Don’t put a label on it

Published: August 26, 2010

The division caused by our definitive labels is sad and disheartening.

Islamic centre or mosque? Obama, Muslim or Christian? Flood aid, Indian or not? Why exactly does it matter?

In the twenty-first century, labels still define us and somehow they seem to be more important than the ‘bigger picture’. As individual groups, Muslims and Pakistanis have allowed labels to divide themselves, creating disunity which allows for instability.

In the case of Pakistanis, a society that acts so quickly and effectively to help fellow citizens in a time of crisis, it doesn’t make sense that Pakistanis would let labels divide themselves to the extent that they have. Pakistanis have a multi-layered and faceted society, and each person contributes his/her own strengths to society at large. To allow something as small as a label to hinder our ability to move forward is damaging to the mentality of the society as a whole, as well as the growth.

For example, Pakistan has finally accepted Indian aid for flood relief efforts. While the debate on whether or not aid should be accepted from India should have never occurred, it did, and although the Indian government generously donated $5 million in aid, there are still people who are sceptical or not happy with it.

I guess scepticism should be expected when a relationship has been as politically unstable as Pakistan and India’s. People whisper that India will have the upper hand in the relationship, and Pakistan will be indebted to India if they accept the aid, but at a time of crisis, the worst natural disaster in the history of Pakistan, why should Pakistan hesitate to accept Indian aid?

It’s because it’s ‘Indian’. The word has such a stigma in Pakistan, unfortunately, and instead of looking beyond political instability, and distrust from both sides, people fail to recognise that $5 million has been offered to Pakistan for humanitarian aid, and that is what should unite us, the human race, seeing as we all belong to it.

While labels define us in this world of 6.5 billion people, they also divide us. Although it is comforting to know that you share something in common with someone, like religion, ethnicity or political alignment through our labels, it also hinders our ability to look beyond these markers and to see each other as human beings, flesh and blood.

Another example of how labels divide the global community is the debate that still lingers around Obama’s religious beliefs. Is he Muslim or not? To many, a point of contention, seeing as being Muslim is not very popular these days.

I would love to ask, why does it matter what his religion is, but then again, I would be completely ignoring the Islamophobia which is growing around the world. At least for some of the American people, knowing that he is not associated with the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’, makes them feel better because of the stigma that is stuck to the ‘Muslim’ label. Is there any substantial evidence that his faith will be better or worse for the country? No, but people definitely think so.

If there were actual statistics on whether his religion would make a difference in his policies, then I might be interested in knowing about his personal beliefs, but seeing as there are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu leaders around the world who make some great decision and some bad ones, the debate seems senseless. At least in the American context, George W Bush made countless bad decisions, which didn’t have anything to do with his religion. It’s the label phobia.

And to the same effect, the Islamic centre being constructed a few blocks away from Ground Zero is an issue which has charged people in New York and in the United States. People from all walks of life have commented on whether or not it should be constructed or not, and the debate has been blown out of proportion, so that people can justify their stance. Does it matter if the Islamic center is constructed a few blocks away from Ground Zero or in another part of town? I wouldn’t think so, but the debate has become huge, again because of the stigma that follows the label.

And although the last few examples have been from across the pond, labels divide us here in Pakistan, which is an open secret, and have been dividing us more than uniting us for decades. Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi, Ismaili, Punjabi, Pathan, Balochi, Sindhi, Muhajir, upper class, lower class, etcetera, the list goes on.

The division caused by our definitive labels is sad and disheartening and whether a person is literate or illiterate does not matter, because it has to do with the mentality of the society. Pakistani society can grow if people push their boundaries further and stop letting labels divide them.

manal.shakir

Manal Shakir

A freelance journalist in Chicago, IL who tweets @ManalShakir1

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

  • HAMMAD ALI HASSAN

    when we help it would be acceptable in anyway to ALMIGHTY GOD. we don’t need any kind of LABEL.the think is that we have to stop leg pulling and pointing, we should be positive. these kind of contents keep publishing every day , and and never let us to do anything positive.
    its their job.and our job is to serve our country and respect every human being in the world. Recommend

  • shy

    Rejects the policy of divide n rule.Recommend