Saturday, September 22, 2012

Our Cities and Theirs

A great deal of self-righteous anger is expressed in our parts whenever something offensive to our religious sentiments is aired in the West, but calling a poor Christian 'choora' or ridiculing Hindus for believing in more than one god is considered perfectly kosher (as a manner of speech). How many times have I heard people laugh at the ridiculousness of worshipping a god you created with your own hand, thus subjecting Hindu religious sentiment to the most literal of interpretations but bursting into flames (literally) at similar criticisms directed at Islam.

I have never seen anything in our surroundings, in the mass media or our education system that actively promotes tolerance or respect for others, instead, I have often seen people carelessly throwing around derogatory terms like 'kaafir' and feeling self satisfied in their smug piety. Then there is the persecution complex that imagines every wheel in the Western machine working overtime to destroy the great citadel of Islam, or blaming Colonialism/Imperialism for every ill that exists in the Muslim world today, conveniently throwing the blame on foreign shoulders and absolving ourselves of all responsibility.

While in London (yes, I am still on London, will be a while before I am done) I came across many images the equivalent of which would be impossible to see in Lahore (or most other parts of Pakistan). Can you imagine a woman in a bus in Lahore wearing a sari and a bindi reciting the Ramayana aloud? I can't either. It's not like she would be immediately attacked if she tried, it is just that that space for diversity just seems to have shrunk and shrunk and shrunk.

Shab-e-Baraat morning. One woman recites from the Quran as the other sits beside her and reads Fifty Shades of Grey
Advertisement at Leytonstone Station on the central line
Outside a Unitarian church. It would be nice to see a similar sign outside a mosque.
At the British Museum. Trying to imagine art from the Hindu or Jewish world celebrated on a governmental level in Pakistan
A conciliatory Islamic ad breathing peacefully alongside one for the Damien Hirst exhibit at Tate Modern
Outside a primary school in Stoke, Newington. An attempt, an amateur one, but an attempt at least, to be inclusive
Polish figures outside St. Martin in the Fields Church in Central London

An attempt to understand the other in one of the most prominent churches in central London


All of the above does not suggest everything is perfect in the West, it is only to say that there are sustained and high level attempts at tolerance and humanity which are unfortunately not visible in our part of the world. What is visible here is a clear case of a majoritarian people becoming more intolerant, bigoted and xenophobic by the minute. Even if many of the silent ones are decent people in their personal lives they still help facilitate and abet hateful beliefs about others. There are no equivalent, tangible symbols of tolerance as above, or even an attempt at them in any of our cities.


  1. Calling Christians choora is racism indeed. However, I have never seen Hinduism being made fun of in cartoons or movies. The criticism of Hinduism for its polytheism is fairly legitimate, as is the criticism of Islam for any of its teaching. What is not acceptable is mocking and ridicule. Qur'an clearly states:
    " And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge." (6:108)

    The charge that they are powerless and made by human themselves is valid criticism, but it would be wrong to ridicule their form

    1. @AbuMaryam, you can't have it both ways. If criticizing polytheism is legitimate then criticizing the prophet could also be considered legitimate. The film didn't mock him, it just showed him in a critical light. As for criticism of Hindu gods seeming 'natural', I was talking exactly about such bigoted and literal interpretations. You think those statues are the actual gods? They are symbols and representations of god. Is that so hard to grasp?

    2. I agree with your opinions in the post as well as here … except one: "The film didn't mock him …" — Actually it did. It said at the beginning that he was an illegitimate child.

      Great post!


  2. perfect timing for this!!
    But i don't believe what has been done was right, is making fun of someone's religion the same as making a satirical movie on it?
    otherwise another thought provoking piece.

  3. one can understand your frustration melting in disappointment to the end of your blog all directed towards Pakistani culture and people of Pakistan. Except you have kept yourself out from all the bias and you showed indifference to a culture you born & bread. Being a Pakistani our worst dishonesty would be to vindicate ourself first and blame others for everything and if it wouldn't work...keep trying but don't do anything to improve the situation.
    So how you think are different from the culture you born to? biased to your own..?
    I would like to see some real actions/work that justify your thoughts of disappointment before you give up on your country/culture..
    Writing blog in english would only read by less than 3% of pakistani they need to listen all you have to say about Western goodness and quality of life...most of them living there already..
    These Western countries are not build by faint hearted and other culture lovers, they have achieved it with courage and believe...
    So be honest to yourself first before you start comparing countries/cultures,question is do you have what it takes to be proud of own...?

    1. I don't need a certificate of my achievements from you, Mr. Salman Malik. I teach. I am sure you don't do anything even remotely useful. I have a kind of a headache trying to argue sensibly with you all day on Twitter. You are one of those hell bent on keeping your myopic blinkers on. So be it.

  4. Thanks for this. Always interesting to see my own city (London) through someone elses eyes.

    I guess tolerance means putting up with things you don't like. From a crying baby on an aeroplane, to criticism of your religion. Usually though, people only tolerate what they feel isn't really going to harm them. So if intolerance is increasing in Pakistan, that suggests to me decreasing confidence and self esteem. Why that may be, you'd know much better than me!

    Being tolerant in the UK is actually pretty easy. Most people lead fairly good lives, and there are strong public bodies that people are confident will keep them safe, uphold the rule of law, and prevent extremists gaining too much influence. So most people are happy to let others do as they wish, confident that it won't fundamentally affect their own lives.

    There are also a number of powerful and respected bodies that promote "liberal" views - the BBC, left wing media, Church of England, most political parties, Trades Unions etc. Do similar bodies exist in Pakistan? If so, we never get to hear their voices in the west.

    I guess the other big difference in the two countries is the role of religion. Without denying all its potential for good, the power that religion has to cause people to think irrationally has alaways amazed me, though I guess this is inherent in its promotion of "faith" above reason. This was first brought home to me a number of years ago, when talking to my boss where I worked at a Management Consultancy company. He was a very bright and articulate man, and had a firm christian faith. As such he literally believed that the earth was created as it now is, in 6 days, a few thousand years ago. Despite all my arguments he was immovable. I as staggered, and have been much more wary of religion ever since.

    Anyway, thanks again for writing!

    1. Thank you for reading and responding, Carl.

      In Pakistan liberal views are mainly espoused by NGOs and some of their prominent leaders, as well as a significant number of English newspaper columnists. But English is not the language most people read in. Mainstream news channels represent conservative values by and large.

      Regarding the role of religion, well, that is the issue. There will never be any real tolerance till such time as there is a separation of religion and state, but that seems highly unlikely in an ideological state.

  5. Salut !

    just saw your tweet :)


  6. Great post Sabahat. Keep it up.