Years ago when I worked for a law firm, one of our clients, a businessman from Florida, arrived in the UK having left the American mainland for the very first time. Upon landing in London, saw East Is East, a comedy film and a parody on the strict mores and gender double standards of Pakistani families living in Britain. I had laughed the film off as fiction but to my American client East Is East epitomised Pakistan.
No matter how hard I tried to tell him otherwise, that my experience as a female lawyer in Pakistan had not been much different from that in London, he refused to believe me. To him, Pakistanis had to be chauvinistic misogynists. “There are similar problems south of our border in Latin cultures,” he insisted. Eventually, I realized the futility in trying to convince him. He would believe what he wanted to believe. Misconceptions prevail on the other side too. Many Pakistanis will confidently tell you that parents in the West kick their children out of their homes when they are 18, and their children, in turn, leave parents to rot in old peoples’ homes.
In Britain, caring for old parents is preventing middle-aged adults from taking time off for themselves, and relief from their constant care-giving has become an electoral issue. In the US, according to one report, 25 million adult children live with their parents. Yet these statistics mean nothing to those who are convinced that the West is devoid of family life. Similarly, within the domestic context, there are those for whom Asif Ali Zardari is a villain, par excellence.
Show them the findings of the UN inquiry report and they will brush it off as expensive westerncollaborated hogwash, and continue to pin everything that is wrong with Pakistan on the president’s shoulders, including the tragic death of his wife. For others, all of Pakistan’s woes are the doings of an anti-democratic, pro-imperialist army. It is of no consequence to them that there are no similarities between military defeat in Bangladesh and military success in Swat, but it is all too convenient to portray the army as fighting its own people for imperialist ends. When the video of a young girl flogged by the Taliban in Swat came out, there were many who were dying to “prove” that it was made-up and a malicious attempt to malign Islam.
Ironically, a large number of the same people also believed that the punishment was nevertheless in line with Islamic teachings. If I had more space, I would quote for their benefit passages from Khaled Abou El Fadl’s work, The Place of Tolerance in Islam — On Reading the Quran and Misreading It, but perhaps that too would not make a difference. For others, it was the timing of the video, released just prior to army action, which fortified the conspiracy theory that it must be part of some military propaganda campaign. It is entirely irrelevant to them that the Taliban had already flooded the market with CDs showcasing their brutality, in many instances much worse than the flogging, thus only those who had not followed Swat were caught unaware by the video.
The Supreme Court inquiry stalled because, unlike other human rights abuse cases when judges are able to question victims and summon the accused, including government ministers, officers directed to produce the victim of the flogging case did not comply on account of social pressures and fear of the Taliban. When the police are on the run and militants are in control, isn’t targeted military intervention the only answer? When Bosnian Muslims were murdered and maimed at the hands of Serbs, weren’t we rightly demanding military intervention from the international community? An open mind and dispassionate analysis based on evidence and research, however, is often not as appealing as validating preconceived notions.