Patriotism is for the rich

Published: August 6, 2011
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Maybe I can ‘afford’ to be a patriotic Pakistani but the common man can’t

It was noon on a particularly lazy Sunday. I could not go out as the law and order situation in the city was bad – as usual. I decided to watch television to get my mind off the gloomy state I was in: tired of the situation in the city, where there is a strike everyday because some political figure decides to be inappropriate and crude on national tv.

I flipped through news channels because I had heard enough about cars being burnt and people being shot. In hindsight I realise I wanted some kind of escapism. So I landed onto a channel that claims to be the voice of the ‘poor’ and covers real life stories.

I watched as a reporter unfolded the tale of Ali Hashmi – a boy who was tortured severely  and eventually murdered in police custody for a crime he did not commit. Images of his body with holes in his feet, no nails on his fingers and gruesome injuries were constantly being played repeatedly for effect. I shuddered and turned the television off.

So much for escaping the harsh reality of Pakistan.

I sat and thought to myself for a long time. I had always been one of those people that claimed to be very ‘patriotic’, that judged people who would move to countries like America, Canada, Australia and blame it on the ‘weaknesses’ of our country.

‘What do they know about loyalty?’ I would think to myself.

I also found myself realising that I judged the common man of Pakistan who was protesting on the street because of no electricity, no sugar, no water.

‘Most third world countries need time to develop …there is no reason to behave like this’ I would always say sitting in my air conditioned room.

But then as images of Ali Hashmi’s mutilated dead body and the expression of people whose cars were burnt in the recent strikes, tear stricken faces of people who couldn’t provided basic necessities of life to their children, popped  in my mind I suddenly felt my so called ‘patriotism’ fade away.

Perhaps I never was really patriotic in the true sense of the word.

It is easy for the elite to sit in air conditioned drawing rooms and offer theories about how this nation has so much potential. So called patriotism is a luxury only the bourgeoisie can afford.  It is a concept that elite Pakistanis or Pakistani settled abroad (often founders of ‘NGOs’ for Pakistan whose work comprises of ghazal evenings and Eid dinners) can afford. Reminds me of a scene from Act 2 of Pygmalion where Pickering asks Mr Dolittle:

“Have you no morals, man?”

He replies:

‘Can’t afford them, governor. Neither could you if you were as poor as me.”

How can one expect the common man of Pakistan who will either die of hunger or be shot on the road because some political party wants to showcase their strength to feel patriotism? Such immense patriotism that it is expected to go above and beyond his basic feelings of hunger? Hurt? Pain? Fear? And instability?

Nations were built to provide citizens security, stability and most importantly to give them a right to life, the most basic right that every individual deserves, a right that is the first right afforded to citizens of a nation under the Human Rights Act.

How can one expect a man who does not know if he will be alive tomorrow to feel patriotism and ‘give’ to his nation?

This whole propaganda of ‘your nation may not have given you anything but what have you given your nation’ is a façade – a kind of escapism, a denial of our state’s failure. If a nation cannot give its citizens a basic sense of security in terms of life, it is impossible for its citizens to give anything to their nation including a sense of pride in being Pakistani.

Maybe I can ‘afford’ to be a patriotic Pakistani but the common man can’t. Can you really blame him?

maham..durrani

Maham Durrani

A barrister from London who is interested in human rights and writing.

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