Image is nothing: Pakistan as Andre Agassi

Published: May 20, 2012

We allow the rest of the world to define what Pakistan is and then argue that, sure, we may be a failing state but we have pretty models. PHOTO: EXPRESS TRIBUNE / MUHAMMAD JAVAID

Even before he had won anything of note, tennis player Andre Agassi became a celebrity thanks to his “Image is Everything” ads for Cannon, which capitalised on his ridiculous blonde locks and cut-off denim shorts.

Although he would go on to reveal that the hair was augmented by a toupee and win a bunch of majors on his way to becoming a truly legendary player, Agassi admitted in his searing autobiography” Open” that he was never comfortable with his rockstar status, unearned that it was.

The lesson is clear: image is a self-created illusion that we generally use to mask our insecurities.

In the tortured analogy I am about inflict on all you unfortunate readers, Pakistan, or rather its upwardly-mobile classes, are Agassi, and the rest of the world can stand in for Cannon. Too many of us are willing to confuse image with achievement but the worst part is that the image we are trying to conjure is not our own but that of the entire country.

There is nothing wrong with frivolity for the sake of frivolity. The problem arises when we feel a pang of guilt for doing something that is fun and decide to soothe ourselves by claiming that we are only trying to project a softer image of Pakistan. On a purely personal level, this is very annoying for its obvious fakery. No one waltzes down a catwalk out of sheer anger at a New York Times front page story on the Taliban. Anyone who edits a lifestyle magazine only because our arts and crafts industry hasn’t been given its due in Vanity Fair might want to find a new job.

Promoting Pakistan’s “image” has effects more pernicious than simple irritation at the sheer stupidity and dishonesty of the enterprise. By using this line of argument we are essentially adopting a defensive posture. We allow the rest of the world to define what Pakistan is and then argue that, sure, we may be a failing state but there is some hope because we have pretty models. By being so reactive we have already accepted a flawed Western premise.

To return to tennis for a bit, consider the well-received speech Aisamul-Haq gave after reaching the final in the US Open doubles tournament.

Here was a sportsman in his prime having to essentially say that not all Pakistanis are terrorists. As image-building goes, this is a very debasing way to accomplish it. Even if Aisam’s spontaneous words were understandable, the reaction to his speech back home was anything but. We celebrated him not for being a damn fine tennis player but for building bridges and contributing to the world’s understanding of Pakistan without realising that such abasement only shows our yearning for outside approval and our dependency on them to define us as a nation.

It is an indictment of our elite that it seeks validation of our country from the West. Better not to talk about ourselves with outsiders at all than to buy into their narrative. Image is nothing if it isn’t accompanied by self-awareness.

Read more by Nadir here or follow him on Twitter @Nadir_Hassan 

nadir.hassan

Nadir Hassan

An Islamabad based journalist who tweets at @Nadir_Hassan.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • faraz

    Well fashion show is a business. It has nothing to do with positive or negative image. I don’t think many people consider fashion shows a tool of projecting softer image. 2-300 females in our entire movie/TV/fashion industry don’t reflect the hungry massesRecommend

  • Zamir Malik

    I dont know but I cannot tolerate this author for so long and everytime i run away whilst in the middle of the article. Sometimes we see cockiness in his writings and sometimes lack of association make his work pathetic.Recommend

  • Parvez

    One thing is for sure ‘ No nation is an island ‘, just as ‘ No man is an island ‘.
    Your argument was a bit hard to follow, it looked almost forced.Recommend

  • Maria

    Excellent Nadir! More power to your pen sir!Recommend

  • Big Rizvi

    Waiting for the pious and ‘Islamic’ trolls is like trying to make the most of the calm before the storm.Recommend

  • S

    nice point, we can’t let the world decide who we are. We are who we are! And enough of our elite seeking validation from west.

    This fashion shows does not represent us..Recommend

  • Shahzad

    Here in US, i appreciate taxi drivers who arent ashamed to be Pakistanis. Wheras the so called elite from Pakistan are brown carbon copy of Americans. We should all be proud of ourselves and our culture to get real respect from Westerners. We dont have to pretend we are like them to appease them.Recommend

  • Asad

    As long as we need to beg for aid from the west we need to keep proving to them they most of us are not extremists.Recommend

  • omer

    jingoisticRecommend

  • asad

    Perspective!! starting off with ” not all of us are terrorist is quite a defensive approach” agreed. I mean who is saying all Pakistanis are terrorist even if someone is..why not reject it as nonsense and not even comment on it ..instead of using your limelight to make such a remark.Recommend

  • Imran Con

    @Zamir Malik:
    You’re not alone. He’s factually incorrect most of the time as well.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    I wonder how Agassi, a gentle, soft spoken, walk the talk kind of a guy, would feel about being compared the Terrorist epicenter of the World.

    In saying we should not care about what others are saying, aren’t you hiding the fact that Pakistan has become a menace to the free world?

    Do you think the dictators of North Korea care how the World views them? Compare this with the Elected rulers of India and other Democratic nations who do care how others view them.

    If you are self aware well and good, but Pakistan is too immature, ideologically confused to follow the path you have laid out in the article. On a personal level it makes sense though.Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Nadir –
    While I get the drift of the article, I think the tone was slightly bitter than necessary. Secondly, you didn’t define the scope of these feel good activities (just restricted to fashion or does it involve digging out positive economic and social indicators) . Thirdly, you failed to provide any conclusive evidence that this soft power based strategy (which is a well researched subject as of now) doesn’t work. Lastly, you didn’t mention that those of us like you and me, what else we can do other than trying to improve soft image of the country in whatever way possible, despite all the challenges.Recommend

  • American Pakistani

    @Anoop dude. Your venemous words make me dislike south indians even though I personally know a few who are nothing like you. You are obsessed with Pakistan, and terrorism towards India is not the reason. Your obsession stems from something really screwed up.Recommend

  • Mahi

    Well fashion has got NOTHING to do with any country’s image,not even Western countries for that matter.A bunch of hot,g’looking chicks DO NOT represent the entire nation.I don’t see a point to bring fashion into this but yes I got to admit,we should be proud of who and what we are,period!
    @Anoop would you care to explain the menace bit please?why is Pakistan a menace to the free world?Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    @Mahi:

    Umm, let me see, maybe because some of the World’s most wanted Terrorists are found in Pakistan whose obvious targets are the Worlds oldest and largest Democracies?

    @American Pakistani:

    Congratulations, you have psychoanalyzed me. You must be feeling like Hannibal Lecter now, looking at his Clarice. Recommend

  • Imad Uddin

    you should have explained “self awareness” too,…of which people are totally unaware…lol. Actually this isnt about fashion or something, it is about the defensive behavior spread all over…The problem with such behavior is that it promotes a “begging the question” argument in a persons mind. Why something is bad? Because the rest of the world would hate it. Why the rest of the world would hate it? Because it is bad.
    The more you introduce “rest of the world” into your analysis, the less you would be relying on self-awareness and self-knowledge.
    There is a issue that in the end there remains nothing concrete like “what I am” and ALL turns into a bubble of “What I am expected to be”
    Great perspective, but people get chance to criticize because a)you narrowed down the scope to “fashion models” and maybe because you were not that sweeeeeet to them! :)Recommend

  • ayesha_khan

    @Mahi: “@Anoop would you care to explain the menace bit please?why is Pakistan a menace to the free world?”

    I am not Anoop but I can take a shot. Pakistan is perceived as a menace because people see it as harbouring terrorists that attack rest of the world. Initially India used to say that, then Afghanistan, then Iran, then china, then UK and now USA.

    Pakistanis quote the numbers of deaths in the war on terror but forget to mention that all those people died in fighting TTP which is a local insurgency. Pakistan has failed to take on the terrorists that attack rest of the world be it Haqqanis, Afghan Taliban, Jundullah, LeT, or JeM.Recommend

  • Mahi

    @ayesha_khan: Just as I mentioned earlier(in my previous post)that a bunch of hot,g’looking chicks DO NOT represent an entire nation similarly a bunch of religious fanatics(aka terrorists) do not represent entire Pakistan.You cannot hold a whole nation responsible for harbouring terrorists.I admit our gov’t SHOULD take serious action against them and kick em outta here,they’re a threat to Pakistan as well.
    As for the local insurgency,NO A LOT of innocents lost their life because of drone attacks,they target one terrorist and 35 innocent people also die in that drone attack.Recommend

  • Mahi

    @Anoop:
    Most?Yes unfortunately OBL was found in Pakistan but who else?mere assumptions if you ask me:)Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    @Mahi:

    I thought of not commenting out of fear of giving dignity to your comment. But, I will still go ahead with just one example.

    https://www.interpol.int/public/Data/NoticesUN/Notices/Data/1993/93/1993_14193.asp

    Dawood’s house even listed on the site of Interpol. Jawad Miandad’s kid is married to Dawood’s kid. Many Pakistani commentators have too said he lives in freedom in Pakistan.

    How many Terrorists need I prove were found in Pakistan before what I said above is accepted as the truth? Osama is too easy to prove, Hafiz Saeed, proscribed by the UNSC is in Pakistan; Plotters of 9/11 were found in Pakistan which is backed up none other by the former Army Chief/Dictaror/President of Pakistan- Pervez Musharaff. Musharaff also claims to have sold many Al Qaeda to the US in return for payment.

    One could go on. Pakistan’s ally the US also says Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan.

    This was about anti-India and anti-US Terrorists.

    Lets move on to anti-China Terrorists.

    http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/08/02/160444.html

    Uighur Terrorists are in Pakistan, claim China.

    Now, to anti-Afghanistan Terrorists. There are just too many for even to debate about it in Pakistan. If you still want a list I will be happy to provide some. Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Good read and nice point of view…..&……..i liked the pic :)Recommend

  • Rishabh Gupta

    @American Pakistani:
    Yaar Amreeki Desi saab.
    Even I am an Amreeki Desi … from Hindustan.
    The reality is that we realise how messed up our mulks are,
    only when we have left our shores and get to talk.
    That Pakistan has a terror problem is not to be denied.
    Most Pakistani leaders; in government, bureaucracy, army or intelligence,
    realise that and realise it all too well.
    But that is not all Pakistan is about.
    My issue is that even after being here …
    though desis help each other out in whatever hours of needs,
    we have not been able to form the collective forum for cooperation.
    For example, there ought to be … and are, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis,
    who would like to be involved in giving their expertise and ideas
    to create new employment opportunities and businesses in Pakistan.
    Not because … Pakistan needs charity … it doesn’t.
    It needs ideas that help to employ the ever growing population bomb.
    Pakistan’s image is undone and the energy of its youth ill directed,
    when it becomes about pretensions and pretending.
    This is a mirror … a viral meme which is being mimicked from India.
    India sees itself as advancing along a Western industrial paradigm.
    The aspirations and expectations that have been unleashed,
    will not be met … because the glamour of growth …
    needs a lot of resources to satisfy it … and these aren’t just available.
    They are also environmentally unsustainable.
    Which is why, Pakistan needs to define its own unique parameters and
    path for growth. Mimicking India or Iran or the Gulf or the States, will not do.
    Again, Pakistan needs ideas … not an image.
    Come to think of it, I reached that conclusion …
    when I seriously began to consider the situation of India.
    And it turns out that the two aren’t very different after all.
    Don’t let the statistics fool ourselves … and that includes Mr. Anoop. Recommend

  • Mahi

    @Anoop:
    Even I also thought of NOT commenting out of fear of giving honour to your comment but I’ll still post to address some of your concerns.
    YES unfortunately was Osama found in Pakistan,so the rest are living in Pakistan as well?what a logic,and why is EVERY word of America being taken as a sacrosanct???They say Zaharwi is here,FINE prove that and take the action,what’s stopping them?Just because America says so,or India feels that honestly DOESN’T even make sense to me.
    Also my intention was NOT to debate on Osama being found,killed in Pakistan,I feel disgusted by the actions of our politicians myself,I don’t think you or ANYONE has to inform me what they did in the past or what they are doing presently is justified,I don’t trust any of them,but the point you raised is still questionable you are holding a WHOLE nation of 18 crore people responsible for something they’ve NO hand in.I was speaking on behalf of innocent,peace loving citizens NOT the on’e you mentioned!
    I admit,we’ve flaws/imperfections but it’s not all that bad as you made it sound.I’ve been living in Pakistan since 2003 and because I’m living here I want it all freed off from the terrorists,and I’ll stand with everyone who wants to see Pakistan as a peaceful progressing country,thank you!Recommend

  • Mahi

    @Anoop:
    Even I also thought of NOT commenting out of fear of giving honour to your comment but I’ll still post to address some of your concerns.
    YES unfortunately Osama was found in Pakistan,so the rest are living in Pakistan as well?what a logic,and why is EVERY word of America being taken as a sacrosanct???They say Zaharwi is here,FINE,all they gotta do is to PROVIDE evidence of his presence in Pakistan and take the action,what’s stopping them?

    Also my intention was NOT to debate on Osama being found and killed in Pakistan,I feel disgusted by the actions of our politicians myself,I don’t think you or ANYONE has to inform me what they did in the past or what they are doing presently is justified,I don’t have no say for the Pakistani or any politicians,but the point you raised is still questionable you are holding a WHOLE nation of 18 crore people responsible for something they’ve NO hand in.I was speaking on behalf of innocent,peace loving citizens NOT the one’s you mentioned!

    And don’t provide any further evidences,I believe you :PRecommend

  • Agreed

    @American Pakistani:
    Congratulations on your brilliant words on Anoop. While arguing that Pakistan’s removal was a blessing for India and trying their best to belittle it, Indians like Anoop spend day in and day out stalking a Pakistani website. Clearly they’re not over the loss they claim was such a blessingRecommend