In defence of Pakistanis

I usually avoid getting drawn into arguments with people on the internet, because there’s really no point. I even try to avoid reading the comments on online newspaper articles, because I know I’m more likely just to make myself angry than actually to learn or reconsider anything. But when a particularly poisonous commenter on Huffington Post started arguing that the 138 Pakistanis who are now almost certainly dead after being buried by an avalanche on the Siachen Glacier last Saturday are undeserving of our sympathy and compassion – I couldn’t help but rise to the bait.

The article, and all its comments, can be read here.

And here is a slightly extended version of the indignant screed I ended up writing in response. (To give you some context, I took objection to this gentleman’s comments about Pakistanis, whereupon he called me naive for being “enamored with their attempts at hospitality”, claimed that living in the UK qualifies him to understand Pakistanis far better than me, and reminded me that “[t]hese people are our enemies and enemies deserve no compassion. “)

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Sir, you are the naive one.

Naive to think that living in the same country as a large number of Pakistanis make you an expert on what kind of people they are. It would be possible to live in the UK for decades without meeting a single Pakistani – I know, because I’ve lived there for 30 years myself. If you were able to explain your relationships and encounters with these people in more detail (are they friends? family members? clients? colleagues? neighbours?), then I might be more inclined to take you seriously.

You are naive to let your opinion be mediated by the government and the media. You know how this stuff works, yes? A story will only be published or broadcast if it is considered ‘newsworthy’. (As it happens, I am currently staying with a British-Pakistani journalist in Islamabad, so I’ve witnessed this first-hand – not all of the stories he pitches are accepted by his channel, depending on factors as varied as how much airtime they have, how slow news is in the rest of the world, and what sort of image they want to convey of Pakistan.) If, for example, a poll showed most Pakistanis think the UK and the US are pretty much OK really, but are much more interested in paying the bills on time and making sure their kids do their homework, do you think it would make headlines? Of course it wouldn’t.

You are naive to conflate ordinary people with their government, and even more naive if you actually believe that the domestic and foreign policy of a country accurately represents the interests and opinions of its people. Just look at what’s been going on in the UK for the past two years.

You are naive – and rude – to dismiss the hospitality I have received throughout Pakistan (including no-go areas like Balochistan) as “sweet nothings” and “polite platitudes”. I have spent over two months in the country, spoken with hundreds of Pakistanis, and not spent a single night in a hotel or guesthouse. People have shared their food with me, given me presents, introduced me to their families, invited me to their weddings and thrown parties in my honour. (I asked myself time and time again – “would this happen to a Pakistani travelling in the UK?”) My hosts in Quetta were so embarrassingly generous that I ended up leaving the city with more money than I arrived. When I was ill in Chichawatni my host made sure I wanted for nothing, and my previous and future hosts all phoned up every couple of hours to check I was OK. My hosts in Lahore went to considerable trouble and expense to source me a new cycling jersey from London, after my old one was torn by their dog. A man I’d never met happily offered to lend my father a bike when he visited, and when I went round to collect it he fed me lunch, gave me a lift back to my hosts’ house, and invited me to a family wedding taking place that evening. When I am cycling between cities, the highway police regularly stop me to ask if everything is OK, and are unfailingly polite and friendly. Between Jhelum and Rawalpindi, some of them even insisted on buying me a bag of drinks and snacks.

I have had long discussions with a whole range of Pakistanis – Muslim, Christian, atheist, secular, male, female, gay, straight, rich, poor, middle-class, military, civilian, educated and illiterate. Almost all of them show a far more nuanced appreciation of international affairs than their counterparts in the UK. They recognize the flaws and strengths of their country, and are passionate about improving it. They criticize their government. They condemn the Taliban. Many of them have lived, worked or studied abroad, speak several languages, and have a cosmopolitan outlook that makes me feel positively parochial in comparison. They are highly aware of how they are perceived by the rest of the world – much more so that I, as a Briton, am. They accept that I am not a Muslim, and do not attempt to criticize or convert me. Some of them – Christian and Muslim – have told me they are now praying for my health and happiness, and that of my family.

Suggesting that all of this warmth and generosity amounts to “polite platitudes” is just ludicrous. It seems rather unlikely that every single Pakistani I’ve met (and some of them I’ve become very close to) has set out to pull the wool over my eyes, and to deceive me about their true nature. If they saw me as ‘the enemy’, surely at least one or two of them would have expressed hostility? It seems far more likely, sir, that you are mistaken than that I am.

Finally, you are especially naive to think that saying “enemies deserve no compassion” makes you substantially different from the equally deluded Pakistanis who, as you say, celebrated the deaths of innocent people on 9/11.

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After digging around among this gentleman’s other posts, I discovered that he’s a bit of a troll – someone who makes inflammatory or offensive comments with the express purpose of winding people up and starting arguments. But I stand by my response. And the reason I’ve reproduced it here is that I think people should hear a bit more of this righteous anger, and a bit less of the blind hatred spouted by him – and regrettably quite a few of his (and my) compatriots.

Leave a Comment

12 Comments

  1. TipuKhan
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your cordial comments on Pakistanis. We hope to see you in Pakistan again. We don’t consider Baluchistan a no go area, most of it is patriotic. Its just this 1% that has been given weapons by Indians and Israelis, and they continue to ruin the peace of that province.
    But again, thank you for your comments.

  2. Sara
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Oh my gosh..words are not enough for me to say how grateful and touched I am as a Pakistani to read what you had to say about us! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! It’s not often that we read nice things about Pakistan..in fact, it has been down right depressing to see the news these past few years!..As for what we read online about us….sigh… well, all I can say is, thank you sooo much! I do hope you had a wonderful time in Pakistan and keep visiting!… We Pakistanis just want to live a normal, happy, peaceful, fun filled life, just like anybody else around the world… We love going to the beach or catching a movie! :) ….. Just some friendly site for you to see! :) http://www.facebook.com/Pakistanwantstobeyourfriend
    http://www.i-pakistan.net/
    Thank you sooo much once again!
    An extremely grateful Pakistani!
    Sara

  3. Kirk
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Sometime before you get to Anchorage take a look at our local papers comments section. I’ve come close to responding to a couple people there with. “Even though I agree in principle with everything you posted, I just have to tell you that you’re a freakin’ idiot who should keep quiet so the smart people can talk.” Even the people you agree with can piss you off.
    adn.com

  4. Maria
    Posted April 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    On behalf of all Pakistanis, I would like to say Thank You for defending Pakistan. I really got teary eyed when I read what you wrote. Thank you soooo much! I really couldn’t believe it when I read the title of your blog! We NEVER get to see nice things about Pakistan these days. I really, really do appreciate it! There are soooo many good things about Pakistan which are never shown in the media. Please do keep visiting Pakistan! Thank you again! :)

  5. ben
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I think you should write a few more comments on the HuffPo – you seem to be very good at it. Its a sad truth that such opinions are held by members of our society. Thankfully blogs like yours help show a small audience what its like on the ground.

    keep up the great work.

  6. Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Alas, if you fight something, you just make it stronger.

    I avoid reading the comments sections of news sites (esp. the Grauniad) for precisely the reasons you mention. Every once in a while, however, I have to vent, and it usually results in a piece like the one you’ve written, which by the way is fantastic. Then I feel better for a while, even though it inevitably gets caught up and lost in the torrent of anonymous bickering surrounding it.

    Far better to reproduce such encounters on your own blog, as you have done here.

  7. Posted April 27, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Tom,
    Just a brief few lines to say well done for having the power of your convictions for speaking up when someone writes this kind of nonsence. A reply so well wrote.
    I try not get involved in religion , or political views as my grandfather once told me ” “most war’s or conflicts are started by one man’s blindness against another”. I tend to agree with that.
    Alex.

  8. bibigul
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for being kind, kind to the ordinary folks living in Pakistan, who find themselves in the middle of a war, that they didn’t make, and then are singled out a threat to the entire world. Pakistanis are men and women who want to make a living to feed and educate their families, they want prosperity for which they seek
    peace.
    For centuries these people have coexisted with Hindus, Sikhs Christians; they have had rulers who came in from the north bringing their culture and arts with them, they have mosques, temples, churches and gurdawaras for people to pray in. They are just caught in a ‘ bad situation at the wrong time’ that’s all.

  9. J
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    As a Pakistani-American, I would like to thank you for defending us! This is a really powerful response and I know a lot of Pakistanis are often associated with negative stereotypes. As other readers have said, it is nice to hear something positive about Pakistanis for a change. Thanks for speaking up and sharing your thoughts! :)

  10. dana
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    the problem is that a cancer grows there, it beheads doctors and journalists and geologists, it disembowels school teachers that dare educate girls. it releases their killing videos as acts of faith.
    criminals are everywhere, but they are hunted and prosecuted and most of them get to pay or at least get prevented from striking again. not there.
    until this cancer is eradicated from Pakistan, Pakistani will be seen as enablers. this is how brains work, by categorization and generalization . and evil will always make a stronger impression than normalcy.

  11. YaruQ
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    RESPECT !, respect is all i have for you ! GOD BLESS YOU and you are among the very few left who have the guts to speak out the TRUTH with a high note ! My blessings and appreciation for your words ! May ALLAH be with you !

  12. Omar
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey Emily,
    So you found out the world’s best kept secret; Pakistan. It is fantastic. Dont give a hoot to what a few naivete people say due to lack of information and enjoy.

    Cheers
    Omar