Karachi and Waziristan and claimed that Pakistan has lost control over half of its territory.


It appears that, sooner than later, we as a nation will have to make a decision. Either we turn this country into one with no contacts with the outside world, following the advice of our hardliners, or we mend our ways and keep abreast of the world.


This conference has strengthened my impression that the crux of the problem between Muslims and the West lies in the communication gap between the two. The West looks at us from its own perspective while we look at it from the Eastern perspective. That is why, despite frequent interactions, the psychological gaps have in fact widened. The West does not understand our preferences and demands, while we are unable to appreciate theirs. For example, in the conference the Norwegians were amazed at our reaction to the blasphemous cartoons in the Western press.


They interpreted our reaction as being against freedom of expression, while we took such acts of incitements and arousal of Muslims sentiments as violation of norms of journalism and correct behaviour. Still, we did not approve of their discriminatory treatment of Muslims in the West, but they termed it ingratitude on our part. When we criticised the West’s duplicity and anti-Islam attitude as the basis for extremism, they pointed to Muslims who behead their brethren.


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.com.pk