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Reworking Pakistani Identity – Journal

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ALMOST exactly a year ago, I wrote about how assertive nationalism / patriotism found its place in the Pakistani electoral sphere through the PTI and more particularly through Imran Khan’s politics around the state. Pakistani. As part of the same nationalist project, the current government and the Prime Minister himself have also taken a number of measures in the cultural field.

These include ISPR sponsored content featuring the ‘Pakistan Perspective’ on important events, such as the creation of Bangladesh, emphasizing Muslim identity as a key pillar of the Pakistani identity, the emphasis on self-purification to protect against perceived Western moral failure, creating (somewhat artificial) ties to Turkish Islamic culture through television broadcasts and a series of interventions in the field of education, such as the single national curriculum and various laws. At first glance, these steps help to develop a more unitary form of Pakistani identity.

Apart from legitimate reservations against the content of such measures, none of them are out of place for modern states. Each state (and its political / military elite) goes to great lengths to create cooperative citizens who can identify with a larger political project and with the country as a whole. This helps to secure power for the privileged few, but also, if Prerna Singh’s work on sub-nationalism in India is taken into account, helps to create bonds of trust that can produce positive development results and of citizenship. Whether the latter occurs here remains to be seen.

Much of the reason we see this more forcefully now in Pakistan is due to concerns about Islamophobia and Muslim identity developed as part of the so-called War on Terror, but also the rise and the immense popularity of Modi and the Hindutva in India, which made the task of sharing a pan-subcontinent cultural identity – one that has adequate space for Muslims and their local Islamic heritage – impossible.

The state provides a set of clues to questions of identity, but so do citizens of diverse intellectual and professional backgrounds.

So we know what the state and its political elite are doing, and we have an idea of ​​why this is happening now. The key question is how is it received and interpreted by citizens in general? The easy answer is, it’s too early to tell. Apart from occasional alarms about the content of the school curriculum and the hypothetical impact of a Turkish TV show on attitudes towards minorities, we don’t have much to do. There are, however, indicators that cultural producers (artists, writers, internet content creators in Pakistan and in the Diaspora) face similar questions: “What did it mean to be Pakistani at the time?” current? “

A good demonstration of this question and its proposed answer can be found in the Pakistan pavilion at the Dubai World Expo. The pavilion was highly regarded for its facade and general design, and is heavily used by pedestrians. Inside, it represents a peculiar liberal take on Pakistan, with considerable space and attention devoted to ethnic diversity and history through art and music, peaceful religious coexistence and pluralism, links with the land where Pakistan exists, i.e. the civilizations of Gandhara and the Indus Valley. , and the ambition, ingenuity and contribution of citizens (especially women).

The content bears little resemblance to the actual Pakistan experience as it exists today, but if one is charity it can be seen as what the curators and artists involved (as well as those who endorsed it ) probably want the country to be.

Another interesting area where citizens answer questions of identity is the culinary world. A few weeks ago, the BBC ran a cover story of an “Indian” restaurant that offered hundreds of free meals on Christmas Day. An immediate reaction to the story came from local Pakistani netizens and the UK diaspora who pointed out that the owner of the restaurant was a Pakistani-Kashmir and that the use of the “Indian” label for his restaurant was incorrect. This is remarkable because the food of the northern part of the subcontinent is generally touted as Indian around the world. But with this incident and with the rise of the uniquely Pakistani brand in diaspora restaurants in the US and UK, there appears to be a greater effort to create a distinct culinary identity.

Whether by default or by design, this is also visible in the writings of some contemporary food writers, such as Zainab Shah, whose content for The New York Times and other outlets – aloo anday recipes, samosas , steamed roast chicken served at weddings, and an Eid Feast – centered their Pakistani origins (and those of the writer) quite categorically. Likewise, another excellent food blog, Maryam Jillani’s Pakistan Eats, features a number of regional dishes from the geographic territory that constitutes Pakistan.

Nationally, YouTube as a platform has allowed for greater exploration of dietary diversity by digital content creators, although all of it is not worth watching. The most notable intervention here, however, was the Pakistan on a Plate series by Nilofer Afridi Qazi, which did a remarkable job in identifying different food traditions in various regions. These include the use of different types of extremely localized grains, vegetables, herbs and greens, and preparation techniques not commonly found in standard restaurants or urban cuisine in residence.

These examples show that Pakistani identity questions are asked and answered through a variety of different platforms. The state provides a set of clues and answers to identity questions, but so do citizens of diverse intellectual and professional backgrounds. What is common to certain citizens’ initiatives is that they center diversity under a singular label. This means that there is acceptance of the country as a geographic / territorial entity, but no forced unanimity on what this should mean in terms of cultural practices i.e. belief, ritual, customs and food. Perhaps this interpretation also offers a model that the state should pay a little more attention to.

The writer teaches politics and sociology at Lums.

Twitter: @umairjav

Posted in Dawn, le 10 January 2022