Report: Meetup with Dr Ayesha Jalal

Young people in Pakistan need to wrest back their perspective from people like Hakimullah Mehsud’ said Dr. Ayesha Jalal in a session with bloggers at Nairang Gallery, Lahore on 22nd August. It was attended by 20 bloggers and media personnel from Lahore including Cheif Editor Pak Tea House, Raza Rumi, Saroop Ijaz, Mehmal Sarfaraz, Yasir Latif Hamdani, Aisha Sarwari, Saadia Gardezi, Zebunnisa Burki, Adnan Rasool, Awais Aftab, Rabia Mahmood, Sabahat Zakriya, Sher Ali,Aun, Samar Ataullah,Ali Sethi, Rab Nawaz and Abdul Majeed.

The purpose for which this meet-up was organized as to discuss How bloggers can make a difference in the political narrative of the country and how should they work to bring back the narrative of Pakistanis. Dr. Jalal initiated the session by pointing out that Pakistan’s perspective is not the one that people like Hakimullah or Baitullah Mehsud peddle. We need to project our own perspective. She also said that bloggers have a special responsibility which they themsleves do not yet recognize. It is the duty of bloggers to challenge the narratives that corruption, politicians or Army is resposnible for all our ills. This has become very cliched. Why don’t we highlight the fact that only 9% people in this country pay taxes. Why don’t political parties present their views and solutions regarding this issue? This is where bloggers come in. They make this issue an electoral issue and present it like this to the masses. The political power of social media needs to be tapped and used effetcively.

Blogging in Urdu or English?

The issue that interaction with audience should be in Urdu or English took most of the time during the discussion. The fact is that very few of our fellow Pakistanis understand and like to read in English Language.(Raza Rumi pointed out that this trend is being reversed slowly due to the increasing prevalence of English Language Institutes in every nook and corner of the country.) The circulation of all the English Newspapers combined is less that circulation of an established Urdu Newspaper. The same situation is present in the Pakistani Blogging Arena. Very few bloggers write in Urdu Language. There are certain technical glitches in this respect. Adnan Rasool pointed out that there are only two Urdu Scripts which can be used online. Both are difficult enough for beginners which makes learning them a hard task. Adnan also added that Pakistani bloggers, till now, are talking ABOUT people, not TO people,that they have little influence among even the upper middle class. He cited as one of the Pakistani efforts to solve the ‘Urdu Font’ problem. Dr. Ayesha was of the view that engagements with the masses is necessary(and thus the need for Urdu as the language of blogs). There has been too much ‘preaching to the converted’.  Ammar Aziz opined that content is more important that language and we need better content.

Education of History

Dr Ayesha was of the view that history is not an exact science, which is why it is not called ‘Historical Sciences’. History is a Methodology. A post-modern reading of history is necessary. History should be taught in a proper manner, from schools till the University level. We have created a ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ in Pakistani children as the ideas that are imparted to them in schools are different from reality. Due to constant indoctrination, there is a wide-spread break from reality evident in Pakistani students.  

Pakistani Identity
Dr. Jalal contended that Pakistanis, by and large, are confused about their own identities. This confusion is compounded by the narratives found in textbooks and the mainstream media. Raza Rumi added that ‘Imagined’ Identity of Pakistanis is a harbinger of a certain narrative that is based on historical myths and blatant lies. On the topic of self-hatred among Progressive Pakistanis, Dr. Jalal said, ‘It is a bad habit, Kick it Out’. She also said that we are not a failed state as western standards of a ‘Failed State’ should not be applied to Pakistan. Our systems work when we want them to work. Labelling this ‘Lack of willingness’ to make things work on the part of the state does not necessarily that we have failed as a nation.

Lack of Documentation

Dr. Ayesha was of the view that one of the major problems facing Pakistan is the lack of documentation about trends, demographics and development indicators. Adnan Rasool added that no I/O charts are available for Pakistan, regarding economic indicators and the base year for economic statisics that is assumed for Pakistan is 2004.

A Concerted Effort

It was agreed upon by all the participants that we need organized, effective and tactical blogging, to fulfill the political potential that we have. Dr. Ayesha Jalal suggested formation of a focus group of bloggers which translates the most important english blogs into Urdu.

Blasphemy Law

During the Question/Asnwer Session, the discussion drifted towards the infamous Blasphemy Law. Dr. Jalal said that the onus regarding Blasphemy Law and its effects on our society lies with the state and the attitude of state is not serious enough to tackle this issue. Blasphemy Law is a political issue, not a religious one. It was a law introduced by the British rulers to contain incitement caused by books such as ‘Rangeela Rasool’(which resulted in death of its publisher at the hands of Ilm Din). The unfortunate fact is that blasphemy law has been used by Muslims against each other more than it has been used agains Non-Muslims. The history and politics behind this Law needs to be understood and the law should be discussed in public sphere.

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